Little Big Soldier

tn_littlebigsoldierLITTLE BIG SOLDIER played at the Seattle International Film Festival last year, and I didn’t see it. Then a region 2 dvd and a blu-ray came out and I didn’t see it. Then it played at ActionFest, which was far away, so I rented the blu-ray.

To answer your question, no this is not the movie where Jackie is only 3 inches tall and then at the end he turns giant like Godzilla. That’s RUSH HOUR 3. And it’s not a remake of LITTLE BIG MAN either. The title I guess refers to the two lead characters, one a small–time foot soldier, the other a big time general and member of the ruling class.
mp_littlebigsoldierThis is an odd Jackie Chan movie, a period piece taking place during what apparently is called the Warring States period in China, in the year A Long Fucking Time Ago. It opens after a huge battle, in a pile of thousands of corpses. Jackie plays a lowly soldier who has managed to survive the battle, and as he’s crawling through he finds a hotshot general (Leehom Wang) from the other side who’s barely alive.

To Jackie this is like finding a bottle that he can turn in to the recycling place for a deposit. He invokes the law of Finders Keepers and takes the general prisoner, hoping to drag him back to his people to collect a reward. He believes he’ll get some farming land in exchange for this guy and he keeps singing a song to himself about what he should grow.

It should be noted that Jackie didn’t survive the battle by being some kind of super badass. He did it by having novelty fake arrows in his chest and playing possum. Same way a young Steve Martin would’ve survived. The enemy general criticizes him for being a coward but over the course of their journey he learns that he’s more of a pacifist. His two brothers died in war and he’d promised his dying father that he would live.

It’s kind of a cool twist because in these period movies you usually root for whoever is the coolest warrior. You think of them as these heroes but you don’t really think about how shitty it is that everybody gets conscripted into being a warrior. They give up their whole lives to fight, and to fight over what? So much senseless killing. Jackie just wants to have some soil and grow some fuckin beans or something. Leave him alone. So you root for the deserter to get away and live peacefully.

But he’s kind of an eccentric goofball too. He constantly says “How marvelous” and quotes things his dad told him a long time ago. He becomes friends with a little bird and carries it around as his pet. When he steps in bear shit he explains that it’s good luck.

As Jackie the martial artist gets older he has to find more roles for Jackie the actor, roles like this with more emphasis on the acting performance than the physical stuff. It’s a funny character who’s kind of inspirational and lovable with his relentless “how marvelous!” positivity and his complete lack of self-consciousness. He doesn’t give a shit if people think he’s a coward, he has very little interest in looking like a bad motherfucker. Dignity is clearly not one of his priorities. And he knows how to use a shit-eating grin or to act stupid to save his ass. Whenever he comes face to face with a horde of ax-wielding savages or a platoon of elite warriors with crossbows this is his reaction:

still_littlebigsoldier
It’s brilliant, ’cause if he came running at them like Bruce Lee they’d probly shoot him, but when they see him standing there like that they hesitate.

LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is light on action compared to the old days, but there are definitely some bits in there that would be hard for a non-Jackie to do. He scurries up trees, falls down cliffs and he does have a couple fights with props, acrobatics and real long bendy poles. They get taken prisoner and have to work together while bound to a big piece of bamboo. He rides some kind of a water buffalo thing through a mud wall, and from the behind-the-scenes shit it looks like that was real.

Alot of it is a two character piece like HELL IN THE PACIFIC, with these two guys sniping at each other, gradually learning about each other’s lives, making bargains with each other, trying to trick each other, eventually bonding with each other (SPOILER). But also they come across other people with other agendas. For example the general’s brother and a band of other well-dressed warriors are on their trail trying to kill the general so he doesn’t inherit the crown, and there’s a group of barbarians that come across them and would like to involve them in some type of savagery or something. Not to be racist, but you guys know how SOME barbarians can be. Not all, but some. There’s a reason for the stereotypes.

But Jackie can compete with the barbarian people. He’s so filthy, so accustomed to bad smells that he’s able to scare them off by breaking off what I assume must be guano or something from the side of a cliff and throwing it at them. It’s like a smell version of Rambo being “trained to eat things that’d make a billygoat puke.”

