Thursday, February 02, 2017

Lunar Year in India: Kung Fu Yoga & Buddies in India

I planned these two as a Saturday double feature with The King an Resident Evil 6 arranged somewhat differently over the weekend, but it didn’t quite shake out that way, but this is fine; seeing them back-to-back would have probably had me comparing them more directly, and since neither of them are much above average, that probably wouldn't have been good for them ("movie B can’t even do thing X as good as movie A? Ugh, what crap!"). This got them their own play, which is more fair.

I do have to do one direct comparison, though: I enjoyed the ending song for Kung Fu Yoga a whole lot more than the one for Buddies in India; Farah Khan choreographic a big dance number with Jackie Chan looking goofy and some CGI assistance (the camera moves around and catches the same actors in multiple spots of a massive set-piece) is much cooler than what looks like footage of an uncomfortable holiday variety show appearance promoting the film.

Gung fu yu ga (Kung Fu Yoga)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 January 2017 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

There’s a peculiar paradox to Kung Fu Yoga coming out roughly a month after Railroad Tigers (with their American releases even closer together): It demonstrates that he’s still popular enough to open movies on holiday weekends in short succession, and that he can keep grinding them out, but they also make it clear that he’s not what he was as a martial-arts star these days; even reunited with Stanley Tong, the director of some of his best-known films, he seems a bit faded, still showing skills but delegating the good action a bit more.

Heck, the film opens with (presumably) motion-captured animation, telling the tale of a Chinese General who visited India in 647 AD, returning with a treasure meant to convince the Emperor to intervene in a civil war, but the bulk of his party was lost crossing a frozen lake. At least, that is, until Beijing archaeologist Professor Jack Chan is visited by an Hindu counterpart, Asmita (Disha Patani) who suspects that an unreadable family heirloom may reveal a map using Chinese scanning and restoration technology. It does, so Jack and Ashmita follow, along with not just grad students Xiaoguang (Zhang Yixing), Nuomin (Muqi Miya), and Kyra (Amyra Dastur) but treasure-hunter Jones Lee (Aarif Rahman), the son of one of Jack’s colleagues. Also following: Bombay billionaire Randall (Sonu Sood), who believes the treasure is rightfully his, especially when it turns out to be the sort of find that includes an artifact that points the way to an even bigger trove.

The movie isn’t out of its first scene in the present day before it’s making obvious references to Raiders of the Lost Ark, though there’s something to be said for stealing from the best. Tong’s script seems kind of half-baked in a lot of ways, as though he discovered a neat piece of history and then glued the easiest pieces to find onto it in haphazard fashion: There are things meant to be romantic pairings with no sizzle, folks who switch sides or are revealed as not being what they seem without a whole lot of consequence, characters who enter and leave in such a way as to feel that their story purpose could have been accomplished in a more entertaining way, abrupt and disconcerting shifts in situation, and an ending that basically amounts to throwing up his hands and saying he’s done. There are a lot of lines where Tong seems to feel the need to balance his intended message of Chinese and Indian friendship with the Chinese boosterism expected from Mainland movies, offset a bit by the Chan character’s persistent humility.

Full review on EFC.

Da nao tian zhu (Buddies in India)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 January 2017 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

Though Kung Fu Yoga likely has the higher American profile of the two Chinese movies involving weird, action-filled trips to India released to coincide with the Lunar New Year, Buddies in India actually had the bigger opening weekend in China. The directorial debut of star Wang Baoqiang, it’s colorful and silly, often to the point of tackiness, though usually funny in spite of itself.

It opens at the home of Wu Kong (Wang), which aside from being full of the monkeys he trains is also notable for being surrounded by a massive excavation, as it is smack dab in the middle of the site of a new skyscraper. Tang Sen (Bai Ke), the son of the construction company’s owner, is attempting to drive him out, but so far Wu and his monkeys are repelling all attacks. Things take an odd turn when Tang’s father has a heart attack while watching the video feed, and his dying words are that his will is located in India, and he thinks that Tang should have Wu’s protection when going to retrieve it. Wu reluctantly agrees, and they are met by a local employee of the company, Zhu “Piggy” Tianteng (Yue Yunpeng), and the trio start out on a quest that will have them cross paths with Wu Jing (Liu Yan), a one-night stand of Tang’s who is still upset years later; two bumbling assassins hired by Tang’s uncle; and a bunch of local eccentricity.

A quick look at the names will alert one that this road movie is at the very least inspired by one of China’s most famous stories, Journey to the West (and most ubiquitous - another comedic take on the material is opening the very next week!), although it is thoroughly contemporary and, a couple of throwaway jokes aside, non-supernatural. People with more experience with the story can weigh in on how closely it tracks the source material, but it’s a fun way for Wang to give his movie a little structure - road movies can get away from a filmmaker if he doesn’t nail a few things down - along with a few fun bits of inspiration: The opening take on the Monkey King’s “havoc in heaven” is a fun action scene to kick things off with, and one can sense the love in a cameo at the end of the film even before the credits make it explicit.

Full review on EFC.

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