Stanley Tong’s big-budget epic “The Myth” is an conflicted attempt to further the persona of Jackie the Actor, while at the same time remaining familiar enough to those that demands the Jackie of old. The serious side is represented by Jackie’s role as a Qin-era General named Meng-Yi who is seen in flashbacks, while the present has Jackie playing tomb raiding archaeologist Jack. While Jack gets into the usual Jackie mischief — prop combat and Buster Keaton comedy fights — Meng-Yi is all business as a somber warrior torn between his loyalty to the Qin Emperor and his growing emotions for Ok-soo (Hee-seon Kim), a Korean concubine he’s charged with protecting.
“The Myth” opens in Qin-era China , where Meng-Yi’s mission to escort Ok-soo into the Emperor’s arms is complicated when rogue Koreans attack the convoy. In the melee, Meng-Yi and Ok-soo are tossed into a river, where they drift far from home. As the two make their way back to safety, all the while accompanied by an obnoxious orchestral score that swells (and swells and swells some more), the two fall madly in love, which sort of puts a crimp in their duty-bound life. Meanwhile, Jack agrees to tag along with best bud Tony Leung Ka Fai (aka the other Tony Leung) as they rob some Indian tombs in search of an object that can defy gravity. (No, really.)
It’s in this Indian tomb that Jack runs across an old portrait of Ok-soo, convincing him that the dreams he’s been having of Meng-Yi are in fact flashbacks to a previous incarnation. As Jack gets involved in various hijinks with flexible Indian babe Mallika Sherawat, Meng-Yi is having a devil of a time reconciling his feelings for Ok-soo and his duty to the Emperor, a duty he takes very, very seriously. Plus, the Emperor is dying, his Ministers are plotting a coup, and hundreds of extras with no discernible acting ability play dress up as Meng-Yi earns his keep by taking on all of China . (No, really.)
“The Myth’s” biggest problem is that it wants to be ambitious and yet stay true to the formula. Past and present converges in the Third Act, and all is explained, although in a curiously silly way that involves floating Imperial courts, statues, carriages, and people flying. Lots and lots of flying. There’s romance, immortality, space meteorites, kung fu, an obnoxious musical score that makes Steven Spielberg look like a master of subtlety by comparison, and yes, the oh-so-lovely Hee-seon Kim, who in a bit of trivia played almost the exact same character in the Korean martial arts epic “Bichunmoo”.
For fans of Jackie’s old stunt work days, there are some inspired gags in “The Myth” to chew on, in particular an all-too brief fight on a conveyer belt covered in glue. For everyone else, “The Myth” marks the first time Jackie allows himself to be in a movie that features a battle scene that is surprisingly very bloody, with Meng-Yi literally standing on a mountain of dead bodies, having racked up an impressive bodycount in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, all by his little lonesome. You won’t see that in any Jackie Chan movie before 2005!
Not surprisingly, audience members who are less than diehard fans of Jackie’s pratfall days will find the flashbacks to the Qin era to be more interesting than the present timeline. After all, you have Royal intrigue, romance (as unconvincing it is), and battle scenes with hundreds of extras. While yes, that final battle sequence when Meng-Yi takes on all of China does seem to start rather abruptly and keep going and going, it’s still more fun than watching Tony Leung pretend to play a goofball who is being used by his former professor, who doesn’t even show up until the second half, and even then he’s barely (just barely) a viable plotline.
One of “The Myth’s” biggest weaknesses is Meng-Yi and Ok-sook’s less than convincing romance, something the film tries mightily to convince us of by blasting the orchestral score to unfathomable depths everytime the two characters are within earshot of each other onscreen. Both Chan and Hee-seon try their best, but there’s no chemistry, which isn’t surprising since Hee-seon has always been known more for her beauty than her thespian abilities, and Chan for his Buster Keaton impression than, well, you get the idea. Bogart and Bergman these guys ain’t. As a result, Ok-sook’s sudden affections for Meng-Yi seems more like a serendipitous high school crush than the product of, say, love.
Fortunately the film does manage to do a few things well, namely fashioning a believable heroic persona for Meng-Yi, whose last stand is without a doubt the film’s highlight. Alas, the final confrontation in the cave is a bit over-the-top, relying on muddy special effects and layers of obvious green screen work. Speaking of which, there are special effects in “The Myth” where there shouldn’t be any, including Meng Yi’s apparently super horse. You have to wonder why anyone didn’t point out that giving Meng-Yi, who is already a super General with his flying and fighting skills, an equally super horse is a really, really moronic idea.
Overall, your chances of enjoying “The Myth” will depend on your expectations of Jackie Chan. As the follow-up to Jackie’s “New Police Story”, there’s enough action, comedy, and contrived romance to keep one from falling asleep for at least 90 minutes of “The Myth’s” 2-hour running time. The remaining 30 minutes, like the overblown ending in the cave, is better left on the cutting room floor, if only because it’ll remind audiences too much of Michelle Yeoh’s ill-conceived tomb raiding film “The Touch”, which had an ending that is eerily similar to “The Myth’s”, including gobs of green screen CGI and wacky flying.
Stanley Tong (director) / Hai-shu Li, Stanley Tong, Hui-Ling Wang (screenplay)
CAST: Jackie Chan …. Jack/General Meng-yi
Hee-seon Kim …. Ok-soo
Tony Leung Ka Fai …. William
Mallika Sherawat …. Indian Princess