Apparently Chan’s been trying to make this movie since the ’80s. It’s good but doesn’t have the feel of a passion project like that. He didn’t direct it himself either, he got this guy Sheng Ding who previously only directed something called UNDERDOG KNIGHT.

I have to wonder if he had been able to make the movie a while back if it would’ve had a different ending. It would be a sweet sort of humanistic buddy movie if it wasn’t for the very last part of the movie, which is a total bummer. Sorry to be spoilery. I won’t tell you the specifics, but the movie ends with a horrible tragedy that’s played as a heroic fulfillment of destiny. It seems to be saying don’t worry Jackie, you’re not a coward after all, you can still die for a flag that, according to the historic text at the end, won’t even exist for much longer. Your dad was wrong! War isn’t senseless so much as heroic. How marvelous!

I probly wouldn’t read it that way if it wasn’t such a common trend in modern Chinese movies. They’re making alot of really good movies but they gotta throw that nationalism in there. They’re worse than us in the anti-communist RED DAWN/ROCKY IV days. In this case it’s not Chinese nationalism, it’s nationalism for a long-extinct kingdom. But it’s this nice pacifistic story and then at the last minute it goes: “PSYCHE! Actually the best thing you could ever do is stubbornly stand in front of a bunch of soldiers and get slaughtered over a bunch of bullshit you never even believed in until now! Hooray!” It comes across worse than jingoism, more like brainwashing to crush individualism and create mindless drones willing to die thoughtlessly for their master.

Other than the brainwashing/drone thing though it’s a fun movie, I liked it.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 at 1:38 am and is filed under Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

16 Responses to “Little Big Soldier”

  1. Frankie Teardrop

    April 20th, 2011 at 1:51 am

    I totally agree with you on the ending. It makes the whole story moot in a sense.
    I regard this film as a part of Jackie’s transitional stage. He might make a few more like this, with emphasis on acting rather than action, before stepping into Charlie Bronson territory, playing more to his age.
    I’d appreciate it if he stayed away from mr. Miyagi antics for as long as possible, though.

  2. yeah, that ending sounds like a major cop out

  3. I thought the ending smacked of that wretched, forced Chinese nationalism flavor, too, but it’s not totally absurd if you consider the alternatives for Jackie at that point.  (Also, he carried the flag with him, guarded it even, the whole time, so he must have always been a little bit patriotic for his part of the kingdom.)  All he wanted to do was reunite with his hometown, his property, and grow veggies to share with his neighbors.  He suddenly sees this possibility is decimated, and. . . 

    On his journey, like Fielding’s Tom Jones, he meets several characters that represent possible outcomes for his near future.  Jackie meets the barbarians, so he sees that being a perpetual outlaw, robbing & scavenging, is one possibility.  
    He sees the possibility of bargaining & joining one of the competing kingdoms’ armies or royalty, but that never suits him, especially as long as he has a chance to just go home.  
    He has 2 or 3 dream sequences in which we see the possible consequences of pursuing extra reward or dealing with more strangers and changing his path from a direct route home, so eventually he changes his mind about the bounty, etc..  
    Once he arrives home, he’s utterly at peace with his decision, he’s happy, but then the war shatters everything.  He doesn’t want to live anywhere else or anyhow else.  He experienced or tasted all the other possibilities and made the choice to go home.  Then home wasn’t there after all, so he died with it.  

    It would have been better if he’d ridden a zebu into the enemy and started slaying everyone with his flagpole though.  You know, like the Homer Simpson ending of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON REMAKE.  

  4. I have to admit I thought the ending was a bit weird too, but then again, Jackie is credited with writing the script, so it was probably the ending he intended?

  5. “As Jackie the martial artist gets older he has to find more roles for Jackie the actor, roles like this with more emphasis on the acting performance than the physical stuff.”

    And just like that, I know not to see this one. Jackie the martial artist is a treasure, a miracle in the flesh. Jackie the actor is an annoying, unfunny ham, a party guest who stays too late and won’t let you go to bed.

    Please go gently into that good night, Jackie. Give your poor body (especially your incessantly mugging face) a much deserved rest.

    I hope this controversial opinion does not affect the rare film extraction enterprise me and Mouth got going.

