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Review: KungFu Yoga (2017)

KungFu Yoga

功夫瑜伽

China/India, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 107 mins.

Director: Tang Jili 唐季礼 [Stanley Tong].

Rating: 4/10.

Lazily written and played, this cliched cross-cultural co-production is no credit to anyone.

STORY

Xi’an, the present day. Jack (Cheng Long), an archaeology professor lecturing at the Terracotta Warriors site, is visited by Ashmita (Disha Patani), from a museum research institute in Rajasthan, India, asking for his help in recovering a valuable diamond lost in a frozen lake in Tibet in the mid-7th century AD when Tang envoy Wang Xuance was returning to China after doing battle with Brahmin king Arunasa. Jack agrees and brings along his two young assistants, Xiaoguang (Zhang Yixing) and Nuomin (Muqimiya). In Tibet the group, which also includes Ashmita’s teaching assistant Kyra (Amyra Dastur), is met by treasure hunter Jones Lee (Aarif Lee), whose expertise Jack needs, as well as by engineer Jianhua (Zeng Zhiwei), who can help them bore through the thick ice. After locating the diamond, the group is ambushed by wealthy Indian gangster Randall (Sonu Sood), who claims the diamond belongs to his family. During the fighting, Jones Lee escapes with the diamond and Jack & Co. barely escape from under the ice with their lives. Two weeks later they learn the diamond is to be secretly auctioned off in Dubai, UAE; Jack manages to win the auction, thanks to the help of a wealthy friend, Jonathan (Zhang Guoli), but during a car chase afterwards involving Randall’s men Ashmita snatches the diamond and disappears. After tracking her down in India, Jack is told by Ashmita that she’s a descendant of the royal Gitanjali family to whom the diamond originally belonged. The diamond is part of a sceptre that will open a secret part of the Temple of Thuban in which there is an even greater treasure. She asks for his help again; but soon afterwards, Randall has Jones Lee and Kyra kidnapped, in order to persuade Jack to work for him.

REVIEW

The last time Cheng Long 成龙 [Jackie Chan] and Hong Kong director Tang Jili 唐季礼 [Stanley Tong] joined forces on a film involving India, it was called The Myth 神话 (2005), a ridiculous time-warp action-adventure with Cheng as an archaeologist called Jack who’s asked by a Chinese friend to help uncover a secret civilisation in North India. A decade or so on, Cheng and Tang hit the Indian trail again in KungFu Yoga 功夫瑜伽, with the former as an archaeologist called Jack who’s asked by an Indian scholar to help recover a lost diamond pilfered 1,500 years ago by a Chinese envoy. In the cause of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, Jack of course agrees – conveniently underlining Cheng’s recent role as unofficial spokesman for restoring national treasures (see CZ12 十二生肖, 2012, his last teaming with Tang).

It would be pleasant to report that KungFu Yoga is on a level with the daft but enjoyable CZ12 rather than the messy Myth. Unfortunately it’s a lazily written, and even more lazily played, co-production that’s full of the kind of cultural stereotypes on which the Hong Kong star has built a whole international career, and mechanically assembled by Cheng and Tang as if nothing has changed on the film-making map since the 1980s. None of this seems to have worried audiences in the Mainland, where it’s raked in a hunky RMB1.4 billion over the CNY period; in India, however, its welcome has been cool.

Now 62, Cheng looks less his age than he did in the equally throwaway Skiptrace 绝地逃亡 (2016) but this time doesn’t have a manic co-star like US comic Johnny Knoxville to give the feeble script some momentum. On the Indian side, the experienced Sonu Sood, 43, cuts a commanding figure as the villain but has no opportunity to build a real head of steam, while actresses Disha Patani, 24, and Amyra Dastur (neither big names) make much impression beyond eye candy. On the Chinese side, Hong Kong actor-singer Aarif Lee 李治廷 (Echoes of the Rainbow 岁月神偷, 2010; Bruce Lee My Brother 李小龙, 2010) is likeable as a charming treasure hunter but has no special chemistry with Cheng, while Mainland yoga instructor Muqimiya 母其弥雅 (from the Yunnan Yi minority) and metrosexual boybander Zhang Yixing 张艺兴 are just more celebrity eye candy. Even China’s Zhang Guoli 张国立 and Hong Kong’s Zeng Zhiwei 曾志伟 [Eric Tsang] fail to bring any veteran heft to their roles of a rich friend and an engineer.

With a plot that careens from Xi’an to snowy Tibet (repped by Iceland) to Dubai (a Bollywood favourite) to northern India, the film’s biggest failure is to live up to its title, which already sounds like a marketing department’s invention. (“A cross-cultural co-production between China and India? Let’s call it KungFu Yoga!”.) In the past, Cheng and Tang have often kept their thinly-scripted films afloat via inventive action and lively comedy; here, the stunts have a tired feel and the comedy looks manufactured, with Cheng still recycling his cheeky chappie routine way past its sell-by date. On an action level there’s no attempt to meld the two national exercises in interesting, comic ways, and among the handful of setpieces only a wrecking car chase in Dubai – staged by Hong Kong ace Luo Lixian 罗礼贤 [Bruce Law] – has any oomph. The final sequence, which uses well-known director/choreographer Farah Khan (Om shanti om, 2007), is so offhand it’s insulting.

Technically the film is OK, but nowhere near as slick as a similar Bollywood blockbuster with major stars. It’s one of three productions made under a Sep 2014 agreement between China and India, the others being Buddhist biopic Xuan Zang 大唐玄奘 (2016) in which Sood had a royal role near the end – and the goofy road movie Buddies in India 大闹天竺 (2017), directed by and starring Mainland comic Wang Baoqiang 王宝强. The latter was released in China on the same day as KungFu Yoga but has grossed only half the amount.

CREDITS

Presented by Sparkle Roll Media (CN), Shanghai Taihe Picture (CN), Shinework Pictures (CN), Taihe Entertainment (CN), Sparkle Roll Culture & Entertainment Development (CN), Top Entertainment (IN). Produced by Shanghai Kunyan Film & Media (CN), Taihe Entertainment (CN).

Script: Tang Jili [Stanley Tong]. Photography: Huang Yongheng [Horace Wong]. Editing: Kwang Zhiliang. Music: Wang Zongxian [Nathan Wang]. Production design: Zhang Yinghua. Art direction: Wu Zhen. Costume design: Huang Jiayi. Action: Tang Jili [Stanley Tong], Cheng Long [Jackie Chan]. Martial arts: Wu Gang, Wu Yonglun. Car stunts: Luo Lixian [Bruce Law]. Visual effects: Khandu Bidkar. Choreography: Farah Khan.

Cast: Cheng Long [Jackie Chan] (Jack; Wang Xuance), Aarif Lee (Jones Lee), Zhang Yixing (Xiaoguang, Jack’s assistant), Muqimiya [Miya] (Nuomin, Jack’s assistant), Disha Patani (Ashmita), Sonu Sood (Randall), Amyra Dastur (Kyra, Ashmita’s assistant), Zhang Guoli (Jonathan), Zeng Zhiwei [Eric Tsang] (Jianhua).

Release: China, 28 Jan 2017; India, 3 Feb 2017.