Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Movie Review: Little Big Soldier

And now my long-delayed Jackie Chan Film Festival gets an unexpected new entry - 2010's Little Big Soldier, a Chan-written, -produced, -starring and -action-directed movie that IMDb slots in between two American films, The Spy Next Door and the remake of The Karate Kid. But this one is a Chinese production, which gives it a much larger probability of success, as his English films have definitely been hit-or-miss over the last decade or so.

And this one is definitely a hit. It's another historical entry, set in epic times, but somehow with not as large a scope as The Myth. This one concentrates on a mismatched pair of combatants, Chan's unnamed Soldier and co-star LeeHom Wang's unnamed General. They are the only survivors on opposite sides of a battle, with the Soldier portrayed as an ordinary farmer just looking to survive and escape his enlistment, and the younger General looking to use the ongoing battles to unify China.

Jackie's Soldier here is really one of his best characterizations yet - always talking to himself, giving out endless streams of sayings from his father, and doing just enough to stay alive - and hopefully keep his new captive alive long enough to collect a reward. It's been a while since he hasn't played a character who was the best fighter/spy/policeman/whatever around (maybe back to Rob-B-Hood, perhaps?), but this movie definitely shows that Jackie is more than just amazing stunts and fight sequences. In fact, he really only has a couple of fights here, and as is appropriate for his character, they are more about survival and escape than domination (and even the ones with the most technical proficiency end up being dream sequences).

But lest you think this is all broad comedy, there is actually a pretty serious side to the film also. Chan uses this situation as a commentary about the motives of leaders with respect to war, and the impact of battles on both the leaders and the common soldier. The movie ends with a crushing turnabout (which I won't spoil here) that is pretty powerful. I was really impressed in retrospec with just how many little throwaway moments from earlier points in the film led to great payoffs later on.

It doesn't quite stack up with the best of Jackie's career - as I mentioned, this isn't a film for the flashiest fight scenes (and we may be past that part of his career by this point, anyway). And the middle section of the film does drag a bit as the two men are briefly separated - they do seem to work better together. But on the whole, this is certainly Jackie's strongest film in years. Four out of five for me.

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