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December 2010

Little Big Soldier

cast: Jackie Chan, Leehom Wang, Rongguang Yu, Sung-jun Yoo, and Peng Lin

director: Sheng Ding

96 minutes (15) 2010
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Showbox blu-ray region B

RATING: 5/10
review by Christopher Geary

Little Big Soldier

For this comedy adventure with a medieval scenario in the historical era of warring states, Jackie Chan plays a devious Liang infantryman who knows the secret of staying alive in constant warfare, or encounters with any enemy survivors after the battle's over, is to simply play at being dead whenever anyone expects him to fight. He's so well prepared for this life-saving trick, that he's already got a prop broken arrow fixed 'through' his chest, and his ragged clothing of leather armour is rigged with pouches of stage blood to present bogus wounds in combat.

However, in spite of his unwillingness to fight, he's managed to capture a Wei general officer, and hopes to claim a reward for heroic action. Unwittingly and unfortunately, Chan's peasant antihero finds himself teamed up with his prisoner, the disinherited prince, and their un-companionable travels sees Chan exercising plenty of lapses in good judgement, which carry this unlikely buddy-movie duo from poetic misfortune to near tragedy, facing accidents, or hostility on all sides, including fierce rebels and nomadic tribal berserkers.

Sadly, despite the relatively dazzling competence of Chan's own stunt crew in all of the film's many action sequences, Little Big Soldier (aka: Da bing xiao jiang) is not particularly funny, though it is often amusing with the main characters engaged in slapstick routines and various pratfalls, which aim for a hectically paced kung fu parody, but so rarely hit the target, let alone score highly with a bull's-eye in the frantic mismatched punch-ups, or with any well-timed comicbook style quips.

Of course, it's ultimately about a sly coward gaining a sense of honour, and a noble warrior learning some humility - that will eventually save his beseiged kingdom from destruction. But such lessons in morality undermine humour of any sort with belaboured scripting of platitudes about friendship overcoming social boundaries, and some melancholic philosophical asides that obviously negate proper 'fun'. Long before the downbeat ending, it's clear that, since Little Big Soldier doesn't bother giving us any fresh perspective on the muddled history of ancient China, it could certainly have benefitted from a much lighter touch in both its writing and directing.

So, we have a tried and tested formula, and a rather tired narrative, overall, with a quite foreseeable ho-hum conclusion, adding nothing of much interest to such a disappointingly unimaginative movie.



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