Directed By Sheng Ding
Starring Jackie Chan, Leehom Wang, Rongguang Yu and Ken Lo
I pretty much love Jackie Chan’s new career trajectory. After rightfully earning his status as a martial arts movie icon, breaking pretty much every bone possible for our entertainment in the process, the Buster Keaton-inspired slapstick ass-kicker slipped into a rut, churning out mediocre US buddy movie sequels and kid-friendly comedies before jumping back to Hong Kong to make superior, but still lacklustre kung fu films. After years of candidly ripping apart his own films on the press circuit, he finally took charge and started steering his career in more interesting directions with an impressive dramatic role in Chinese immigrant crime drama Shinjuku Incident before bringing a surprising amount of heart and soul to the dreaded remake of The Karate Kid. Little Big Soldier only continues that trend, offering up Jackie Chan’s best martial arts film in a decade.
Playing out like Midnight Run set in feudal China, the film follows a resourceful, yet cowardly soldier in the Liang army (Chan) who makes it out of a massacre on the battlefield by playing possum and happens to capture a young, injured Qin general (Leehom Wang) in the aftermath. Wanting nothing more than to leave the army and become a farmer, he ties the general up and sets about dragging him across the country to Liang territory to trade him for a plot of land and exemption from military service. Unluckily for them, a corrupt Qin military advisor has more to gain with the general dead, and is leading a relentless hunt to kill him. With the army on their trail, savage natives and dangerous obstacles in their path, the soldier and his captive will have to work together and do some old-fashioned buddy movie bonding if they’re to make it to Liang alive.
Though Little Big Soldier doesn’t venture too far outside Jackie Chan’s usual wheelhouse – its foundation is still firmly entrenched in the mismatched buddy movie roots that have garnered Chan much of his film success, with a few sprinklings of familiar slapstick kung fu – its success lies in the measured tone and earnest approach. It’s occasionally jokey and fun, but never overbearingly so, and while the action is plentiful, it’s not used to mask an absence of plot. Instead the focus is largely lent to character as the unlikely duo embark on their buddy bonding road trip, where Chan’s new-found emotional gravitas transforms an overly familiar story into an emotionally effective one. His weary, often cowardly pacifist puts a refreshing spin on the character Chan so often plays, and like The Karate Kid, he offers up a heartfelt performance that elevates familiar material to surprisingly touching levels, while Wang works well as the noble, ass-kicking straight man to Chan’s comic foil.
The anti-war message that the film adopts is occasionally muddled, and the more melancholy tone of the third act is a little at odds with the slapstick that appears throughout, but even in its weaker moments, it’s kept alive by the heart and soul injected by Jackie Chan’s wonderfully rounded performance. The laughs and the fantastic fight scenes are great, too, but it’s Chan’s film completely, and he owns every moment of it with a character that’s deftly performed. Here’s hoping this is a side of the star we continue to see more of, because it showcases his undeniable skills as an actor rather than just an ass-kicker and the result is his best action movie in years.
On The DVD:
The review copy that Cine Asia kindly sent along was a promotional screener without extras, so I can’t comment accurately on the visual/audio quality or special features on the final release. The DVD comes packed with the following extras:
• Audio Commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan
• Dolby Digital Mandarin 2.0 & 5.1 audio
• English Subtitles
• Trailer Gallery
• Interview Gallery
• Making Of Gallery
• On Set Report Gallery
• Behind The Scenes
• Jackie Chan Music Video
• A digital copy of the movie on a bonus DVD
Little Big Soldier is available to buy on DVD now.
Click here to order it from Amazon.co.uk.