Saturday, January 17, 2009

Chandni Chowk to China

Golden Flowers

You can't deny the mystic appeal that Kung Fu films have on the masses. Not only has Hollywood managed to finally get the essence so succinctly and successfully infused it into the animated film Kung Fu Panda, and taking on one of China's icon as its own, India too has shown that it's no pushover now in combining its Bollywood "masala" formula with the martial arts genre, and does so too by snagging the iconic Gordon Liu as lead villain.

It's been some time since Gordon Liu fought on screen, and one cannot forget the memorable 36th Chamber movies, amongst others in his filmography. Like Christopher Lee and Terence Stamp, I'm hoping that this sparks a comeback of sorts for the guy, because he still got what it takes to put young men to shame given his still buffed physique. As head villain Hojo, he's the typical gangster chief who's exploiting a group of villagers in plundering treasures of the land for sale to foreigners, earning good profits as well as dabbling in diamond smuggling, thanks to sidekick Meow Meow, played by Deepika Padukone. To those who oppose him, they're fatally dealt with the spinning bowler hat!

Deepika, like in her debut film Om Shanti Om, plays two roles here. Besides the villainous Meow Meow, the other role as Sakhi is a tele-shopping model who goes back to China in search of her roots, of paying respects to her family members presumed dead. Deepika carries her roles with aplomb, though between Sakhi and Meow Meow, I thought she would have more fun as the latter since she's given the chance to experiment with some wire-fu, and looks good in dishing out some martial arts moves, not to mention having a funkier wardrobe too.

Small town cook to big time hero, that's Akshay Kumar's Sidhu, who's mistaken to be Liu Sheng, a fictional China folk hero and formidable warrior reincarnate. Given hope under false pretense by street-side fortune teller Chopstick (Ranvir Shorey), he bids his guardian Dada (Mithun Chakraborty) farewell, before heading East to an incredible reception by the villagers who deem him the solution to their problems. Naturally he's in for some rude shock, disappointment and personal tragedy, before like all Kung Fu heroes, come bouncing back after some intense training.

It has shades of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle especially with the cartoony aspects, as well as elements that were a throwback to the genre in the 70s and 80s, with a montage segment featuring his training under a sifu (Roger Yuan), as well as finding out one's destiny and true self. Akshay's no stranger to action, and his martial arts background also helped in making that credible comeback for, what else, revenge. Given the standard two-half format for a Bollywood film, he spots a bit of a paunch when his Sidhu's a little idiotic, before physically crafting his body into an Iron Man.

Chandni Chowk to China has everything - romance, melodrama, kung fu, high tech and fantasy gadgets, even a potato that looks like a god. It's pretty entertaining as a fusion of sorts, though not as funny as I thought it would be (that training montage is still the funniest of the lot). And thank goodness that some attention was paid to diction in the Chinese language (you know how some films tend to screw it up) when spouted by non-native speakers. Song and dance segments weren't really memorable, except for the theme song for Sidhu (so far, every Akshay Kumar film I've seen him in, has a song for his character). But for fans of Gordon Liu, this is one film you'd definitely not want to miss. And I'll be keeping an eye out for that sequel too!

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