Director: Stanley Tong
Cast: Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Lay Zhang, Sonu Sood, Amyra Dastur, Eric Tsang, Zhang Guoli, Mu Qimiya
Runtime: 1 hr 47 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Clover Films, mm2 Entertainment and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 26 January 2017
Synopsis: Chinese archeology professor Jack (Jackie Chan) teams up with beautiful Indian professor Ashmita and assistant Kyra to locate lost Magadha treasure. In a Tibetan ice cave, they find the remains of the royal army that had vanished together with the treasure, only to be ambushed by Randall (Sonu Sood), the descendent of a rebel army leader. When they free themselves, their next stop is Dubai where a diamond from the ice cave is to be auctioned. After a series of double-crosses and revelations about their past, Jack and his team travel to a mountain temple in India, using the diamond as a key to unlock the real treasure.
‘Kung Fu Yoga’ reunites Jackie Chan with his longtime collaborator Stanley Tong – and going by their previous works (including ‘Police Story 3: Super Cop’, ‘Rumble in the Bronx’, ‘Police Story 4: First Strike’ and ‘The Myth’), you can pretty much guess what kind of movie this is. Indeed, this isn’t the type of Jackie Chan film intended to herald his desire for more serious dramatic fare (a la ‘Shinjuku Incident’, ‘Police Story 2013’ or ‘Dragon Blade’); rather, this is the sort of Jackie Chan blockbuster which was once a staple of the Chinese New Year season in the 1990s, sold on the premise of his comic energy and perhaps more significantly his daredevil instincts. The latter is however also reason why the now 62-year-old actor has not made a ‘Police Story’ or equivalent year after year, or why the set-pieces in his more recent action comedies like ‘Skiptrace’ and even ‘CZ12’ have been relatively tamer affairs compared to those earlier household classics – and indeed, the same may also be said of ‘Kung Fu Yoga’ too. But even though the stunts are less reckless, Jackie Chan’s enthusiasm is just as infectious as ever, such that his latest remains a thoroughly crowd-pleasing throwback and a perfect Chinese New Year entertainer.
Reprising the adventurer archetype from the ‘Armour of God’ series, Jackie Chan plays an archaeological professor here bearing his own name, who is sought out by a younger Indian counterpart Dr Ashmita (Disha Patani) to recover the fabled treasure of the Magadha kingdom. A completely CGI-ed prelude tells of the treasure’s history, tracing back to the alliance struck between Chinese envoy Wang Xuance (a much younger-looking Jackie) and the kingdom’s General Bhimaa to stop the rogue Indian general Arunasva. In present day, Jack is joined by his two teaching assistants Xiaoguang (Lay Zhang) and Nuomin (Miya Muqi) as well as an old friend’s treasure-hunter son Jones (Aarif Rahman), while Ashmita is accompanied by her teaching assistant Kyra (Amyra Dastur). Together, the ensemble reflects the fusion intended by this significant China-India co-production, which also explains the supposed ‘yin-yang’ mishmash of kung fu and yoga meant to represent their respective cultures.
Following the universal template of such action-driven spectacles, Tong (who directs from his own screenplay based off Jackie Chan’s idea) structures the film around a series of show-pieces in different locales, that see Jack and his companions go from the snowy mountains of Tibet to the gleaming desert metropolis of Dubai to the holy temples of Rajasthan. Like ‘CZ12’, Jack finds his mission to recover the ancient treasure thwarted by selfish individuals who want it all to themselves, and that ignominy this time goes to Sonu Sood’s nefarious billionaire Randall, who claims to be its rightful heir by virtue of his lineage with Arunasva. It is Randall’s army of mercenaries who stage an icy ambush on Jack’s team in the Kunlun mountains, chase Jack down the streets of Dubai with a lion in the back of his SUV, lock Jones and Kyra in a pit with hyenas, and last but not least engage in a final showdown within a massive underground golden shrine.
Each one of these encounters gives plenty of room for Tong and his fellow stunt choreographer Wu Gang to engender a display of Jackie Chan’s kung fu moves and/or that of his younger co-stars. At least two stand out – the first the aforementioned Dubai car chase where Jack flails to find a language the beast in the back seat understands in order to placate it; and the second a foot chase through a busy Indian market packed with snake charmers, levitating yogis and the classic Indian rope trick. In between, there are also several less elaborate but no less entertaining moments, including a scene where Jack and Jones scare off wolves with their friendly exchange of kung fu, Xiaoguang’s rescue of Jones and Kyra from the hyena pit, and the recurrent double team of Kyra and Nuomin against Randall’s henchmen. Truth be told, Jackie cannot quite hold an entire sequence from start to finish by himself as he used to, but the consequence of each therefore becoming an ensemble effort is not a bad thing in and of itself, especially as it gives his younger co-stars space to demonstrate their respective acrobatisms. On his part, Jackie remains his usual goofy charming self, his childlike verve not only setting up the film’s jaunty tone but also establishing a lively tempo for his fellow actors to follow suit and simply have fun.
Oh yes, if anything, that is Jackie Chan’s simple straight-forward intention with ‘Kung Fu Yoga’. The narrative is only filler, the characters at best functional, and the execution earnest but clumsy; and yet the same could be said of many of Jackie’s beloved classics of the 80s and 90s, so any criticism on the above three counts is really moot. Instead, ‘Kung Fu Yoga’ is fashioned in the same silly, wacky and sometimes over-the-top mould, with much in common in spirit and tone – in part, that explains why it concludes with Jackie Chan doing a Bollywood dance and why we are willing to forgive the cheesy CGI-ed animals (including, we suspect, the lion which the production has claimed to be genuine). It should be said that it is unreasonable to expect Jackie Chan to be as agile as he used to be, but what he does manage to pull off here is mighty impressive for someone of his age. Insofar as being a Jackie Chan Chinese New Year blockbuster therefore, ‘Kung Fu Yoga’ is as delightful as it gets – and as pleasing a roost as any to get into that jovial mood with friends and family.
(A quintessential Jackie Chan blockbuster for the Lunar New Year, this crowd-pleasing globe-trotting action comedy may lack his signature daredevil moves, but certainly not his goofy infectious sense of fun and humour)
Review by Gabriel Chong