2010, 95 minutes, 35mm, in Mandarin with English subtitles
Directed by: Ding Sheng
Starring: Jackie Chan, Wang Lee-hom, Yu Rong-guang
Wednesday, June 26 @ 4:30pm (buy tickets)
It’s not easy being a Jackie Chan fan. One of cinema’s great masters, on a par with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin for sheer physical genius and filmmaking invention, Jackie’s has let himself become something of a joke in recent years, appearing in a string of uninspired Hollywood movies and bloated big-budget misfires. Even he seems a bit embarrassed by the turn his career has taken in the last ten years. But now, true believers rejoice! Because finally he’s made a movie that scrapes the rust from his legend. A movie that stands proudly with his greatest films. LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is here, and it’s the movie that any Jackie fan can show to an unbeliever and say, “There! That’s why this man is great.”
20 years in development, LITTLE BIG SOLDIER sees Jackie finally come to terms with his place in the Chinese film industry, his aging body, his legacy as an action star and even China’s place in the world. A sly satire on the endless string of period epics (like Red Cliff) that come out of China, the movie starts during the Warring States period immediately after a battle where the armies of Liang and Wen have just annihilated each other. The only two survivors are the Old Soldier (Jackie Chan) a conscripted farmer who has lived through countless battles with one unbeatable technique: the battle starts and he pretends to be dead. The other survivor is the Wei General (Wang Lee-hom) a proud warrior whose one dream, death in battle, is lost when he’s wounded.
Sick of fighting, the Old Soldier sees his way out in the Wei General: he’ll keep him alive and turn him in to his own forces, get a fat reward and retire. The only problem is that his own forces are all dead, and the only ones still alive are thousands of miles away. The only solution is to drag the protesting General behind him and get home, step by exhausting step. The fact that the General’s forces are coming after him (to either rescue or assassinate him in an Imperial power play) means that the Old Soldier can’t slow down for a second.
As gorgeous as anything ever made by Zhang Yimou, LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is a lavish, big budget comedy about two men who hate each other but who, as they leave the war behind, realize that fame, fortune, glory, and heroism are all well and good, but that sometimes the greatest victory is just staying alive. Jackie ditches his massive combat scenes and stunts in this movie and you don’t miss them for a second. He’s always been a great physical actor, and he embodies Old Soldier so thoroughly that you don’t even recognize him. What makes Jackie great is his timing, he’s a master of physical comedy and this is the first time as he gets older that he’s had to rely on his skills and not lavish special effects or CGI. He’s not the physically formidable fighting tornado that he once was, but he’s got the timing and the acting chops.
In a dizzying display of self-awareness, Jackie has made a movie whose message is “Change or die.” Fortunately, for his fans, LITTLE BIG SOLDIER represents the joyous fact that at 56 years old, Jackie has chosen “change” and the result is his best movie in 16 years.