Little Big Soldier: The Film is innovative for Jackie Chan
We’ve seen Jackie Chan, the nimble action hero who takes down the bad guys. Enter Jackie Chan, the timid soldier who will do anything to avoid fighting, even using a prop arrow and artificial blood to fake his death during major battles.
In the veteran action star’s new Chinese-language release, Little Big Soldier (Dai Binh Tieu Tuong). Chan plays a farmer-turned-reluctant soldier in ancient China whose survival strategy is feigning injury.
After escaping unscathed from another battle through trickery, he stumbles upon his biggest prize – a surviving general from a rival state. The general becomes his hostage – the hope being that turning in the wounded soldier to the king of his state will win him riches and exemption from military duty.
The treacherous journey back to the farmer’s home state, fending off assassins and indigenous bandits, and the comical interplay between Chan’s happy-go-lucky farmer and the fearless, snobbish general who looks down on his opportunistic kidnapper drives the 96-minute film.
At first glance, Jackie Chan and co-star, singer Leehom Wang are hopelessly miscast. How can the world’s biggest ethnic Chinese star pass for a small-time soldier? And how can a Chinese-American pop sensation raised in Rochester. New York and known for his good looks convincingly play a brash general from ancient China?
Wang’s portrayal is indeed tenuous – he still speaks Chinese with a noticeable American accent. But Chan shines in his offbeat role, bringing a lovable folksiness to his lowly character. He’s infectiously carefree and upbeat, putting a positive spin on the most desperate of situations. “Things are going pretty well” is his mantra.
And the chemistry between Chan and Wang is obvious, their awkward attempts to thwart their attackers reminiscent of Chan’s successful comic pairings with Chris Tucker in the “Rush Hour” series and Owen Wilson in “Shanghai Noon” and “Shanghai Knights”. The biggest running joke is the farmer’s utter lack of kung fu prowess. Chan is shown pointlessly waving his wooden baton when facing down more competent opponents.
The two leading men are helped by the superb and tightly written script by Chinese director Ding Sheng, who beautifully teases out the personalities and personal histories of the two characters.
Little Big Soldier also reinforces Chan’s trend of taking greater creative risks in his Chinese-language work than his Hollywood productions, where he rarely strays from action comedy. It’s his second innovative Chinese-language role in a row. In one of his darker roles of late, Chan played an illegal Chinese immigrant who becomes a hit man for the Japanese mafia in his last Chinese film, “Shinjuku Incident”. In a departure from his usually wholesome image.
Chan’s new movie also shows that it’s possible to be creative within the often-soulless genre of the big-budget Chinese epic that has come to dominate the local industry. Superficially, Little Big Soldier (phim hanh dong vo thuat 2020) is another action-packed war movie featuring grand battle scenes set in the vast Chinese outback. Except it’s anything but. It’s a lovely story of friendship and humanity in the face of endless warfare and destruction.
It was the darkest of times in China, when ruthless warlords waged battles to satiate their endless aggression. Millions of lives perished, and those who survived had only two choices – kill or be killed. The battalions of warring states Liang and Wei collided in a bloodbath that lasted from dawn until dusk. Only two men were left standing – a foot soldier from Liang and the rival General from Wei. The Soldier survived because he is an expert in playing dead. With a device strapped on his body which protruded like an arrowhead for added realism.
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 discharge and return home to his peaceful life. The young General, though taken captive, was condescending towards the Soldier. The two men were often at loggerheads during the long and winding journey.
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and action)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Art House & International, Comedy
Directed By: Sheng Ding
Written By: Jackie Chan
In Theaters: Aug 23, 2011 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 8, 2010
Runtime: 96 minutes
Studio: Bona Entertainment