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Original Title:
Da bing xiao jiang

China, Hong Kong 2010

Action, Comedy, Drama

Ding Sheng

Jackie Chan
Wang Leehom
Yoo Sung-Jun
Lin Peng
Yu Rongguang
Ken Lo
Du Yuming
Wang Baoqiang
Xu Dongmei
Wu Yue
Song Jin

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Little Big Soldier

Story: During the Warring States period an aging soldier (Jackie Chan) fights for his home country Liang. However, he hasn't been blessed with honor or something like this. After having played possum in a battle between the armies of the country Liang and Wei he manages to capture one of the very few survivors of the Wei army. In fact it even turns out that this man is the general of the unit (Wang Leehom). Such a catch promises to earn the soldier a good piece of land in his home country and exemption from military service. Therefore, the soldier makes his way back to Liang with the general as his prisoner, yet the trip proves to be everything but easy. Apart from a prisoner that doesn't easily surrender to him just like that the soldier is also chased after by the prince of Wei (Yoo Sung-jun) and his men. Furthermore, there was an ambush during the battle between the two armies which suggests that there is also another party pursueing its own plan in the war between the two countries.

Review: According to the opinion of most critics "Little Big Soldier" is Jackie Chan's best movie in recent years. Ok, there is nothing to argue about here, if you are only considering the movies he shot in his home country. That is because even though normally you would get to hear from me that actor XY has only delivered inferior movies since turning to Hollywood at this point I have to stress that the "Karate Kid" remake wasn't half as bad as many made it to be and that the Jet Li/Jackie Chan collaboration in the shape of "The Forbidden Kingdom" was quite an entertaining ride. In return my expectation concerning "Little Big Soldier" have been raised unnecessarily by other critics and so they simply couldn't be met. On the one hand that is also because of an unspectacular screenplay, the low-budget locations and unneeded pathos that is creeping in at the end and thus gives the whole movie a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Jackie Chan has already been 56 years when shooting this movie and of course it slowly starts to show. Chan's problem for years already is to find roles where he doesn't need to play the agile and hyperactive clown anymore. An image he build up himself over the years which is hard to change just like that. Chan's "Shinjuku Incident" went into such a different direction that only few of his fans will have had no problems with the movie, although it was an ambitious and for most part well achieved Hong Kong thriller. Now Chan is trying the strategy "a little bit less might be more". The aged soldier he plays - interestingly enough he remains a nameless member of the army - is an opportunist and is acting strictly true to the motto that everything is fair in war. But even in the beginning it becomes obvious that he would never betray his home country. However, an honorable soldier or simply one of the good guys surely looks different.

Nonetheless, in time the soldier proves to be righteous in a certain way. He weould never kill anybody, as he states himself, but he is without a doubt a cheater, thief and some even call him a deserter. No splendid character traits at all, but they just fit to this soldier who is actually only an egoist and just wants to grow his corn in peace. As already mentioned the movie doesn't stick with the tone of this character, though. Love for your country and the willingness to sacrifice yourself creep in towards the end of the movie and thus destroy the credibility of an otherwise interesting character. Naturally, Jackie Chan can't pull off such breakneck stunts as in "Police Story" anymore, there are even astonishingly little fights to be found and Chan's onscreen persona also knows only little martial arts. Instead he makes use of his creativity when it comes to making his surroundings part of the fights which gets him out of quite some mess.

In any case "Little Big Soldier" proves to be a successful vehicle to widen Chan's role repertoire. He shows enough pecularities for him not to play simply Jackie Chan as usual. He is supported by Lee Homwang ("Lust, Caution") who has something honorable and noble about him. Under different circumstances the soldier and him could have become friends. The movie works mainly with the relationship between the two characters as the rest of the story is rather genre-typical and predictable. At the same time the script also seems a bit half-baked. At some points you get the feeling that the protagonists are aimlessly wandering through the woods. This brings us to another odd fact. For most part "Little Big Soldier" plays in the woods, caves, on hills etc., as if there had been only little money at the filmmakers' disposal. If it weren't for a Mongolian army, which eventually gets caught between the fronts, the cat-and-mouse game would have been rather tiresome.

Nonetheless, it has to be noted that in "Little Big Soldier" nice action, appealing humor and a good amount of drama go hand in hand. The only real problematic thing, and the fact that in my eyes reduced the movie's overall quality, is that we are presented with a twist after the finale that has been foreseeable and after that another twist is made room for which concerning its tone doesn't fit to the rest of the movie, especially because of the unneeded pathos. After all, we know that Qin Shihuang united China in 221 B.C. since having watched "Hero" at the latest and so there was no need at all to retell all of that once again. Still, "Little Big Soldier" remains a well done action drama. It simply can't live up to the high expectations that I got thanks to most reviews of the film. A few half-baked and impassioned elements, e.g. the small bird that doesn't leave Chan's site as well as a dancer who is searching for a magical tree, interfere with the rest of the movie and would have demanded a more subtly elaborated screenplay. It's a shame.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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