LITTLE BIG SOLDIER [DA BING XIAO JIANG | 大兵小将]

CHINA / HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Ding Sheng Written by: Jackie Chan   Produced by: Jackie Chan  Cast: Jackie Chan, Leehom Wang, Steve Yoo, Lin Peng, Wu Yue, Xiao Dongmei

An ordinary foot soldier and an enemy army general – even for Jackie Chan that’s an odd pairing. LITTLE BIG SOLDIER takes the buddy-movie concept into the Chinese dark ages when the states of Liang and Wei were battling each other. Chan the soldier and Wang the enemy general are the only survivors of a recent clash of the armies, and Chan takes the general hostage to bring him back to his home state for a reward.

And so the road movie begins with the two heading home. Many obstacles lie ahead and the general is wanted by many of his enemies, so Chan’s plan to simply cash in on the POW isn’t as easy as he thought. Given that all he’s good at is playing dead Chan will have to fight for his prey. Encounters with ruthless bandits and rival army leaders will soon be putting his capabilities to test.

LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is not exactly what many may have expected. Even the posters and several of the other marketing materials are pretty much suggesting another buddy comedy that for a change is simply set in the past. Still this alone doesn’t make it a period film. LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is more of a character study: a film about beliefs and goals and how different – or similar – these can be given the background of people.

While Chan and the general are not supposed to have anything in common they begin to get closer during the travel. It is more of a partnership of (in)convenience, yet it’s the lesser of two evils. Being captured by tribes or the other army is not an option for both, so the longer they stay together the more they have to rely on one another. Keep your friends close, keep your enemies even closer – and enemies may even becomes friends at the end.

Every action hero is looking for an exit strategy when he’s getting older. Jackie Chan has found his place in Hollywood’s mainstream, but he’s brave to still take risks and surprise his audience with projects that are quite different. LITTLE BIG SOLDIER does neither fits the comedy label nor the action label. It positions Chan much more as actor than action hero.

Chan has always been one of the most talented comedians of his generation and he will always be someone with funny bones. But it can’t all be action-funny, it will have to be acting-funny. LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is a step in the right direction. It’s a transition. And yet it marks a new era for Chan who except for some slapstick and fights is playing his lead role very well without the need of physical action.

LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is not yet a great movie, but it’s an achievement or Chan. It is fairly entertaining for other than the usual reason. The best measure of its qualities is that its lack of set pieces (despite a claimed budget of over 20 Mio US$) is not making or breaking the film. I do not know where the budget went (great landscapes should be free), but let that be the problem of producer Chan. Even if LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is a mixed bag it is one of Chan’s better movies in recent years. If you’d like to get acquainted with the new Jackie Chan, LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is a good start.

J.



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