With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

RAILROAD TIGERS reviewed; debuts in a Blu-ray+DVD combo pack and on DVD today, June 20th

Well Go USA
Railroad Tigers
Directed by Ding Sheng
Starring Jackie Chan, Huang Zitao, Wang Kai, Darren Wang 
China, 2016, 125 minutes

Railroad Tigers is an action-comedy set in China during World War II. Today, Tuesday, May 20th, it becomes available as Blu-ray™/DVD Combo Pack and as DVD only, from Well Go USA Entertainment. (It's been available on digital since Tuesday, May 9th.)

Ma Yuan (Jackie Chan) is the head porter at a railroad station in part of China occupied by the Japanese. He and several cohorts  (the titular "Railroad Tigers") are just a bunch of regular guys who really want to do something great for their country. Thus far they've 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 particularly compelling about the characters, and the action (choreographed by He Jun) and stunts (performed by the Jackie Chan Stunt Team and involving lots of wire-work) are not top drawer, and the CGI often 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 character's 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 became 62 years old this past April, can't handle the kind of stunts and action sequences that he performed so brilliantly in years gone by. With his terrific sense of timing and ability to poke fun at himself, he's better served at this stage of his career with  comedic fare that includes some action, rather than an action-drama with some comic touches, as is the case in Railroad Tigers. Thus, Kung Fu Yoga, which opened in North American theaters on January 27th and will soon be offered by Well Go, showcases him to much better advantage.

Disc Specs:
-- Audio
    -- Mandarin DTS:X
    -- Mandarin 2.0 Stereo
    -- DTS Headp;hone X
    -- English 5.1 DTS HDMA
    -- English 2.0 Stereo
-- Subtitles
    -- English
    -- Off
-- Bonus
    -- “Director’s Featurette”
    -- “The Dangers of Shooting”
    -- “The Making of ”
    -- “VFX Featurette”
    -- “The Characters”
    -- Trailer
    -- International Trailer
-- Previews
    -- Kung Fu Yoga
    -- Operation Mekong
    -- Cold War 2

Die-hard Jackie fans will probably enjoy Railroad Tigers well enough, but for the rest of us it's just an almost pleasant watch.

AsianCineFest Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars; fair, but shy of being a truly good film.

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