Review for Kung Fu Yoga
The first time I saw the PR blurb for Kung-Fu Yoga, as it was being solicited for review, I felt the urge to celebrate this Chinese-Indian co-production, as Jackie Chan’s brand of kung-fu comedy and Bollywood style and glamour seem a perfect fit. And I had this niggling sense of déjà vu, as if I’d been celebrating this before. When I read further, and saw this tale of Indiana Jones style, archaeological adventuring, my déjà vu intensified. It wasn’t until I saw the character name, Professor Jack Chan, that I realised that I have indeed done all this before, and more importantly, so has Jackie. Eight years ago, I was reviewing Cine Asia’s The Myth, Professor Jack Chan’s first adventure in the subcontinent. Kung-Fu Yoga is actually the sequel, once again directed by Stanley Tong. The Myth had more than a few problems, and turned out to be an unsatisfying watch. Hopefully Kung-Fu Yoga will be better.
1000 years previously, a Chinese warrior came to the aid of an Indian king threatened by a duplicitous general. During the battle, a phalanx of warriors were lost, and with them a fabled treasure. Today, Chinese scientists have developed an ingenious way of recovering detail and colour in ancient artefacts. When a beautiful Indian scholar named Ashmita shows up seeking Professor Jack Chan’s help in deciphering an ancient map, it looks like the secret to the Magadha treasure might have been found again. That means an expedition to the icy border of China and India to hunt for the lost warriors. Everyone wants this treasure, but not everyone is going to play nice. Professor Jack Chan will need more than just kung-fu to stay one step ahead of the competition...
Kung-Fu Yoga gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer that looks great at first glance, and it will look spectacular in the screenshots, clear and sharp throughout, rich with detail, and bursting with lush, vibrant colours. It’s a Technicolor fantasy that brings its marvellous sets, locations, and CG work to vivid life. But then you play the disc, watch the film in motion, and the niggles turn to complaints. Like every kung-fu action movie, the action is ‘enhanced’ by cutting out frames, to make moves seem faster than they actually are, impacts more striking, but for some reason, the jump cuts are more obvious for what they are in a digitally shot movie than a traditional film. Also, the frame cuts aren’t applied with thought, they happen at random in the film. Sometimes a gentle pan across the landscape will jerk with the obvious absence of frames, a conversation scene might be so affected, or an action sequence where fights don’t need such enhancement. I’d say it was a problem with the transfer, but it doesn’t happen across the film with regularity; it’s a random artefact, which makes me think it’s a problem with the source material. It’s a shame as in terms of production and costume design, Kung-Fu Yoga is up there with the best of Chinese cinema.
You have the choice between DTS:X Mandarin, which on my player offers the core DTS-HD MA 7.1 track, DTS:X ‘Headphones’ Mandarin (core DTS-HD MA 2.0), DD 2.0 Stereo Mandarin, DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround and DD 2.0 Stereo English, with optional English and Chinese subtitles. The Mandarin is actually a hybrid track, with the Indian characters speaking English, among each other and with the Chinese characters, and the Chinese characters speaking Mandarin among themselves, with all the dialogue subtitled. I gave the English dub a try, and it’s fair enough for a film like this, with Jackie Chan and Aarif Rahman dubbing their own dialogue for the translation. The surround is solid enough, driving the action well, while keeping the dialogue clear and audible. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos, although maybe a little proofreading when it comes to punctuation might have helped.
The disc autoplays with trailers for This is Not What I Expected, Railroad Tigers, and Greater, and they can also be accessed from the animated menu as well.
There are a handful of rather un-illuminating EPK featurettes on this disc, with only the making of having some meat to it.
Best of Both Worlds (3:41)
The Dynamic Duo (2:43)
The Making Of (21:46)
Jackie Chan Featurette (2:37)
Bollywood Dance Featurette (3:16)
All except the 1080p trailer are presented in 1080i 60Hz.
I really should stop hoping for a decent new Jackie Chan movie now, but I just can’t help myself. I keep thinking that the next one will entertain, and have some weight to it. But it seems like a lifetime since he made movies like Shaolin, and The Shinjuku Incident. Most of his recent films, at best have been lightweight, uninvolving and polemic, or at worst just plain bad. He may no longer have the speed or the sheer death-defying lunacy, but with the aid of a few wires and some special effects, he can still give as good as he gets in the action stakes, but the films no longer back that up. Yet once again, I was hoping for a return to form from Kung-Fu Yoga, and once again I was disappointed. Kung-Fu Yoga is bad. But... it’s the kind of bad that I can get behind.
The problem with The Myth was that it was two movies in one, a modern day Indiana Jones movie intertwined with a historical epic, both starring Jackie Chan, and neither satisfying in any meaningful respect. Kung-Fu Yoga avoids that by getting its scene setting historical story out of the way first. It is also by far the worst part of the film, a lengthy CGI cut scene, with a computer generated Jackie Chan from around 30 years ago, being all heroic and death-defying with some poorly animated and ridiculously oversized elephants in a major battle sequence in ancient India. Once that’s dealt with, we don’t have to worry about the history anymore, the rest of the film is set firmly in the present, with no distractions. The bad CGI hasn’t been dispensed with though, there’s a really poor lion, and some plastic hyenas to look forward to, but at least the story suffers from no distractions.
Kung-Fu Yoga is rated a 12, but really this is a family film, aimed more at younger members of the audience. In true Hong Kong cinema style, it feels like a series of action and comedy set pieces, loosely linked by a plot after the fact. It also veers between paying homage to, and then blatantly ripping off Raiders of the Lost Ark. Raiders style action you can appreciate, love hearts on eyelids and “I hate snakes” will have you rolling your eyes. But, after an introduction to the story and the characters in China, the action moves to an epic ice cave where the villain is first introduced, and a significant treasure is located. A bit of a betrayal later, it’s off to Dubai to attend an auction, and have a dramatic chase sequence featuring the Dubai police force and their Bugatti Veyrons, and it’s then to India for a hostage situation and then the film’s climax.
As I said, it starts off badly with the CG sequence, and it doesn’t get much better with some really uninspiring performances. The action doesn’t look too hot either at first, while continuity is a problem. Yet I don’t know what it is about Kung-Fu Yoga, but it wore me down. The actors obviously had a hell of a lot of fun making the movie, and it shows, while the action improves as the film unfolds and the stakes get higher. What’s more the daft sense of humour (carsick lion) just grew on me the further into the film I got. What started off as groan-worthy eventually had me laughing out loud. And in true Bollywood style, it caps it all off with a dance number. Kung-Fu Yoga is a patently bad movie, but it’s tremendous fun. At least compared to The Myth, it makes much better use of the Bollywood elements. The film isn’t great; the transfer on this Blu-ray isn’t much better, but give Kung-Fu Yoga a try; it might just be your next guilty pleasure.