Fear not if you should walk into Jackie Chan’s latest, Kung-Fu Yoga, and worry that the martial arts legend has decided to go the Final Fantasy route: The abominable all-CG action, depicting a Tang Dynasty monk’s trip to India and some video-game-like battles that ensued, lasts all of five or six minutes and will barely be referred to again in the film.
What comes after that is much closer to what moviegoers will expect of a film reuniting Chan with his Rumble in the Bronx director Stanley Tong — a good-natured cross-cultural romp in which you can barely be expected to take any human interaction seriously, save for those in which humans smack up against each other with force. (Tong, whose has been gone for more than a decade since his last film, the derided Chan epic The Myth, also directed several installments in the Police Story franchise.) Pairing old-school Chan action with a globe-trotting archaeology mission, Kung-Fu Yoga scratches fans’ itch for no-nonsense, no-pretense Chan fare — in which he isn’t second-banana to a Western star, or married to a director who thinks VFX are required to make Chan’s stunts more impressive.
The picture’s debts to Raiders of the Lost Ark are large and frequently acknowledged. Chan plays Professor Chan, repeatedly referred to as “the greatest archaeologist in China.” (“Just one of them,” Chan always replies, suggesting that there’s another great treasure-hunter who might, but doesn’t, pop up in a cameo near the end.) Chan is approached by a professor from India, Ashmita (dishy Disha Patani, about as convincing as an academic as Denise Richards was as a nuclear physicist in that Bond film) and her assistant Kyra (Amyra Dastur), who have a lead on the vast treasure trove described in that ugly prologue.
With two of Chan’s TAs, they head out to recruit Jones (Aarif Rahman), who, unlike the Harrison Ford character of the same name, hunts treasures solely for personal profit. The good professor, in his Jackie Chan-ish way, believes that a mission this important will inspire the youngster to use his talents for the good of society instead.
That miscalculation leads to many twists and turns once the piles of gold and diamonds are found, taking our heroes — and a newly arrived villain, played by Sonu Sood — from the icy Kunlun Mountains to Dubai to a vast network of caves in India, each location offering specific props for Chan’s (and Rahman’s) chopsocky inventions.
best thing here? Jackie Chan on crampons, in the center of a melee in which younger opponents get the kick-and-slide treatment across precarious ice bridges. Or maybe, for those excited by the premise of this China/India co-production, a grand finale dance number choreographed by Bollywood star Farah Khan. The latter is a non-sequitur that Tong doesn’t even attempt to integrate into his thieves-and-good guys scenario. But in lieu of the mid-credits entertainment of olden days — in which we watched a younger Chan nearly kill himself time and again, trying to get a stunt right — it will have to do.
Production companies: Sparkle Roll Media, Taihe Entertainment, Shinework Pictures
Distributor: Well Go Entertainment
Cast: Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur, Aarif Rahman, Sonu Sood
Director-Screenwriter: Stanley Tong
Producers: Jackie Chan, Jianhong Qi, Jonathan Shen, Barbie Tung, Wei Wang
Executive producers: Joe Tam, Iris Wang, Chuck Zhang
Director of photography: Wing-Hang Wong
Production designer: Ying-Wah Cheung
Costume designer: Phoebe Wong
Editor: Chi-Leung Kwong
Composer: Nathan Wang