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The region 2 release “Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid” is a master stroke of creative and opportunistic marketing, being in fact the 2009 Mainland Chinese inspirational family comedy “Looking for Jackie”. The re-titling, along with the old school martial arts box art do a great job of spuriously suggesting a link to Chan’s “Karate Kid” remake and indeed of making it seem that he actually makes a significant appearance in the film. As a result, some viewers may well come away feeling somewhat aggrieved, as the film is in fact a fiercely moralistic and upright affair specifically designed to keep Chinese youngsters on the straight and narrow. For those keen to learn life lessons, the film arrives on DVD on August 9th, via Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment.
The film begins in Indonesia, with the 15 year old Zhang Yishan (played by the popular young actor of the same name from Chinese TV sitcom “Home with Kids”) performing badly at school, showing no aptitude for Chinese language or culture, and being (very) mildly bullied by his classmates as a result. His solution? To find Jackie Chan and become his disciple. Yishan has the chance to follow his crazy dream when he learns that Jackie is working on a new film in Beijing, and so under the pretence of going to visit his strict grandparents he hits the road. Unfortunately, the lad really isn’t particularly bright, and so after arriving at the wrong destination several times, he eventually falls vaguely foul of a family of thieves with a tragic past. This and other distractions threaten to derail his quest, with the promise of meeting Jackie and finding some manner of personal development seeming further and further away.
Although to be fair, the box art does have the decency to state that the film is ‘featuring’ rather than ‘starring’ the legendary martial arts hero, “Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid” is still likely to leave fans feeling somewhat short changed, given that he only appears for a few minutes at the beginning and the end. Similarly, whilst he does briefly show off his skills, for the most part his role is to provide advice to the not particularly wayward Yishan, telling him to respect his elders and try harder at school.
The film features no martial arts training whatsoever, with the boy’s journey being a meandering one that mainly just depicts him blundering around and encountering a series of decent, everyday people who help him on his way. Even the bullying aspect of the film, and indeed his run in with the family of criminals are underplayed, with no obvious violence, threat or trauma. As such, the film comes across as one long lecture, and whilst most viewers would certainly agree that Yishan needs a good hard kick in the ass, spending an hour and a half waiting to find out if he’ll settle down and study hard like a good boy may be a bit of a stretch.
The film was directed by Jiang Ping and Fang Gangliang (“Home Run”) and has the distinct feel of a made for television film, or perhaps more accurately of a Chinese daytime soap opera, being full of awkward, static camera work and weirdly cheap editing effects. For no obvious reason Ping and Gangliang feel the need to constantly throw in some very odd use of slow motion and speeded up film, which only contributes to the rather amateurish air. The few martial arts and action scenes are all clumsily handled and without impact, and are unlikely to ease genre fans’ disappointment. A number of Chan’s former kung fu schoolmates do make appearances, including Yuen Wah, Yuen Qiu, Yuen Bun, and Yuen Wu, and they are kind of fun to spot, albeit without actually adding anything to the film.
All of this may sound a little harsh, and “Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid” was certainly a hit at the domestic box office, setting a new record for local children and family productions. The film is by no means unwatchable, and does make for plenty of unintentional amusement, at least for those who find it’s resolvedly straight faced and irony free approach funny. However, for anyone expecting to see much of Jackie Chan, martial arts action in general, or even an engaging tale of one boy’s journey to becoming a man, the film is only likely to inspire annoyance and anger.
Gangliang Fang, Ping Jiang (director) / Xuan Hua, Jiamin Wu (screenplay)
CAST: Yishan Zhang … Zhang Yi-shan
Jackie Chan … Himself