Jackie Chan and a lion star in an action-adventure that takes place in China, Dubai and India; Stanley Tong directed.
Once it gets rolling, the exceedingly silly Kung Fu Yoga made me very happy.
Jackie Chan stars as an archaeology professor, and if that puts you in mind of Chan's role as a globe-trotting treasure hunter in Armor of God and Operation Condor, rest assured that's intentional. The early films were directly influenced by Raiders of the Lost Ark and spun tales revolving around bigger and improbably wild stunts.
Unlike CZ 12 (aka Chinese Zodiac), Chan's 2012 attempt to resurrect his Armor of God character in a new adventure, this time around the directorial reins have been handed off to Stanley Tong. While it's true that Tong co-wrote and co-produced CZ 12, the change in approach is noticeable.
For one thing, Tong is solely credited for the screenplay and constructs the movie around Chan's current strengths. Tong did a fantastic job working with Chan on the Police Story movies, but that was then and this is now. Rather than ambitious, large-scale physical stunts, Chan's character dusts off his martial-arts fighting skills to show the young people how it's done.
Admittedly, the CGI-assisted action sequences never look top-notch or entirely believable, especially the ones that feature animals. Still, Tong and Chan illustrate that the only way to add anything new to an automotive chase sequence in Dubai, coordinated by the legendary Bruce Law, is to give Chan a CG lion as an unwilling passenger.
It's so inherently ridiculous that it becomes riotously funny (at least during my viewing). And really, that's a good lesson to learn from the Fast and Furious franchise: when it comes to automotive action, forget believability; go big or go home.
Fair warning: Kung Fu Yoga begins with a horribly jumbled period action sequence that is composed nearly entirely of really bad CG animation; it looks like a video game from the mid-1990s and I have no idea why the decision was made to start the movie off on such a sour note.
Perhaps it's because the first act of the movie is somewhat leisurely and doesn't contain much action? Chan plays 'Jack Chan' (?!), the aforementioned archaeology professor who teaches a university classroom lesson that lays out the initial motivation for the story. (In a further nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of his students shows her true feelings on her eyelids.)
Chan is summoned to a meeting with Professor Ashmita (Disha Patani), an archaeology professor from India who brings an ancient map and seeks his help to 'explore and solve a thousand year-old mystery' involving a long-missing treasure.
They head out to the Kunlun Mountains on the border of China and India, a wintry locale -- actually filmed in Iceland -- where they hope to recover the treasure, accompanied by Ashmita's teaching assistant Kyra (Amyra Dastur) and Chan's teaching assistants Xiaoguang (Lay Zhang) and Nuomin (Mu Qimiya). They are also joined by ... Jones (Aakif Rahman), the son of Chan's late friend, also an archaeologist.
Jones is, unsurprising given his surname, a treasure hunter. He proves very helpful in locating a giant ice cave with treasures inside, but there they encounter Randall (Sonu Sood), who wants all the loot and is happy to leave everyone else dead.
Though it takes a good while to reach the ice cave, once there the action really starts rolling, first with a well-choreographed fight sequence between the opposing teams, everyone rolling and sliding around on the ice. After that, the movie picks up speed, next heading to Dubai and then to India for more fun action sequences.
Horace Wong's cinematography captures well the gracefully-designed action scenes to the extent possible, though there's no denying that the computer-aided visual effects are noticeable. Still, there's also no denying that the movie establishes a relaxed, comic air that makes it easier to accept the goofiness of things. This is not a gritty, realistic picture; it's an adventure that's rooted in fantastical notions, so why not just go with it?
Like Railroad Tigers, his recently-released period movie, Kung Fu Yoga does not represent Chan at the high point of his career. But both movies show that it's still possible for his talents to be presented in an enjoyable and broadly entertaining fashion, surrounded by other talented performers.
As a Chinese New Year's release, Kung Fu Yoga is a family-friendly reminder that Master Chan still has a trick or two up his sleeve.
The film opens in select U.S. theaters on Friday, January 27, via Well Go USA.