Saturday, February 24, 2007

Movie Review: The Myth

I had reviewed Jackie Chan's most recent film, Rob-B-Hood, a little while ago. Last night I watched his previous Chinese-produced film, 2005's The Myth. This is kind of an odd film for Chan - it is partly a period piece, with Chan playing an Imperial general tasked with guarding his concubine-to-be, and then later falling in love with her. But while he's done lots of period pieces before, I don't really recall him doing this specific kind, with large armies, lots of archers, broad swords and so on. I'm recalling more colonial-era settings than imperial-era.

But that's only half of the film. The other half is set in contemporary times, where Chan plays an archaeologist investigating a tribe that seems to have mastered anti-gravity. His character does just about as much archeology here as he did back in the Operation Condor films - that is to say, not much - but this film is played relatively straight, without the goofiness of the earlier works. The link between the two eras is that the modern character is haunted by dreams of the historical character, and the two storylines end up merging by the end of the film as the tribe turns out to have connections to the Imperial-era characters.

This was kind of a frustrating film, in retrospect. The film jumps back and forth between the two timelines, and those transitions are actually handled pretty well. But each individual storyline has problems. The imperial era story just wasn't very interesting - the soldier tasked with guarding the emporer's woman isn't exactly the most original plotline, and pales in comparison with the more complex relationships in films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House Of Flying Daggers. Also, Chan's fight scenes in this timeline were either not very interesting (mostly involving wild broad sword swinging) or embarassingly bad (as described later).

Another problem with both timelines was their disjointedness. About two-thirds of the way through the film, each storyline decided to take a sudden jump. The imperial-era storyline decided to jump away from the romance angle to turn into a court-intrigue/betrayal plot. Meanwhile, the modern era storyline abandons the mystic-training plot it had been developing and decides to introduce a new bad guy out of nowhere. These plot jumps were not handled well in either case, and served to kind of throw out a lot of what came before.

Of course, one can argue that plotlines are not usually the strength of Jackie Chan films anyway - what about the action? Well, while I didn't get much out of the imperial-era fight scenes, the modern era scenes were mostly entertaining. In particular, an early fight set in a tomb between Jackie and two guards (and Jackie's bumbling companion William) showed lots of the little touches I really like - Jackie's almost casual disarming of his opponents spears and swords, his self-induced injuries with the swinging sword, William's alternately helping and hurting Jackie's efforts. Another fine scene occurs on a sticky surface, causing the competitors to gradually disrobe as their clothing gets stuck down to the mat.

This film also uses perhaps the most computer-generated and wire-assisted work I've seen in a Jackie Chan film. Some of it works very well - the concluding scenes, set in a floating temple and involving a zero-gravity fight, is generally well-done, looking good and providing interest, if not a lot of intricate fighting. But there are some CGI scenes early in the film, set in the imperial era, that are just embarrassingly bad. In particular, there are some horse kicks that are about the worst use of CGI and blue-screen I've seen since James Bond went surfing in Die Another Day. The fact that they show up almost immediately in the film gave the movie a lot to overcome during the rest of its run.

I know this review has sounded really negative, and it's probably more negative than I intend it to sound. As I said, the film got off to a mixed start with some dodgy effect work, but there are definitely more worthwhile action moments later on. I guess it's good to see Jackie try something different in terms of plot, but in this case, the story experimentation just didn't quite work out. I'm going to give this a middling three stars for the later action scenes, but I do wish they had worked out a little better how the whole thing was going to fit together.

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