Review for Railroad Tigers
A single layer DVD-R means that I can’t tell you much at all about the technical qualities of the Railroad Tigers release, other than the aspect ratio is 2.35:1 anamorphic PAL, you have the choice between Mandarin and English both in DD 5.1 and 2.0 form, and optional English subtitles. In terms of extras, there are trailers and a 4 minute long VFX featurette. But as to how good it looks, how good it sounds, you’ll just have to take your chances when you buy the DVD or Blu-ray. Also the images in this review are unrepresentative of the retail release
Cast your mind back to 2007, I’m writing a review for New Police Story, and idly wondering if an aging Jackie Chan, some 25 years after his Golden Harvest heyday still has the chops to carry an action movie. Welcome to 2017, I’m ten years older, ten years greyer, and my backache has backache, and I’m now writing a review for Railroad Tigers, idly wondering if an aging Jackie Chan, some 35 years after his Golden Harvest heyday, still has the chops to carry an action movie. I really should stop asking that, as Jackie Chan is clearly immortal and forever young too.
It’s 1941, and Japan occupies Manchuria in China, ruling over the territory with an iron fist. The war between China and Japan continues, and there is a resistance movement too. Although when it comes to the Flying Tigers, their actions against the Japanese controlled railway tend more towards pranks rather than anything substantial, causing more in the way of humiliation than actual hurt. The fact that they never do anything big certainly rankles. But when their leader Ma Yuan rescues and shelters an injured Chinese soldier, he learns of a vital mission. The Chinese Army has tried and failed to destroy a railway bridge, essential for the Japanese to resupply their forces. Ahead of a major Chinese counteroffensive, that bridge needs to be destroyed, and if the army can’t manage it, the Flying Tigers will step up to the mark.
If age has slowed Jackie Chan down, it certainly doesn’t show in Railroad Tigers, although it ought to be said that this is an action movie, not a kung-fu movie, and when it comes to the action, the cast shares in the heavy lifting. Jackie Chan’s role as Ma Yuan is more of the wise mentor who can still kick arse, leading a team of younger freedom fighters.
Railroad Tigers is quite the entertaining World War II caper, although it takes a while to get going, dithering a bit as it follows the Tigers on some small scale antics, failing to develop the characters and instead feeling quite disjointed and episodic. There’s quite the comic book feel to it, the way the characters are introduced, the way the various adventures are chaptered.
Railroad Tigers is also wholly uneven of tone, deceptively starting as if it’s a children’s movie, with a modern day school trip to a railway museum heralding a flashback. For the most part it plays like an action comedy, with lightness and frivolity that makes it feel like one of those sixties WWII capers. The villains of the piece, the occupying Japanese are portrayed as comedy villains for the most part, but once in a while the film will throw in a bit of reality, a sudden act of brutality that doesn’t quite fit in with the tone of the film, and can have the effect of throwing you out.
That does take a bit of getting used to, but come the halfway point of the film, when their mission becomes clear, and it comes down to the nitty-gritty of getting the bridge destroyed, the film begins to come together and gains some momentum. Once the actual mission begins, it’s a relentless runaway of action entertainment all the way to the end, marred only by some wholly cartoonish CGI, evident even on this compressed DVD-R. I can only guess how much it will stand out on a Blu-ray.
Due to a lack of decent characterisation; you barely get to know the members of the Tigers outside Jackie and his son Jaycee’s characters, the first half of the film lacks momentum, and even gets tedious at times, but the second half does make up for it. It turns out to be a fun movie in the end, but it lacks the poignancy and depth the subject deserves.