Friday, April 13, 2007

The Myth: Insufficient Baggage

Jackie Chan's recent move The Myth is probably the best thing he's done in nearly a decade, but given the decade in question, that's not saying much.

It's been seven years since he made Shanghai Noon, the last film that was arguably as good as this, and thirteen years since Drunken Master II -- his last truly great film.

The Myth is NOT a great film. It does at least have three or four great "bits" -- and "bits" are really the key atomic element of a Jackie Chan film. I can't remember the plots of most of them, but you can remember the bits. The bit in Armour of God with the flaming log and the four black women, or the bit in Miracles in the flour mill or whatever that was, or the bit in Project A Part II in May's house. In The Myth there's a bit on a sticky conveyer belt that's worth the price of admission alone (assuming that price is a $3 DVD rental) and shows more invention and physical brilliance than pretty much anything I've seen since the last time I watched a Jackie Chan film.

But it's a dissatisfying movie, and I think I'm getting a glimmer as to what's wrong with Jackie Chan: he's getting old.

That's not to say he can't do the moves: The Myth puts that notion to rest. Even if he isn't as fast or as insane as he once was (and he's still pretty insane), his real gift always was his ability to dream up crazy shit, not just to perform it. But he's what you'd call a "mature" fella now, and that implies something for the types of characters he can play.

He needs to play characters with baggage.

In his youth, he was fresh-faced and cheerful, and you never really worried about where this guy had been BEFORE the story took off. His characters are mostly blank slates, just average joes with no great pains or accomplishments we needed to worry about before the opening credits finished. Which was fine, when Jackie looked 20. You can easily accept a 20-year-old who's never really done anything in his life.

But Jackie doesn't look 20 anymore. He looks 50. And a 50-year-old who's never done anything is a whole other story. The whole thing feels fake, put-on, and you feel the creakiness of the story mechanics too acutely. It's not that you can't tell a good story about a 50-year-old, but that story has to START somewhere. There has to be some history to this person, so that we feel like they have things at stake.

It is good to see Jackie stretching his chops here, both acting-wise and action-wise -- there's a couple of large-scale action sequences that are handled well. But ultimately it all comes down to story, and a story about a man who is presented as a child just won't carry enough weight to make us care.

Jackie will always get a free pass with me. He's got nothing to prove -- he's already a genius. He's already one of the most important film-makers in history. I'll watch whatever he's got again and again, and if there's at least something worthwhile in it I won't complain.

But it's hard to see him not living up to the potential I know he possesses.

...

In other news, if you needed evidence that Bollywood is better, lookee here: at some awards show, when the nominee gets her award, she doesn't get ushered off-stage; she bursts into song!

(it's possible I'm not in full possession of the facts in this case but look at her face! Tell that's not a happy singing Indian woman right there. Tell me you aren't happier just for having seen her. Go on. Tell me. No, wait. Don't tell me. Leave me to my happy, poorly-verified worldview)