Ever since Judge Erich Asperschlager's daughter stopped sleeping during the day, he doesn't know the meaning of "kidnap."
One big ransom…one small problem.
How better to celebrate my very first Dragon Dynasty review than with the Blu-ray release of the 2006 Jackie Chan flick Robin-B-Hood—a movie whose English title makes as little sense as its original, Rob-B-Hood. It doesn't take place in a forest, there are no arrows, and while it involves people taking from the rich to give to themselves, the merriest "man" in the movie is actually a baby. Get past the title, though, and Robin-B-Hood is a decent martial arts comedy, with just enough action to offset the melodrama.
Facts of the Case
Small-time burglars Thongs (Jackie Chan, New Police Story), Octopus (Louis Koo, Election), and The Landlord (Michael Hui, Chinese Box) are so desperate for a big score, they take a job that requires them to kidnap a baby and hand him over to a Triad leader. But when things go wrong, Thongs and Octopus are left to take care of the baby, and in the course of learning all about changing diapers and mixing formula, they grow to love him—a complication that proves dangerous once the people who hired them come looking for the infant.
At 126 minutes, this movie is way too long—especially the opening act, which spends a full 30 minutes establishing the tragedies that drive the lovable burglars played by Chan, Koo, and Hui to accept the unsavory mission of kidnapping a baby in the first place. Although plenty of American-made movies have toddled into baby territory before, it's tough to get behind anyone who drugs and nabs a six-month-old. Whether because this isn't an American-made movie, or because Jackie Chan is universally adored, Robin-B-Hood manages to sidestep the issue—replacing a meditation on the soul-searing awfulness of baby stealing with goofy montages that show hardened criminals having to change poopy diapers, take parenting classes, and get a baby to stop crying by singing him Christmas carols.
The premise may be too drawn out, but once the baby's mobster grandfather sends his goons to retrieve the tot, the plot picks up both in speed and action. Chan and Koo are a dynamic pair, allowing for variety and complexity in their fight scenes as they dispatch nameless baddies both together and separately. The action ratchets up at the end of the film, when they take the fight to a crazy mobster and his men in the private amusement park he built for his son. On one hand, putting your heroes in peril atop both a Ferris wheel and a rollercoaster is a bit much. On the other hand, it's friggin' awesome. The most over-the-top fight comes at the end, naturally, and it has the added drama of happening alongside the movie's most shocking plot twist. I won't spoil anything, but even though everything turns out okay (considering this is a comedy, is that really a shock?), I can't imagine a mainstream American movie doing what this movie does to its littlest character. Ever.
The conflict between mindless action and dramatic tension is at the center of this movie. At least, it tries to be. Robin-B-Hood is weakest when it goes for the heart instead of the jugular. Co-writers Jackie and Benny Chan and Alan Yuen overload their characters with flaws. Chan doesn't just have a gambling addiction, it brings his dying father to the brink of financial ruin. Koo doesn't just have marital troubles, he buys expensive gifts for other women while his pregnant wife works for minimum wage wearing a chicken costume. They also shoehorn in a romantic subplot between Jackie Chan and a helpful nurse who doesn't seem to care about the kidnapping for some reason. The melodrama doesn't ruin the movie, but it does kill the momentum. The only drama that really works is the relationship Chan and Koo develop with their young ward. It may be low-hanging emotional fruit, but hey, babies are cute.
Robin-B-Hood is worth watching, but it doesn't need to be seen on Blu-ray. The 2.35:1 1080p transfer looks only slightly sharper than a DVD, with muted colors and a distracting level of grain. The audio tracks—available in Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio, and Cantonese and dubbed English Dolby 5.1—are fine, though for an action movie they don't have quite as much punch as I was expecting.
The bonus features are surprisingly extensive, starting with a feature commentary recorded by director Benny Chan, joined in places by a few uncredited people asking him questions. It might just be the translation, but the commentary is pretty dry, and includes a lot of Chan apologizing for editing mistakes, and for scenes that had to be removed from the original three-hour cut of the movie. The bulk of the rest of the extras are lengthy interviews with Jackie Chan (39 minutes), the director (16 minutes), and Conroy Chan (14 minutes). There's also a 22-minute making-of featurette that covers the stunts, the story, and the difficulties of working with a baby; and "Playtime for Adults," a 21-minute subtitled collection of on-set interviews and various cast member recollections. Given how hard they apparently worked the kid, I wish there was something from the baby's point of view (or at least from the child protective services agent who would have been brought in if this had been made in the U.S.).
While it's nice to see Jackie Chan play a villain, Robin-B-Hood is probably better suited for Hong Kong cinema buffs than the casual martial arts movie fan. It's too long and too filled with melodrama to deliver the knock-out punch promised by its ambitious action set pieces.
Did I mention the baby is cute? Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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