Kung Fu Yoga
China and India are perhaps the biggest growing film markets in the world. China is being pandered to by Hollywood studios in the hopes of their film being allowed in the lucrative marketplace, while India makes some of the biggest films with famous stars that most of the world will never see. These facts cause many to think about what would happen if these two ancient vibrant cultures joined forces to create movies. Well, wonder no more as the biggest action star in the world, Jackie Chan has made a film with a Chinese and Indian coproduction appropriately entitled Kung Fu Yoga, which will be coming to the UK on Blu-ray and DVD on 7th August.
Jack is an archaeologist with the reputation of being one of the best, if not the best, archaeologist in all of China. He is approached by Professor Ashmita to help her find the mythical treasure of Magadha. With his team of assistants as well as the son of a friend, Jones, he manages to find the key to discovering the treasure, but the mysterious Randall plans to get to the legendary riches and will do anything to get there first.
It's been evident for a while that the quality of Jackie Chan's action films has decreased dramatically. Gone are the intricate and inventive fights, the Buster Keaton-esque slapstick and death defying stunts. Now, Jackie Chan has not always had the best film record; his films tend to have nonsensical plots and an over-reliance on globetrotting, but the amazing fight choreography made wading through the plot rewarding. However, there is nothing about Jackie's recent filmography that compares to Kung Fu Yoga in terms of how bad they are.
Though a cross-cultural co-production, it does not represent either culture with any nuance or subtlety. The film relies almost entirely on stereotypes of Indians and those of Arabic origins when the gang somehow ends up in a car chase through Dubai. That is not the only troubling thing about the film, there are also some questionable things done to the female characters in the film that feel a little creepy, especially the hint of a possible romance between the 62-year-old Chan and the 25-year-old Disha Patani who plays the latest descendant of Magadha royalty; but this is all subjective over-analytical musing.
What isn't subjective is the objective fact that this film has terrible, borderline improvisational pacing. It zips from location to location with no rhyme or reason, just a shallow 'because'. There are all these amazing places that are visited in the film, but they never feel real, just an advertisement for hotels in Dubai or footage from someone's adventure holiday. It just feels like lazy writing or something that a child has made up with a very '...and then' style of story telling.
This laziness stretches to the way that the characters are written, and that is the main reason I didn't care about anything on screen. The fact that I didn't care about any of the characters meant that I didn't care about any of the story, or any of the action. I care about Jackie Chan's other characters because he is the underdog, he is usually goofy, clownish, earnest and good in his older films, and we got the time to see that. However, here, I don't think I could tell you anything about his character other than the fact that he is an archaeologist, is called Jack and has a crush on a women four decades his junior. This applies to the other characters as well, who for the life of me I couldn't tell you anything about apart from their job description. You can tell that the other actors are trying, but the constant look of confusion and sadness at being in this train-wreck is evident on many of the actor's faces.
There are so many talented people in this film, but because the film decides to focus its attention on the ageing action star we cannot see the other performers do what they do best. For instance, Miya Muqi is a professional Yoga and Taekwondo instructor yet she isn't allowed to showcase any of these talents and is instead relegated to eye candy. Zhang Yixing (or Lay) is a talented dancer in a South Korean-Chinese pop group Exo but because he is the comic relief we don't see his skills as a dancer until the rather surreal Bollywood-style dance number at the end.
What is truly infuriating is that there is a good film hiding in Kung Fu Yoga somewhere. Some fight scenes have that old Jackie Chan spark, and Sonu Sood as the villainous Randall could have been an intimidating antagonist, after all he was pretty damn good in Arbaaz Khan's Dabangg, but he isn't really allowed to do anything other than march after a MacGuffin in swanky suits. The good parts of the film seem drowned in Jackie Chan's over-inflated ego and the film feels bogged down in showing us that 'he has still got it' when it has been evident for a while he most certainly does not.
Kung Fu Yoga seems to want to coast on its star, however, it is clear that it cannot. There are some truly questionable film choices, including an ice cave that looks like it was taken directly from Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin. There is a CGI opening that feels incredibly out of place and had me questioning whether the movie was going to be animated like a cut scene from an early PlayStation game. Finally, the comedy - which has always been Jackie's other strong suit - is noticeably absent from this film. You can see where the humour is supposed to be but it tries to beat you over the head with its unfunny jokes, and instead of making you laugh they leave you feeling empty.
I always seem to get my hopes up when a new Jackie Chan film comes out, I think about how great he was in the Police Story franchise, The Drunken Master, Project A and even the Rush Hour movies. Each time I hope that he has got better, my optimism fades quickly as I am faced with a jumbled mess of flat jokes, slow, stale fight scenes that only briefly show what the master once was. I would urge you to pass this one and hope that Jackie’s next film is better.