Popular Broadway actor Gary Johnston is recruited by the elite counter-terrorism organization Team America: World Police. As the world begins to crumble around him, he must battle with terrorists, celebrities and falling in love.
Two armies clash in ancient war-torn China; none survive but a young general from a royal house and a farmer foot soldier who binds the fallen leader to take him home and claim a reward. Many stand in their way: an abandoned songstress, the noble's own murderous younger brother, desperate beggars, rough slavers, and the pair's own differing agendas. Through it all, a bond forms between the two, and what will happen at journey's end becomes anyone's guess. Written by
While it doesn't have much in the way of the kind of groundbreaking stunts that made his reputation and doesn't always work as well as it could, taken as a whole Little Big Soldier is the best thing Jackie Chan has done in years. Like Shanghai Noon, it was a pet project that was kicking around for decades before it all came together: so long, in fact, that Chan ended up playing a different part to the one he originally intended, ending up as the pragmatic old soldier pulling every trick and scam he knows to survive the vicious civil wars that would finally see China bloodily united. The last of his family line, his dreams of getting out of the army, buying a small farm, finding a wife and starting a family suddenly look like a real possibility when, after faking his death in a battle that sees both sides annihilated, he stumbles across an enemy general and tries to take him back to his own lines for his reward - pursued by bears, bandits, tribesmen and the ruthless traitors who set up the general's defeat to usurp his position and want to finish off the job. Naturally along the way the two men learn from each other - Leehom Wang's young general that for those who fight and die for him an honorable death is less important than a good life, Chan that there is some value in honor - without ever quite losing their determination to outwit the other.
It's well-worn territory and certainly sentimental, but it's honest sentiment made all the more affecting by being set in a convincingly war-ravaged country sparsely populated by shell-shocked people out to survive any way they can. Despite the odd nod to Kurosawa (albeit the rarely unleashed knockabout comedy Kurosawa), it's really a Western in disguise, with tribes of nomads standing in for the Indians, but it's also a timeless anti-war fable that could just as easily be set in the American Civil War, the Wars of the Roses or the fall of Carthage. There's enough action along the way to keep things entertaining, and if Chan isn't as fast as he used to be there's still some ingenuity in the choreography of a fight for a sword neither man can get hold of long enough to wield or an escape from some slave-trading natives while they're distracted with a skirmish of their own, though unfortunately there are also some particularly nasty horse falls that clearly aren't faked even after two seconds were cut by the BBFC for animal cruelty (Asian films don't put much of a premium on animal welfare). Director Sheng Ding is great at action and emotion, but poor at visual comedy, with the various gizmos Chan uses to fake death - retractable arrows, fake blood - never quite presented to the best effect, but he gets enough right to redeem his failings, with the ending - surprisingly bleak for a Chan film - packing quite an emotional punch.
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