Top critical review
The Veteran Chan
on February 13, 2014
I have always been a huge Jackie Chan fan. I grew watching him and Bruce Lee on the weekends on USA’s Kung Fu Theater. So, Jackie has really been a part of my life for a long time. I also went and purchased as many of his films as I could, just because I am huge geek. I have always appreciated his ability to mix action and comedy. I never cared that the acting was bad, or the story was about as well written and believable as Letters to Penthouse. I always felt happy watching him. As the years have gone by Jackie’s stunts have slowed down, understandably. He has also tried to make more movies that showcase his acting rather than action. Plus, he has become a super patriot. Many have even accused him of being a Party mouth piece. So, his current films are filled with nationalist sentiment and brief spurts of action. Little Big Solider is such a movie. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching.
The film takes place during the Spring and Autumn era of Chinese history. This is a popular time to portray in film as there were seven states that were fighting for control of what we think of today as China. Eventually each state falls to the Kingdom of Qin, and that is when, as popular history suggests, China was first unified. You can already see the nationalism being set up. Jackie plays The Solider, in classic Chan style no one has a name, who plays dead during a battle between his forces of Liang and those of Wei. He thinks he is the only one to survive until he comes across the young general of the Wei army, who is also nameless, and is played by Wang Lee Hom. Chan takes him captive and starts to take him back to Liang to claim a reward. Little do either of them know but the General’s little brother, Prince Wen, played by Yoo Seungjun, is taking advantage of this battle to kill off his brother and claim the throne. He is assisted in this by Captain Yu, played by Yu Rongguang. Oops, I guess a few people got names. This begins a chase that twists and turns over the surface of Phoenix Mountain as Chan tries to get Hom back to Liang and Hom tries to escape him and his murderous brother. There are many humorous and weird encounters with other people all over the Mountain, like the tribal people who live there, members of other armies, Kongzi and his disciples, and the Songstress, played by Lin Peng. This character only seems to exist so there can be a pretty lady in the film. Jackie likes pretty ladies.
This movie moves fast, the action comes quickly and frequently. However, it is a low key action. This is more of the barebones comedic fighting Chan is good at. It all takes place in the wilderness, so, sticks and nifty little tricks with feet, and flips. There are no over the top stunts. Unfortunately, the action doesn’t stay going. I think because of Chan’s age and his desire to focus on story more than stunt, the action comes and goes in little increments. While all of it is good, there was nothing that got a visceral response out of me, unlike so many other Chan films of the past.
The acting was decent. Chan was the best out of all the cast members. He played this veteran who just wanted to stay alive, because he was the last of three sons, and wanted to honor his father’s wish of carrying on the family name. However serious that may sound, he isn’t. He is very happy-go-lucky, in love with life and nature. Like a goofy Taoist he roams around the wilderness exclaiming how marvelous it all is and singing a song about trying to figure out what crops to planet. While there is a sad aspect to him, this is really one of Chan’s most lovable characters. Wang Lee Hom on the other hand was kind of a disappointment. The banter that goes on between him and Chan is funny. Hom plays the straight man to Chan’s goofball, but Hom is so wooden, stiff, in this film, and it makes all the funny feel forced. To his credit, Hom handles the action really well, and watching him and Jackie go at it through the film is pretty fun.
There are a couple of themes in this film. First, there is the nationalism theme. The movie keeps going back to a theme that has been played out in movies and video games and books, that being, conquer all and you bring peace. Unify that land and you will bring stability to all under Heaven. While there is no character that expresses this desire directly as a goal, it is brought up in dialogue frequently. Another theme is one of peace. Chan’s character keeps making references to peace and peaceful living. Living as a small person, happy with fields and livestock and family. He looks down a little on bigwigs like his captive. He only wants to capture the General to be rewarded land so he can live the small life he dreams about. The General does not share the same view about peace. He wishes to die on a battlefield, but that is his journey in the film, to find the value of peace. Of course, Qin conquers all in the end and what these characters wanted is of little consequence. I don’t want to give away the ending, but it was nice, and a little sad. Chan did a very good job with his characters closing scene. However, the closing frames ruin it when the film explains peace came to China when Qin destroyed everyone else. This is not a good thing. This period of history was bloody and nasty and the King of Qin was not a nice fellow. He was a tyrant whose sons where over thrown. However, this is China’s birth, don’t question it.
In conclusion, this film was good, not great, but good. It lacks the true legacy of Chan’s films, but is still entertaining enough. While the themes are deep in of themselves, they are handled too lightly here. Other films have handled these themes better, Hero for one. The balance of fun and seriousness in this film gets bent. This takes away from the comedy a little bit. Also, those times when it should be very serious, even emotional, it isn’t. It is just nice. Don’t expect too much and you can enjoy it.