Sadly, Judge Clark Douglas does not have any amusing love/hate relationships.
An unlikely duo confronted by danger!
Ever since the massive success of Rush Hour, buddy comedies have been the bread and butter of Jackie Chan's American work. We've not only been treated to Rush Hour 2 and Rush Hour 3, but also to Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Knights, The Forbidden Kingdom, and Around the World in 80 Days. Most of this material has been pleasantly forgettable stuff; mediocre writing and direction occasionally elevated by Chan's gift for physical comedy. While Chan has attempted more ambitious dramatic roles in his home country in recent years (most of which haven't been well received), the comedy/drama Little Big Soldier dips into the old buddy comedy well to modestly satisfying effect.
Our story concerns a cowardly soldier (Jackie Chan) who flees from a battle and later finds himself surveying a field of dead bodies. Amidst the corpses he finds the opposing army's wounded but still alive general (Leehom Wang, Lust, Caution), which is a very thrilling discovery indeed: the general can undoubtedly be turned in for a large cash reward. As you might expect, the two spend a good deal of time arguing during the first few days of their time together. As you might also expect, they slowly start to warm up to each after a while and soon begin to contemplate the notion of being allies. Before long, it becomes clear that the two men will need each other a great deal in order to survive.
It's clear where the story is going within mere moments, as the film foreshadows Chan's inevitable change-of-heart toward his captive in a cutesy manner and establishes that we're in for a warm n' fuzzy cinematic bonding session. Fortunately, the journey is reasonably entertaining and Chan reminds us of why he can be such an appealing screen presence (a much-needed reminder given some of his recent work—The Spy Next Door, anyone?). There's a bit of playful bite to some of the comic fussing, such as the scene in which the soldier cheerfully antagonizes the general by repeatedly sticking his finger inside a wound on the general's leg. The general responds to this with some amusing slapstick, raising his leg and opening his mouth in pain in hilariously mechanical fashion.
The characters are easy to like, and we do genuinely care about them by the time they get caught up in some dramatic business during the third act. Some additional suspense is brought by the general's forces, who don't want to save their leader but rather to rid themselves of his moderate, reasonable leadership in order to pursue their own sadistic goals. Meanwhile, the soldier worries that his story won't hold up when he eventually turns the general in and that his army will realize that he fled from the battle. Eventually, the two men come to the realization that they're going to have to live with each other or not at all.
Chan's slowing down in the action department in his old age (many of this film's biggest action moments are handled by younger actors engaged in assorted conflicts), but he still manages to deliver a generous amount of enjoyable physical comedy throughout. Though you won't see him bouncing off quite as many walls, there's still an undeniably Keaton-like grace to Chan's elegant clumsiness.
The film has been a passion project of Chan's for decades, which is kind of surprising when you consider that it's little more than a charming buddy movie. At one point, Chan was supposed to play the young general, but as he aged it became clear that he would have to play the soldier. It worked out perfectly in the end, as the soldier role feels like it was written for Chan to begin with (the general is a much quieter, less active character whose development is considerably more internal). The film concludes in startling dramatic territory, but otherwise this is a role that covers agreeably familiar territory for the actor (the film isn't serious enough to feel a need to skip the usual blooper reel that plays over the end credits).
Little Big Soldier arrives on Blu-ray sporting a handsome 1080p/2.35:1 transfer. The film's attractive cinematography is quite pleasant to behold in hi-def, and the level of detail is exceptional throughout. The picture is a bit desaturated and grainy at times, but that's entirely intentional. The film's muted palette benefits from strong shading (despite a bit of black crush here and there), and has an overcast look despite the fact that most of it takes place in broad daylight. Audio is strong as well, with the handful of action sequences managing to stir up a modest thunderstorm of sorts. Dialogue is clean and clear, and the engaging (if occasionally too silly) score comes through with strength. In the supplemental department, you get a 14-minute EPK-style featurette, a music video starring Chan (!) and a pair of trailers for the film.
While Little Big Soldier may not be the intensely moving and entertaining cinematic experience Chan was striving for, it's a nice little movie that fans of the actor will find an enjoyable change-of-pace.
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Studio: Well Go USA
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