Sunday, March 06, 2011

Little Big Soldier (2010)

"In a wok the eagle and the chicken are both just meat."

It's the third century BC in the epoch just before the kingdom of Qin unifies China by force and the armies of Liang and Wei have just met at Phoenix Hill and annihilated each other. There are two survivors, a conscripted Liang farmer who has played dead, and his wounded captive, the Wei general, who turns out to be heir to the throne to boot.

The farmer/deserter wants to cash in on the General, whose high camp younger brother and mounted henchmen are pursuing him in order to finish him off. The two men seem poles apart, but come draw closer as they toss around their notions of the honourable death.

Jackie Chan has apparently been kicking this idea around for two decades and bizarrely originally saw himself in the straight man role.

"It's a comedy, right?" V asked me as the armies lined up in epic style at the start. The answer is a qualified affirmative: you are never quite sure whether you are watching a serious action movie or some sort of romp. Tense and quite brutal scuffles are suddenly inflected with comedy and the tale ends on a note of melodramatic pathos, that is in a sense also a kind of punchline. Anyone but the mature Chan could have got the balance wrong here, but he's perfect as hapless shirker who also carries a strange aura of weary depth about him.

Grade: B+

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