  6. Christ, man, I actually enjoyed THE SPY NEXT DOOR. It was mad funny.

    I. . . I can’t be trusted.

  7. SPY NEXT DOOR gets bonus points for creative villain casting (Sportacus from that crazy, Icelandic kids show about healthy food and sports!!!). Apart from that…not much. At least it wasn’t HORRIBLE. Just…very, very, very, average.

  8. “He doesn’t give a shit if people think he’s a coward, he has very little interest in looking like a bad motherfucker. Dignity is clearly not one of his priorities.”
    Which seems to be what a lot of Jackie’s characters are like. There’s a lot of running away from his enemies and being evasive, and taking any opportunity there is to beat them, even if you look stupid doing it. Plus his characters always seem to be humiliated in some fashion during the movie(see his girlfriend troubles in the POLICE STORYs).

    About the ending…it wouldn’t surprise me if it was something he was pressured to do. Considering that over there crime movies aren’t allowed to end with the crooks getting away with it(see the alternate ending to INFERNAL AFFAIRS), I could imagine the kind of message given at the end here was “strongly encouraged”.

  9. Oh, and as for recent Jackie efforts, I thoroughly enjoyed THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. It was pretty enjoyable as a family-friendly martial arts adventure film, and although they made some Shia Labeoufesque kid the main character, I thought it was pretty respectfull of Chinese culture and had plenty of distinct and important asian characters, and Jackie and Jet Li were fun to see together at last.

  10. The villain from SPY NEXT DOOR is Sporticus from LAZY TOWN*? OK, you guys have convinced me to see that one I’m afraid.

    *Parts of SPEED RACER looked uncomfortably like LAZY TOWN BTW

  11. How does this stack up to SHAOLIN, where Jackie plays a cook who can’t fight but in the end discovers that fighting is just like cooking? Coincidentally, he also befriends an enemy warlord. He’s more of a side character in that one though.

    Oh, and SPY NEXT DOOR was the drizzling shits. The most painful thing is how, at the beginning, instead of establishing him as a spy they just put in some clips from better Jackie Chan movies, slap a color filter on and play Secret Agent Man over it.

  12. “And just like that, I know not to see this one. Jackie the martial artist is a treasure, a miracle in the flesh. Jackie the actor is an annoying, unfunny ham, a party guest who stays too late and won’t let you go to bed.”

    I thought Jackie’s dramatic performance in “Shinjuku Incident” was pretty damn good, allowing him to convincingly go into darker territory. The movie itself had the potential to be truly great but doesn’t quite pull it off. I can only imagine what a director like Takeshi Kitano or Takashi Miike could have done with this. It’s still worth watching, though.

  13. I hope Jackie finds a balance where he can survive and rest up, as he deserves, but keep creating wonderful action scenes. Maybe it’ll be as the mentor to kids, or maybe some other special effects enhanced Hollywood Fu.

    I think he’s a fine dramatic actor, but the thing is there are hundreds of those. There’s really only one Jackie Chan, even though the Thais are doing their own twist on some things.

    I hear the Karate Kid DVD has an insane deleted fight scene. I never checked out the extras.

  14. Jackie Chan has always been a comedian. Chosing to do humour in the 70’s is what made him stick out from all the Bruce Lee impersonators in the first place, and the popularity of the genre is why he has been a huge star in Hong Kong all these years. We might love the harder stuff he has done, but corny, hard to get Chinese humour pays his bills.

  15. Hey Vern, where do you buy your Hong Kong DVDs and Blu-rays? Looks like HKFlix is gone. There’s still YesAsia but Blu-rays there are over $30 each. Where are the mall kiosks when you need them…

  16. FTopel, I have wonder where Vern rents his movies from as well, partially because having grown up in Seattle I have a sneaky suspicion it is Scarecrow Video. It is the greatest video store of all time. They rent and sell all kinds of foreign films and they have a huge catalog or rare or out of print VHS & DVD. Here is a link to their website.

    http://www.scarecrow.com

    I was pretty lucky, because when I was in high school I had a buddy whose parents got him an account their that had no restrictions on what he was allowed to rent. However, in retrospect we could have taken much greater advantage of it, but we had to take the bus to get to Scarecrow and there was already a video store right up the street from his house so we end up just going to that video store more often then not, but I could spend hours in Scarecrow just wandering around checking out all the amazing rare and import films they had.

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