Review: RAILROAD TIGERS, Jackie Chan vs. Japanese Invaders

Jackie Chan's latest action picture, directed by Ding Sheng, is more than respectable.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, USA (@peteramartin)
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Review: RAILROAD TIGERS, Jackie Chan vs. Japanese Invaders

Jackie Chan last found success in Hollywood by mentoring young Jaden Smith in a remake of the surprisingly decent The Karate Kid. That was more than six years ago.

Since then, Chan has rarely been seen in North American theaters. Most recently, historical action epic Dragon Blade and buddy comedy Skiptrace both received token releases here; each has its own problems and neither represents Chan at his finest.

Railroad Tigers sees Chan reuniting with director Ding Sheng for an action picture that really moves. That's a weak but true statement; for a late-period Chan movie, Railroad Tigers features a series of action sequences that sometimes defy the laws of physics but are mostly fun to watch unfold.

Chan and Sheng began their collaboration with Little Big Soldier, which featured a solid performance from Chan, followed by Police Story: Lockdown, which our own James Marsh described as a letdown in which "most of the time, Chan just looks like a sad puppy."

Set in 1941 (per the press notes), during the time when the Japanese and Chinese armies were at war, Railroad Tigers revolves around Chan as Ma Yuan, a factory worker who has also formed a small team to steal valuable things from the trains that run through a small town in China. The town is occupied by the Japanese military police, overseen locally by Yamaguchi (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi from Ip Man).

One day a wounded Chinese soldier named Daguo (Darren Wang) stumbles into town. He is the only survivor of a mission to blow up a bridge that is key to the war effort in the area. He asks Ma Yuan to deliver a message to the army, letting them know that the mission was a failure and that the bridge still needs to be blown up in the next two days. But before he can explain how to contact the army, he's killed.

WellGoUSA_RailroadTigers-350.jpgLike almost everyone else in town, Ma Yuan has lost a family member to the war. So he decides to carry out the soldier's dangerous mission, and his team members quickly join him, along with an independent thief, a blacksmith, and Fan Chuan (Wang Kai), a noodle shop owner who was formerly a sharpshooter with the Chinese army.

The balance of the film is spent on the mission. First, though, they'll need explosives...

Laid out in a simple and direct manner, Railroad Tigers initially features the expected broad humor to liven up the introduction, which takes an extended period of time to establish the reluctant yet patriotic amateur warriors. They are set against Japanese characters as caricatures of evil, first the nasty Yamaguchi, Captain of the local Japanese Military Police, and then Inspector Yuko (Zhang Lanxin), his superior, who easily tops him in brutish behavior.

They are more than balanced, though, by Ma Yuan and his relentlessly likable team. It's easy to root for them because all are modest in their personalities and forthright in their loyalty. Ma Yuan even has an age-appropriate love interest in the widowed Auntie Qin (Fan Xu), a pancake seller, and they each have children who are about the same age. Her son Dahai (played by Chan's son Jaycee Chan) and his daughter Xing'er both end up on the mission, giving Chan the actor an opportunity to display his parenting skills.

Sheng co-wrote the script and also served as film editor. As a director, he wisely favors sweeping tracking shots and knows well how to showcase the action provided by the Jackie Chan Stunt Team. As things progress and visual effects force their way into more complex sequences involving the principal train, it's difficult to disguise those effects, but by that point it's a bit too late to start nit-picking.

While Railroad Tigers falls quite a bit short of Chan's masterpieces of the 1980s and early 1990s, it's a more than respectable action movie that provides a refreshing change of pace and serves as a good throwback to World War II-era military train pictures.

The film opens in select theaters in the U.S. via Well Go USA on Friday, January 6.

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Alan NgChinaDing ShengHong KongJackie ChanJaycee Chan

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ZetobeltJanuary 5, 2017 1:00 PM

I really like Jackie. But I'm a little tired of "good chinese vs bad japanese" movies.

HeijoshinJanuary 5, 2017 1:36 PM

Kind of like Evil White Men vs Good Non-White anyone.

Peter MartinJanuary 5, 2017 2:57 PM

Agree. It's about on the level of Japanese villainy in Jet Li's FIST OF LEGEND back in 1994.

wabaliciousJanuary 5, 2017 3:58 PM

Yeah, it's surprising how that anti-Japanese trope has continued until now. I mean, i understand the reasons behind it obviously, but rather than dying out it seems to be going through some kind of renaissance between this, Ip Man and quite a few other Chinese films of the past few years. A friend of mine wasn't really aware of it until we watched a few Chinese martial arts films together, and he was genuinely surprised at the amount of anti-Japanese feeling in them.

wabaliciousJanuary 5, 2017 4:02 PM

General Fujita really is one of the nastiest Japanese villains ever! At least they made a token attempt to balance out the non-evil Japanese characters (Jet's girlfriend and her uncle) with the evil Japanese characters (everyone else) in that one, i suppose.

Todd BrownJanuary 5, 2017 4:46 PM

It's partly down to SARFT rules about the portrayal of villains in Chinese films, particularly if those villains are Chinese and the film is set in China. It's really, really, really hard to have a compelling Chinese villain in a Chinese film. Making it a period piece and pointing to the Japanese is an easy way to give yourself a bad guy who will pass censorship..

Plus, you know, there are still people alive who were around when this happened:

Expecting positive portrayals of Japanese military in a Chinese film may not be quite on the same scale as expecting positive views of the German military in a Jewish film, but it's in the same neighborhood.

wabaliciousJanuary 6, 2017 5:09 PM

Yeah, they do seem to have quite strict rules about what is and isn't suitable for public consumption, I read yesterday that Jet Li's Kiss of the Dragon was banned in China because it portrayed a Chinese agent killing people on foreign soil and wasn't an image they wanted to portray.

David SmithJanuary 7, 2017 5:15 PM

This was great with an audience. A bit clumsy but endearing and laugh out loud funny

Nadya LoisseJanuary 7, 2017 9:57 PM

typo, dahai was played by huang zitao. jaycee played as rui