With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Friday, January 06, 2017

RAILROAD TIGERS opens in theaters today, Friday, January 6th, 2017

Well Go USA
Directed by Ding Sheng
Starring Jackie Chan, Huang Zitao, Wang Kai, Darren Wang 
China, 2016, 124 minutes

Railroad Tigers is an action-comedy set in China during World War II. It opens in thirty-six  theaters in major U.S. markets today, Friday, January 6th, 2017.

Ma Yuan (Jackie Chan) is a head porter at a railroad station in part of China occupied by the Japanese. He and several cohorts  (the titular "Railroad Tigers") have engaged in various small-time action against the Japanese, but nothing of any real consequence. They have an opportunity to change that when they learn that the Hanzhuang Bridge, along a major route vital to the Japanese for bringing supplies to their front line, must be destroyed. Although the Chinese Eighth Army Route soldiers have been unsuccessful in accomplishing this, Jackie and his rag-tag compatriots take on what looks to be a suicide mission.

Japanese aggression during WWII has been the subject of numerous Chinese (as well as Korean) films. Such movies seem find a receptive audience in these two countries, but they can seem like a worn out trope to North American audiences. Sad to say, such is the case here, because the film is weak in almost every regard. The story line is simple (as opposed, say, to the psychological complexities in the somewhat similarly themed The Bridge on the River Kwai), there's nothing compelling about the characters, the action (choreographed by He Jun) and stunts (performed by the Jackie Chan Stunt Team) are second-rate, and the CGI is not very good.

That the film has problems becomes evident in the first few minutes. As each character is introduced, the frame freezes and text, in Chinese and English, gives the characters name and occupation. In the case of several of the "Railroad Tigers," their catchphrase is also indicated. Do we really need to be told that Jackie's character's catchphrase is "Shut up!" when we will hear him say it several times in the course of the movie? Or that "Let's go!" is the catchphrase of Xiaohun, a railroad porter? This freeze frame introduction -- which visually brings the film to a screeching halt -- is employed for seventeen characters! Not good cinema technique at all.

No one should begrudge the fact that Jackie, who will be 62 years old this coming April, can't handle the kind of stunts and action sequences that he performed so brilliantly in years gone by. But it's kind of sad to see him in a film like this, in straight-up action sequences that are beyond his current abilities. With his terrific sense of timing and ability to poke fun at himself, he'd be better served at this stage of his career with more comedic fare. Perhaps the upcoming Kung Fu Yoga, coming to theaters January 27th, will showcase him to better advantage.

In the meanwhile, Railroad Tigers will probably only be of interest to die-had Jackie fans.

AsianCineFest Rating: 2 out of 4 stars; fair.

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