I was really starting to miss Jackie Chan for a while. With maybe the exception of The Karate Kid remake, I really have not seen anything that has impressed me from Chan in a while. Between him getting older and the desire to work on more family friendly films, it has been tough to find some classic Chan action without looking back to his past films. Fortunately, Chan finally had the chance to make his passion project, a period film that Chan developed the story for himself, involving the warring clans at the end of China’s Dynastic period. Chan stars as a grunt that has survived a bloody battle and has wound up capturing a general. While not too light-hearted of a story, it still manages to bring a lot of Chan’s sense of humor to the proceedings, while actually telling a mature story. It is entertaining and does a lot right; making it one of the better efforts I have seen from Jackie Chan in quite some time.
The film is set during the darkest of times in China, when ruthless warlords waged constant battles. The film begins with warring states Liang and Wei having one epic battle that lasted from dawn until dusk. Only two men were left standing – a foot soldier from Liang and the rival General (Wang Leehom) from Wei. The Soldier (Chan) survived because he is an expert in playing dead, with a device strapped on his body that give the impression of an arrow having gone through him. The Soldier captured the wounded General, hoping to use the enemy as his ticket to freedom. By handing the General to the Liang warlord, the Soldier could be honorably discharged and return home to his peaceful life. As the film carries on the two men are often butting heads with each other, while dealing with various obstacles in their path, including various enemies and assassins on their tails.
Little Big Soldier was apparently a huge blockbuster success in China and I can see why, it is a lot of fun to watch, and puts the call out to both period epics and entertaining Jackie Chan films. The film is well shot, well paced, humorous on occasion, and even manages to incorporate a levelheaded amount of drama. It kind of does everything one would ask for a film such as this although I still would not call it great.
This may be due to the story, which I found to be interesting enough, but a little thin. The premise is there and you have Chan and Leehom bickering for quite a while, being separated for a bit, and then back to bickering again. There are other things going on as well, but I did not find myself completely engaged with the proceedings throughout. It is not like other Jackie Chan films in the past have focused so much on having a legitimately good story, but they had other elements that kept up the excitement.
Fortunately, I did have a lot of fun with the Chan-style of action that was present in this film. As martial arts films from overseas have embraced the wuxia-style, Little Big Soldiers only toys with embracing that style, with more care given to having Chan and the other skilled fighters going through the process of pulling off carefully choreographed fight scenes that look great and incorporate humor and style. The film may not feature some of the top Jackie Chan fighting moments seen in the past, but it easily serves as a reminder as to why Chan is such a great entertainer.
For a film that was stuck in development hell for 20 years, it is nice to see that Chan was finally able to make the film that he wanted. It should be interesting to note that Chan initially wanted to play the younger character, but due to the various delays in making the project, he wound up playing the older soldier. I find this to be a neat bit of info, as it goes into what I thought about Chan here. He has never been the strongest “actor”, but this film asks him to do a lot, and it is because of how Chan has established his presence in the past that I was able to really accept the performance that he gives here, which is both comedic and tragic. Much like the film, which has enough good involved in it (be it the fights, the humor, or the great cinematography) that I was able to look past my small gripes and favor the well meaning story that was offered up here.
Proof that it doesn’t require a huge Hollywood movie studio to produce a quality Blu-ray disc; Little Big Soldier boasts terrific video quality to match its wonderful cinematography. The 1080p transfer does wonders for this film, which features a diverse look at China’s outdoor environments. Colors pop, the facial textures come through very clearly, and various other bits of detail all shine quite nicely on this disc. Some darker scenes taking place within caves are the only areas in which a few bumps in the road seem to occur, but everything else about the quality of this video transfer looks pretty great.
Much of the same can be said about the superb audio tracks available on this disc. The Blu-ray’s main track is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which is balanced quite nicely. The other track is similar but an English language dubbing (the main track is Mandarin). Given the mix of large scale battles, smaller scale fight scenes, and various moments of banter between the actors, the film’s sound is impressively well handled. For a film that only received a small amount of attention here in the U.S., I am quite pleased that the Blu-ray at least has an excellent presentation from an audio/visual standpoint.
There are only a handful of extras plus a DVD copy of the film present in this package, which is unfortunate, because extended blooper reels of Chan doing stunts is always welcome, yet denied here. Even an opportunity to hear more from Chan about the development of this film would have been nice. Features include:
Jackie Chan Music Video
Making of Featurette
I did enjoy this film quite a bit. While not a Chan classic in my eyes, it does a lot of good for him as an actor/skilled martial artist with a comedic flare. The film has an interesting enough story and back story involved in its making, features some fun action sequences, and looks and sounds great on Blu. While lacking in the way of extras, there is still enough to enjoy here that would make this a wonderful film to visit if, like me, you were seeking something worthwhile and new from Jackie Chan.