Warner Bros. // 2009 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // May 29th, 2009
Their village destroyed, they travelled in search of hope. They followed a prophecy to find their ancient warrior reborn.
Chandni Chowk To China represents the first Bollywood film to be financed and distributed by Warner Bros. Sadly, it would not be at all surprising if this confusing, bloated, muddle of a movie with aspirations of starting a franchise becomes the last Bollywood excursion by the studio.
Centuries ago a great Chinese warrior, Liu Sheng, met his death on the Great Wall fighting foreign invaders. In present day China, the evil Hojo (Gordon Liu, Kill Bill) has enslaved a small village, forcing them to dig up valuable antiquities which he sells for enormous profit. The desperate villagers, seeking solace from the religious elders, are told that Liu Sheng has been reborn and lives in India. As a result, some villagers head off to find their resurrected hero. Unfortunately, they believe the reincarnation of Sheng is an inept vegetable cutter, Sidhu (Bollywood star Akshay Kumar), working at a food stand in the Chandni Chowk market district of Delhi. Sidhu travels to China where things do not go as planned.
What typifies a Bollywood production? Let us enumerate the qualities: action, romance, singing, dancing, comedy, drama, flashbacks, and everything else in between. On that score alone, Chandni Chowk To China appears to have it all, on paper at least, which explains why Warner Bros. decided to finance the project. However, on the screen, the film is total chaos and a colossal bore.
The appearance of a narrator during the opening scenes is the first signal of trouble. The voice explains the Liu Sheng back-story and sets up the contemporary Hojo storyline. The voice returns intermittently to try explain other parts of story. A bad sign, yet the narration is only a minor point of irritation.
Another, and bigger, problem is the liberal borrowing of ideas from other (and better) films without doing anything original with them. There are references aplenty, including Goldfinger (Hojo has Oddball's lethal bowler hat), The Matrix, Jackie Chan films (e.g., Drunken Master), and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Most importantly (and damning), is that many parts of the film are reminiscent of Stephen Chow's vastly superior Kung Fu Hustle. And once this enters the equation it's impossible not to wish that you were watching that film instead.
The largest problem of all is the uneconomical and convoluted storytelling. The film is an exhausting 150 minutes long and never gathers any kind of momentum. Scenes go on too long, unnecessary parallel plots interrupt the action, and gratuitous and repetitious flashbacks provide further disruptions. Some judicious editing would have yielded a more tolerable, if not altogether enjoyable, experience. What could be cut down to size? Perhaps the sub-plot and back-story involving twin sisters separated at birth, Sakhi and Suzy (both played by Deepika Padukone); or maybe the flashbacks of the sisters' amnesiac father, Chiang Kohung (Roger Yuan, Shanghai Noon). How about one less song and dance number? Or Sidhu's extended kung-fu training montage? And don't get me started about the near omnipresent potato that bares a resemblance to Ganesh. There is an hour of footage that could be jettisoned without difficulty.
The technical aspects of the films are solid. The video is clear and bright, but there is also a large amount of extremely obvious and occasionally cheesy CGI work. The surround Hindi audio is crisp and the sound effects and song numbers come through without problem. The release includes English subtitling.
The extras are very thin. Some short unmemorable deleted scenes are included, begging the question of why they were cut in the first place.
The film is definitely not all bad. Akshay Kumar provides some genuinely goofy moments as the as the clueless Sidhu, and he's also believable when transitioning Sidhu from a clown to an enlightened liberator of the oppressed. Additionally, there are some pretty decent and exciting fight scenes as well as a couple of entertaining song and dance numbers. It's too bad that by the time the end credits roll you'll have pretty much forgotten them.
I'm sure there are Bollywood fans out there who "get" this film and I'm sure some will enjoy it, although I should note Chandni Chowk was a disappointment at the Indian box office. Only those incredibly curious about the Bollywood action-comedy-drama scene or with positively, absolutely, utterly, entirely nothing to do should consider taking a peek at this film.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Hindi)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site