Review for Robin-B-Hood (2 Discs)
I recently found myself in the mood for a decent Jackie Chan action comedy, something new and fresh, that I hadn't experienced before, and found my choices surprisingly limited. There are plenty of action comedies out there, but most of them come via Hollywood, and few, if any can be classed as decent. While in recent years, Jackie Chan's Hong Kong output has been a lot more varied and serious, challenging his talents as an actor, rather than his skills as a martial artist and physical comedian. I miss those eighties action comedies, the Project A movies, Wheels on Meals, Armour of God, and while enjoyable in their own right, films like The Myth, Crime Story, and The Shinjuku Incident don't fill that particular need of mine. So you can't imagine the elation when Robin-B-Hood arrived. Made in 2006, it's very much a Jackie Chan movie of the old school, with fast, frenetic action, a whole lot of comedy, and not a little heart. It's also got Yuen Biao in a supporting role. No Sammo Hung though, I guess you can't have everything…
Thongs, Octopus, and Landlord are a team of burglars, safecrackers extraordinaire, although with one or two character flaws and problems. Thongs loses most of his take gambling, and is a failure in the eyes of his father. Octopus has a weakness for beautiful women, while his wife is working menial jobs and is pregnant. Brains of the outfit Landlord has a better time in keeping his money safe, but his wife is still grieving after losing their child seven years previously. But their hearts are in the right place, Thongs is the kind of person who may steal from a hospital, but will take the time to save a life while making his escape. Big trouble comes when with a distinct irony; Landlord's house is burgled. Now all of them are skint. Then Landlord hears of a job that will pay $7 million, and with that kind of money, no one stops to ask any questions. It's only after they've broken into the target house that they realise that Landlord has signed them on to kidnap a baby. A wealthy client wants the child, but before they can deliver, the getaway goes wrong, and Landlord is arrested. Now Thongs and Octopus are left holding the baby, the cops are on the case, while the client wants his merchandise.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is a native PAL image, which is clear, sharp and colourful throughout, and as befits a recent film, is free of print damage or signs of age. There is a hint of grain at times, but far more noticeable are some iffy effects shots and some dubious CGI. No doubt you can see that in even more clarity if you opt for the Blu-ray, released on the same day. The DVD has to make do with DD 5.1 English and Cantonese, with optional English subtitles. I didn't even try the English track, and the original language track was more than acceptable, with the dialogue clear, the action conveyed with sufficient impact, and some nice music as well. The subtitles were timed accurately and free of error.
The DVD release is on two discs, and all that disc 1 gets is animated menus, and trailers for Fist of Legend and Kill Zone. Unfortunately there is no Bey Logan commentary here; you'll have to make do with his cameo in the movie instead.
The extras are all on disc 2, and there is a pleasant selection of featurettes to enjoy.
The Interview Gallery has three of them; a 16-minute chat with director Benny Chan, and a conversation with co-star Conroy Chan running to the same length of time. But the cream of the crop has to be the 39-minute interview with Jackie Chan, in which he talks very candidly about the film, and the film industry in general.
There are two additional featurettes, both running to 22 minutes in length. Playtime for Adults features a lot of interviews with the cast and the crew, clips from the film; it's basically your usual EPK offering. The Original Making Of gives more of the same, but in that there is more of an emphasis on working with the baby.
Finally there is the promotional trailer.
This was originally called Rob-B-Hood in Hong Kong, but was renamed for the Western market. You'd think there was a Robin Hood movie out in the cinemas or something… Except before the conspiracy theories get underway, Dragon Dynasty released Robin-B-Hood in the US back in Christmas 2007. It's just serendipity that it's here now in time to ride on the coattails of Ridley Scott's historical reimagining. Besides there are no bows and arrows in Robin-B-Hood, no robbing from the rich to give to the poor, unless the poor are the thieves themselves, but there's plenty of kung fu, and there's plenty of comedy mishaps surrounding two disreputable burglars who suddenly find that they've been left, literally holding the baby.
Robin-B-Hood is a blast, it's action packed from beginning to end, it's funny, it's fast paced, and it leaves you with a grin on your face. It's also breathtakingly daft, and it's also the sort of film that you can't make in this risk averse country, where any suggestion of an infant in peril, whether real, dummy, or CGI is strictly an OFCOM no-no. You may have become a little jaded to Jackie Chan's stunts, after all, seeing him avoid being clipped by a falling building façade, and countless other daredevil feats in his career would make you think that he's invulnerable. But add a baby into the mix, and suddenly your heart is in your mouth again. It matters not that it's an effects shot, you're still yelling at the TV for them to stop, no, don't put the kid in a washing machine, no don't drop him off a Ferris Wheel, no, what are you doing with those electrodes? There's a disclaimer in the end credits, amounting to "This film is fiction, if you attempt to replicate any of the action or idiocy in this film in real life, you'd have to be an utter moron". Unfortunately for the disclaimer, it's in tiny text to make room for the usual outtakes reel. It really out to be in ten foot tall, red flashing neon letters.
It's also true that Hong Kong cinema isn't as squeamish about nature, and babies being babies there's no end of mess in this film. It does lead to the only kung fu fight that I am aware of where soiled nappies are used as projectile weapons. And that has to be worth the price of the disc alone. It's a typical Jackie Chan action comedy, insane stunts and utter silliness, although there is a bit of CGI enhancement and some wirework to make things look a little smoother. After all, Jackie isn't as young as he used to be. But then again, one scene that I was certain was an effects shot with CG, jumping down some air conditioner units outside a high rise building, turned out to be completely real if wire enhanced in the outtakes. Jackie is his usual underdog character, a thief with a heart of gold, who has to overcome his own shortcomings to take care of the baby that they kidnap. He's joined in the underdog stakes by partner Octopus played by Louis Koo, who's in a similar place in his life, although brought down by his own libido rather than by gambling. The two become a rather unconventional parental unit, and that responsibility starts them on the way to redemption. The serious edge in the film as usual comes from the villain of the piece, but this time he is a more tragic villain than anything else, deranged by his own personal circumstances, and willing to do whatever it takes to possess the child.
I felt like I was back in the eighties again, with a Jackie Chan kung fu comedy of the old school, and there is particular joy in seeing him with Yuen Biao in a fight sequence, proving that these veteran action stars still have a magic that modern action stars can only dream of matching. If you want a new Jackie Chan action flick, then look no further than Robin-B-Hood, although be aware that there's a different ethos in Hong Kong cinema regarding infants in peril. You'd never see stuff like this in the West. Which, when you think about it, is the whole point really.