The last time Jackie Chan made a big-budget Chinese New Year blockbuster was the result of a cinematic dud called Dragon Blade two years ago. Fast-forward to 2017, here is Chan again and this time, he’s back with a familiar Armour of God-style archaeologist cum adventurer role.
In Kung Fu Yoga, the story involves a famous Chinese archaeology professor Jack (Jackie Chan) who joins forces with a beautiful Indian professor Ashmita (Disha Patani) to locate the lost treasure of the Magadha kingdom. Also joining the expedition are Jack’s assistants, Xiaoguang (Zhang Yixing) and Nuomin (Miya Muqi) alongside treasure hunter Jones (Aarif Rahman). Trouble arises when their first stop at the Kunlun Mountains is being ambushed by Randall (Sonu Sood) and his henchmen. A series of action-comedy hijinks ensue as their subsequent adventures brought them from China to Dubai and finally India.
Chan’s latest movie may have benefited from the highly-anticipated reunion between the ageing martial arts superstar and director Stanley Tong, in which they last collaborated together over a decade ago in The Myth (2005). The pair was also responsible for some of Jackie’s most popular works during the 90s including Police Story 3: Supercop (1992), Rumble in the Bronx (1995) and Police Story 4: First Strike (1996). But a word of warning, though: don’t expect Chan relive his Armour of God-like heyday. Instead, Kung Fu Yoga is more in line with his half-baked efforts seen in The Myth and CZ12 (2012).
Just so you know, Kung Fu Yoga is supposed to be a sequel to The Myth (with the obvious references ranging from Chan’s character returning as Jack to the portrait of Kim Hee-Sun’s Princess Ok-Soo seen during the opening scene). But somehow, the distributors didn’t market the movie as such since they choose to promote Kung Fu Yoga more like a completely new adventure. Frankly, whether the movie should be viewed as a sequel or otherwise, doesn’t really matters anyway.
Kung Fu Yoga gets off to a shaky start with an awful CG-animated prelude that showcased a young CGI Jackie Chan as Tang Dynasty envoy Wang Xuance fighting against the Indian elephant cavalry in 647 A.D. Given the advanced computer-generated technology these days, it’s really baffling to see such a terribly dated CG moment that feels like watching a cutscene from the first generation of Sony’s PlayStation era. Even when the animated prelude is over, the movie continues to slog along with a few cringe-worthy moments such as the scene where Jack tries to impress Ashmita with his practising skill on a Wing Chun dummy.
Fortunately, the movie does pick up the pace once the action begins to take place in the underground ice cave. Here, we get to see Chan strutting some of his acrobatic kung fu moments against Randall’s henchmen. He may not as agile as he used to be but still impressive enough for a 62-year-old star. Then, there’s Aarif Rahman who somehow steal the show with his nifty kung fu skill. Best of all, he has the same nimbleness that reminds me of Jackie Chan during his prime. Subsequent action scenes are equally entertaining, especially whenever it involves Jackie Chan or Aarif Rahman in a fight. The fight scene in a crowded Indian market is also worth mentioning here, with a scene-stealing moment where Chan uses the staff to take down the enemies.
Stanley Tong sure knows how to put together a well-staged fight scene. Unlike most directors these days, Tong favours clean visual style over quick pans and jittery camerawork. He also fancies lots of wide-angle during the fight scene, which in turn, allow us to enjoy the beautiful martial art choreography displayed on the big screen.
But Kung Fu Yoga stumbles a lot in the story department. While it’s a common knowledge you don’t watch a Jackie Chan movie for the story, that doesn’t mean it has to be bad and incompetent. Tong, who also responsible for the screenplay, is shockingly juvenile. Even if the movie wanted to be family-friendly, the sheer amount of childish gags and cheesy humour are mostly off-putting. The editing is sometimes disjointed and patchy, particularly when the scene jumps from one location to another. The movie’s centrepiece — the Dubai-set car chase scene — is sadly ruined by a shoddy mix of CG effects. The scene where Jack realises there’s a lion in the backseat during the chase is actually a novelty touch. Unfortunately, for all the news report about the real lion being used in the scene, it was mostly replaced by bad CGI.
As for the cast, Jackie Chan is at his usual goofy charm. Aarif Rahman proves he can be the next great action star if he continues the same path. Sonu Sood is dashing but too bad he is undermined with a generic villain role. Disha Patani and Miya Muqi are thankfully more than just a mere pretty face, as they get their chances to show off their exceptional fighting moments as well. Zhang Yixing, best known as Lay from the South Korean-Chinese boy group EXO, is more like an obligatory choice to draw younger crowds.
Finally, the movie concludes with a Bollywood-style song-and-dance number. It sure induces cringe to watch Chan and the rest of the stars dancing altogether.