24 April 2008 | SamuraiNixon
Jackie and Jet
After reading a brief synopsis of the film with the film I knew not to go into the film with high expectations. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the film was much pretty much what I had envisioned with a few notable exceptions. Much halloo has been made of the fact that this is the first film with Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Both have become international superstars, both have an excellent repertoire with martial arts, both have played Wong Fei Hung (Jackie Chan in Drunken Master (1978) and Jet Li in Once Upon A Time In China (1991)), but neither have the ever appeared in a film together. The reasons are sundry and probably have to do with past egos, but better late than never (Spielberg, it is not too late to hire either one of these actors). Though imagine what could have been made in the late 80s with these two.
What had me most concerned with this film was that it is centered on a milquetoast Hong Kong Shaw Brother's film fanatic Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano: Sky High (2005)) who spends his time buying bootleg VCD/DVDs in Chinatown and being bullied by local thugs. Though this might hit the demographic of many martial art film fans, I was ambivalent about its use of a focal point away from Jackie or Jet. Both of these actors can carry a film and the insertion of Tripitikas felt superfluous and relegated this movie to young teen-movie status. His performance was OK though, just nothing that special.
Tripitikas visits his normal Chinatown shop (mentioning Ten Tigers from Kuangtung (1980)) owned by a raspy voiced Old Hop (Jackie Chan in old-man makeup; thank god he did not become a Mr. Miyagi clone) and notices an exquisite staff. Old Hop states that he is waiting to return it to its rightful owner. Later, Jason acquiesces to the gang (about as scary as The Backstreet Boys) and helps them rob Hop. Things go badly as Hop gets shot and just as Jason is about to die he gets transported into a different realm (through the gate with no gate).
Luckily, this is where the story gets more interesting partially because less emphasis is put on the teen and more on the environment and new characters. Jason meets Lu Yan (Jackie Chan: though this character is more like the King of Beggars aka Beggar So played most famous by Simon Yuen in Drunken Master (1978)) whose uses drunken kung fu. Jason learns that he must return the staff to free the Monkey King (Jet Li) who was tricked into being turned to stone by the Jade War Lord (Ngai Sing: Fearless, Flash Point (2007)) and caused 500 years of unhappiness under his realm. However, there is a prophecy of an outsider who will return the staff and restore order (yes a chosen one, guess who that is). Ultimately, the chosen one team up with Golden Swallow (Liu Yi-Fei: yes the same name as the character in Come Drink with Me) who is also out for revenge against Jade War Lord who ruthless killed her family and a wandering monk (Jet Li).
I enjoyed the film for what is was. A nondescript lead does not help with the film as a whole, but there is much to like. The action choreography of Yuen Woo-ping (Hero, Drunken Master) is quite good partially because he has worked before with Jet Li and Jackie Chan. He knows exactly their aging limitations and makes the wire-work look beautiful. The fight scene between Jackie and Jet is a must watch for action fans and exquisitely beautiful. When comedy was applied it worked well. Two of these scenes stood out for me and had the audience laughing with my favorite of the two is when Jackie and Jet used Jason as an unwilling puppet while both masters trying to teach him gung fu. It is nice seeing Jet Li have a fun time with his characters. The other highlight of the movie is the penultimate fight scene between just about everybody including the Monkey King and a very angry hired killer -- the White Haired Assassin (Lee Bing-Bing) She is an homage to The Bride With White Hair (1993) which is also mentioned earlier in the film.
The film is a hodge-podge of Asian stories with the main plot is taken from the Ming Dynasty story "Journey to the West" (published anonymously and is foretold with an showing early in the film of, I believe but not positive since I was partially distracted at the time, Cave of the Silken Web (1967)) and put in a Wizard of Oz (1939) outline. There are some problems with the cohesion of the story, a nondescript lead and several plot problems exist, but it does not distract too much unless you are adamant about your adaptations being faithful. Rob Minkoff's direction (Stuart Little (1999), Haunted Mansion (2003)) is good, but I would have liked a more action-oriented director helming this project. I think most martial art film fanatics will be slightly disappointed by this film, but many will enjoy this movie for what it is entertainment with a couple of excellent choreographed martial art scenes.
Let us hope that Jet Li and Jackie Chan get together again and get to be the main characters.