Little Big Soldier continues to reinforce a point, that while one can afford to forgo Jackie Chan's rather dismal outing in any Hollywood flicks of late, his Asian films are a totally different story altogether. JC was said to have this story brewing for some two decades now, and initially his plan was to play the Big General himself, but good advice and probably with more confidence in his dramatic acting ability meant he takes on the Little Soldier role, and went with Wang Leehom for the other.
Maybe I'm crediting him too much since he came up with the story, but here's a film that would probably not work without JC taking on one of the characters, with the Little Soldier seem tailor made for him at this stage of his career, no longer needing to be the hero, but ever willing to be part of the underdogs, which Hollywood still frowns upon (hey, he's JC, he has to be a top notch cop/spy/secret agent/etc), as compared to everyday working man roles like that in Shinjuku Incident, Rob-B-Hood, and as a cowardly soldier whose self preservation instinct kicks into overdrive all the time.
Set prior to the unification of China by the Qin dynasty, the film opens with what seemed like a total annihilation in the battlefield between Wei and Liang troops, only to find Liang's Little Soldier being able to capture Wei's super Big General (Leehom) only because the latter is severely injured. With the promise of plenty of land for the live capture of an enemy general, Little Soldier makes it a point to cart Big General back to his country at all costs, so that he can settle down with new found wealth, coupled with an exemption from having to serve in the army. But of course Big General comes with a lot of baggage in knowing that his kindred had betrayed him and his elite troops in a battle, and are after him to ensure that he stays dead.
So lies the gist of the story, which to say anymore would be to spoil the fun and the depth of the story's development. Suffice to say JC's story contains enough to make you feel for the two lead characters, where their natural adversary would pave the way to inevitable friendship being forged by way of encountering and overcoming painful obstacles and challenges posed along the way, as the adage goes, two is better than one. JC too plays his character so well that you can't help but to endear to his multiple gimmicky toys he employs to survive in battles, plus the sheer luck and street smarts he has to rely on to get out of sticky situations. I'm not much of a Leehom fan, but he managed to pull of his role as the stoic general with aplomb, and shares some fine chemistry with JC, believable that these guys would be friends should they not be from different lands.
But the strength of the film comes from how the two characters contrast with, and how they rub off their respective ideals on each other. The Little Soldier aspires to lead a simple life of farming, to go back to his roots of a simple life, reminiscing upon his father's wise words, where rich means a plot of land to farm, two cows and a wife. Fighting in battles is not his cup of tea, and he'll do anything just to ensure that he comes out unscathed, even if it means being branded as a cowardly deserter. On the other hand, Big General aspires to conquer lands and if inevitable, to die gloriously in battle. Soon enough, he learns how having small but fulfilling, meaningful aspirations would be miles better than material wealth, of the joys that a simple, peaceful life can bring compared to one of constant fights. For the Small Soldier, lessons in the virtues of honour and courage get imparted, which leads to an especially touching and poignant finale.
Serving as action director. JC keeps all the fight sequences here fresh. You know how it is with action flicks when one battle scene doesn't offer anything new from the one that preceded it, JC had done something right in the fight choreography department. There are enough moments here to showcase straight forward fighting sequences, and those of his signature acrobatic buffoonery to suit the role of his Little Soldier to a T. Watch out too for his hilarious gimmicks employed, which will surely bring out a chuckle or two, which only JC can deliver in a true blue JC film.
It's been some time since JC had a major project rolled out every Lunar New Year, and this one comes just in time to perhaps continue in that tradition. If it's anything to go by, this film has surpassed expectations set low thanks to a lacklustre trailer, and thankfully the end product is confirmed to be miles better. He may be slower these days, but Little Big Soldier demonstrates that JC still has what it takes to deliver a Chinese blockbuster. As with almost all JC movies, sit back during the end credits roll to enjoy the many outtakes included.