Twenty years ago I did an interview with the amiable Jackie Chan and he told me he didn’t want to be a sixty-year old action star like Clint Eastwood. Well, he’s sixty-three now and guess what?
Jackie has had two movies released here in a month - and he has another nine (!) announced.
Still time to catch KUNG FU YOGA (Hong Kong/China, 2016) in the multiplexes and that’s a good idea. Basically it’s a big handsome kiddie pic with all the things kids like including snot, vomit and decomposing bodies. The plot, if you dignify it with that term, has archaeology Professor Jackie accompanied by a squad of good looking young people setting out to retrieve the treasure lost in the frozen wastes back in all digital history. The genial Eric Tsang makes another re-appearance. The glamorous Indian scientist is not what she seems and Bollywood nasty Sonu Sood comes with his own squad of murderous kung fu heavies. It’s all played against great scenics in Iceland, Dubai and India
This is like the great Chan films of yore, just an excuse to get it from one action set piece to the next - punch out in an ice cave, the camel race which could be longer, motorway chase with a lion in the back of Jackie’s van (that’s the one people remember), a particularly skillful encounter in a zoo pit full of vicious Jackals, which Jackie leaves to the young ones, and the climax battle (“Kick my legs again and I will kill the girl”) in the chamber that has more than the world’s reserve of gold, turning into a Farah Khan dance number.
Back in the day, Jackie was buckling under the stress of running the show, performing and directing. Golden Harvest hooked him up with a young beginner director named Stanley Tong who Jackie watched with amusement running about doing all the heavy lifting he used to. Well the partnership has persisted and you can see Tong’s good natured notion of entertainment here.
The star is still doing it though now the routines are organised so that his stunt partners can handle the rough stuff, including tossing Jackie around in the action and he only has to make one move instead of the six to eight he used to manage in a single run of the camera.
The Chan grin is getting a little fixed and the make up a little heavy but it’s more endearing than the waste of his talent in his Hollywood movies.
What hasn’t faded is Jackie’s comic timing which is one of the elements which makes his RAILROAD TIGERS a better film and indeed a film that’s better than most of what is circulating.
Set in WW2, the film, like Sammo Hung’s EASTERN CONDORS, carries the ghost of FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (guerrillas in a cave blow up a bridge). The gang who loot the railway are inspired by a dying Eighth Army soldier to take over his mission against the beastly Japanese invaders. This one is also a succession of big action scenes usually involving speeding trains. The moment when the mercenary, disillusioned when he found that even the War Lord he used to serve couldn’t turn back the Nips, joins the action on horseback is worth a cheer and the climax which runs for a couple of reels is full of great what will they do now invention.
The team who put this one together are younger. Director Ding Sheng did a couple of Jackie’s recent films but RAILROAD TIGERS is better than those. Jackie in wig and full beard is barely recognisable though we can’t mistake that killer grin. The most popular actor in human history is still doing it and we are getting the benefit.
Having finished a theatrical release, you may have to pursue RAILROAD TIGERS into the few remaining Asian video stores.