Jackie Chan has always been a great actor. Unfortunately most people would never know it because his performances in his films tend to be clownish. The fact that Chan is a truly great actor is obscured even further by the absolute shit that are most of his Hollywood films. Occasionally Chan would turn in a hard edged performance, say in Crime Story, but mostly Jackie Chan has been a martial arts clown which some people take to mean he’s limited in ability.
Of course in the last couple of years Chan has decided to show people what he could do. Taking on more and more serious roles until in the last year we have him appearing in the remake of the Karate Kid, the gritty Shinjuku Incident and his long in the planning Little Big Soldier. The combination of the three roles has had the effect of sending shock waves through the film community as Jackie Chan is suddenly seen as more than just a guy doing stunts and cracking jokes. All I can say is what took them so long?
For me the point at which Jackie has finally grabbed the mantle of great actor by the throat for all to see is Little Big Soldier. Here is a pet project that he’s been trying to make for well over a decade and which perfectly show cases what Jackie can do. It’s a role that makes you laugh and makes you cry. It’s a film that will ultimately break your heart simply on the power of the performance by Jackie Chan.
The plot of the film has Chan as a solider who wants nothing more than go home and farm. In order to give himself a chance he’s come up with a variety of ways to survive including a fake arrow so he can pretend to be dead (Not to give anything away but its something that in the end will provide a moment of shattering poignancy). Into Jackie’s lap falls a wounded enemy general. Jackie knows that if he can get the general back home he’ll be able to farm on good land and never have to serve in the military again. Taking the general as a prisoner he tries to make his way home, along the way fighting off bandits, warlords and the general’s own men (who have an ulterior motive of their own). Its world weary march across the countryside that will change both men.
What can I say, this is one of the best films Jackie Chan has ever made. There is a strength and maturity to the work that is unlike anything he’s done in decades, with the exception of his most recent work. It’s a film that boggles my mind at what might have happened had Chan been allowed to actually be more than a buffoon for the last 20 years.
The strength of the film goes beyond the stellar performance of Jackie Chan. Indeed pretty much everything about this film is great, from the action sequences which manage to be both funny at one moment and bloodily realistic the next. It’s a film that use the humor and seriousness of everything to create a world weary edge that makes everything seem more important than you would expect in a film such as this. It’s a beautifully shot film that takes advantage of the Chinese country side in order to produce some jaw dropping shots.
And by the time we got to the final fade out I was left drained, not because the action is exhausting but because the arc of characters took me to a place that was unexpected. This was not what expected from a Jackie Chan film.
All I have to say is WOW.
This is a masterpiece…
...and it will probably NEVER get a release in the US. or if it does it will be by a bottom tier distributor direct to home video. Talking to Grady, one of the minds between the NYAFF, between screenings he said that no one wants to release this film in the US, everyone it seems has passed on it. Which is a shame.
Actually this lack of love is the reason that there are black and grey markets for the films. If you want to see good films from over seas you almost have to turn to places like Yes Asia, or Chinatown or even places that are disreputable because its the only way to see these films.
Whats worse is that even if the films do get picked up they may not show up for years after they have been out in other parts of the world so that if they ever do get a release they may not do any business because the market for them will have seen them long before.
The Weinsteins currently of The Weinstein Organization and formerly of Miramax did this all the time. They would buy up films and then sit on them, only to become befuddled when the films would bomb in their token release three or four years after they came out in China or where ever. (and do I need to mention that they frequently cut the films? Jackie Chan's Legend of the Drunken Master (The US Title, the film is actually Drunken Master 2) was released not only a almost a decade after the film was out in China, but was severely cut to change the film (in the original version Jackie is left blind by the drinking of impure alcohol, in the US version that's not the case)
Its a shame. Something should be done, but I don't know what to do.
I didn't mean to get off on a rant, but I just wanted to say that if you get the chance to either see Little Big Soldier or to purchase a copy do so because odds are it will be your only chance to do so .
The film is definitely available from Yes Asia because that's where I got my copy- so use the link in the side bar to get a copy.
Addendum: This film tied for Third Place in the Audience Award Voting for the NYAFF this year.