Railroad Tigers Review
Jackie Chan is the king of Hong Kong cinema. He has been making movies for over 50 years. His brand of martial arts comedy has been the gateway to Asian cinema for many cinephiles. Now his latest film, Railroad Tigers, released in China around the Christmas period, comes to the West thanks to a home video release by the people at Kaleidoscope Entertainment. The question is then, after 50 years does Jackie Chan still have the same great comedy and balletic martial arts that made him a household name?
Set in Japanese-occupied China during World War Two, the film focuses on a group of rail workers, led by Ma Yuan, who work on a key military rail line from Tianjin to Nanjing. These rail workers must use their knowledge of the railway to sabotage the Japanese supply trains and save the Chinese people from occupation.
It can be hard to watch a movie that comes from a culture and a history that is different to your own. You can feel a little like an observer, never getting involved in the action or the characters because you do not fully understand. Sometimes this can work in the film's favour, but in other cases, as it is with Railroad Tigers, being outside the film accentuates the flaws and detracts from its enjoyment.
The story should have carried the film to great heights; underdog Chinese workers fighting against the imperialistic Japanese, and with Jackie Chan's brand of energetic comedy it could have been a fantastic film. But unfortunately, Railroad Tigers has a plot that is so choppy that it can be hard to keep up. It rattles from introducing a vast cast of characters, each with their own catchphrases, to the final underwhelming climax in the space of two hours. It always feels like there are sections missing from the film which prevents the complete picture, and it makes me wonder whether this film is based on a true story, but the lack of information about it implies that it is not.
The characters are also lacking; the only characterisation that they get is a brief flash of text that introduces their name, their occupation and their catchphrase. There is no arc, because there is no character, to begin with. This is where Jackie Chan's experience in comedy should have helped us care about the characters, but none of his supposedly funny moments brought so much as a smile to my face.
The same can be said of the lacklustre action that has none of Jackie's inventiveness, instead relying on CGI trains and tanks to thrill audiences. But that isn't why you go to see a Jackie Chan movie, you want to see the Buster Keaton-esque clearly shot funny fusions of slapstick and kung fu. Instead, we see that Jackie has succumbed to the western shaky-cam quick cut approach to action photography which leaves those of us expecting a Jackie Chan movie disappointed. As previously stated Jackie has been making films for over 50 years, so at some point his age is going to catch up with him. After this film maybe Jackie should retreat behind the camera and empart his style of action to younger and more energetic stars to keep his cinema alive.
Railroad Tigers is not good at all. With controversies about box office fraud surrounding the film's financial success, you can kind of see why. The characters are non-existence, the story is choppy and incomprehensible, the humour falls flat, and the action set pieces feel like they could have been made by an amateur in 2007. This is one film that even Jackie Chan fans should avoid.
This disc is a solid production for the most part. The menus are definitely easy to traverse, and the subtitles are easy to read, despite it feeling as though you are missing half the dialogue.
There are also no easily spotted audio errors, but you cannot say the same for the visuals. It is fine for the most part, but towards the end of the film, there are some obvious pixel errors in the corners of the image as well as strange distortions in the action. Though it must be said that this may be just for the review copies, but for a professional distributing company you would expect a high-quality review copy.
The DVD has typical first release extras that don't do much to sell the disc by itself. There is the trailer, which to me always feels weird to include in a film that was recently released. I can understand the need for a trailer to be included for those interested in trailers in an academic capacity, but who actually watches the optional trailers on DVDs at home.
The other extra is a short excerpt into the making of Railroad Tigers special effects. While it is sort of interesting, it feels more like an advertisement rather than an in-depth look at the making of a major Chinese movie.
The extras on this disc are nothing really to write home about and don't really recommend the disc by themselves.
In case you didn't pick it up in the review, I did not like Railroad Tigers; it is a mediocre mess of a movie which left me, as a fan of Jackie Chan, incredibly disappointed. With a film like that it is up to the extras to try harder to sell the film, and from what I saw there is nothing to merit you shelling out for this bland release. If you are a hardcore Jackie Chan fan, then this negative review isn't going to stop you, but for everyone else, it isn't worth it.