Jackie Chan uses war flick Little Big Soldier to propagate peace.
JACKIE Chan may be best known as an international action star, yet the man prefers to spread the message of peace and refrain from using his fists.
Hence, Chan made his latest movie Little Big Soldier into a war flick with an anti-war message, noting that with war comes great suffering and that its greatest casualties are the innocent.
Chan, who is the goodwill ambassador for Unicef, hopes to set a good example for the younger generation and promote a culture of peace and environmental protection through his projects.
Late last year, a role-playing online game based on the movie was released so that youths would have a more peaceful option compared to more destructive games which deal with too much fighting and killing.
The US$25mil (RM85mil) movie was written and produced by Chan who also stars in the film. He roped in mainland Chinese director Ding Sheng to helm the movie and pen the script.
Friendly fighter: The Soldier (Jackie Chan) from the state of Liang despises war, and dreams of working in the fields, in Little Big Soldier.
“In the movie, I am a soldier; but in fact, I despise war ... I dislike fighting. All I want is to work in the fields,” Chan said about his peace-loving character in the production notes.
“He’s the only survivor in his family, which is very sad. Unfortunately, it is always the farmers and civilians who get pushed around. So, he has to think of ways to keep himself alive,” he continued in an interview recorded to promote the movie.
Following Chan’s lead, director Ding added: “Ours is an anti-war film, one exhorting peace. You will see how war transforms people by putting them in abnormal situations.”
Known in Mandarin as Da Bing Xiao Jiang (literally meaning “big soldier, little general” ), the movie has Chan and Wang Lee Hom as the two titular characters. The co-stars are South Korean singer-actor Steve Yoo Seung-jun and mainland Chinese actresses Lin Peng and Xu Dongmei.
Set during the darkest ages of China when ruthless warlords waged battles without a thought for the innocent, the story revolves around two characters from opposing factions – the states of Liang and Wei – who are sole survivors of a particularly violent clash while millions of others perished.
Chan plays a foot soldier from the state of Liang who survives the bloodbath and countless other clashes not because of his fighting prowess but due to his ability to play dead, complete with an arrow strapped to his chest.
Wang plays a young general from the state of Wei captured by the soldier who hopes to get an honourable discharge so that he can return to a life of peace.
Together, they encounter thieves and bandits and get stalked by a ferocious bear as well as the general’s ruthless younger brother who has plans to usurp the throne.
While the two mismatched military men initially seem to be unable to get along, their crisis-laden journey prompts them to join forces in order to stay alive.
“It’s a very simple story about a soldier and a general. The director thought that this made an interesting story and had plenty of room for development. It’s set in the war era of the Chinese dynasty, and there you have a small character (the soldier) capturing a big and important character (the general) ... thinking that he’s on his way to fulfil his dreams.
“After capturing him (the general), I will be on my way to riches and power. Some people want him (the general) alive, and some want him dead ... but what is most important is that I do not want to be a soldier, I do not want to fight in a war anymore ... that’s my ultimate goal,” mused Chan, 55, about his simple-minded character.
Bewitching: The Songstress (Lin Peng) stealing the medallion which is the only proof of the young general’s (Wang Lee Hom) identity as heir to the throne.
Though Chan cast himself as the soldier, he initially planned to portray the general when he conceptualised the story some two decades ago.
Fast forward to present day, Chan finally got to make his movie. But, he decided to play the soldier instead as he did not like to repeat his roles.
Chan had already portrayed a heroic general in The Myth (2005). Thus began his quest for a suitable actor to play the general.
Chan offered the role to his friend Jiang Wen, an acclaimed mainland Chinese filmmaker. Unfortunately, Jiang had to decline due to his own work commitments.
He also had Daniel Wu in mind but having already collaborated with him in two films – New Police Story (2004) and Shinjuku Incident (2009) – he decided to seek out another talented young man.
He thought of inviting Taiwanese musical prodigy Jay Chou to fill the role. But, his wife (Taiwanese actress Joan Lin) felt they would not make a suitable pairing and reasoned that Chou and Chan were too alike in character.
Even his own son Jaycee was considered for the part. However, a father-son on-screen partnership was deemed too distracting for the audience.
Finally, his wife suggested Wang, whom she felt would form a most dramatic pairing with Chan. Elated, they contacted Wang for the project, and he instantly agreed to do it without even reading the script. The rest, as they say, is history.
After filming the movie with Wang, Chan had only praise for his multi-hyphenate co-star. “His character in the movie is very compelling. He’s like the charming, gentlemanly general.
“God has been too fair with him. Why, he’s almost perfect. He can play any musical instrument, write scripts, do musical arrangements, compose tunes, pen lyrics, sing his own songs while playing his own accompaniment, and produce his own albums. English songs, Cantonese songs and Mandarin songs ... he can do them all.
“He’s also very handsome and he can act. And, he’s very hardworking too. His success is truly well-deserved.”
Crew members spoke of how Wang seeks Chan for guidance every evening to clarify anything he was unsure of or ask about the scenes they would be filming the next day.
“You might have seen hardworking people, but you might have never seen anyone as diligent as him. Why, he’s even more hardworking than me. I’d known that he’s good, but I never imagined him to be that good,” Chan declared.
To prepare for his role as a general, Wang had undergone extensive training in Chinese weaponry, including sword and spear, in addition to equestrian training.
Deeply impressed by Wang’s work ethic, Chan offered: “Maybe it’s all fresh and new to him. He’d keep practising whatever I teach him. It’s like he’s continuously making preparations for future projects. Even though he might not actually have any need to wield a staff or a sabre any time soon, he’d still keep on training.”
For 33-year-old Wang, Little Big Soldier is his first costume flick though not his maiden actioner.
Best remembered for his most recent role in Lust, Caution (2007) directed and produced by Oscar-winner Ang Lee, the musical genius actually made his big screen debut a decade ago in China Strike Force (2000). Since the movie was well received by Hong Kong critics, his next role was playing the male lead in another action film titled The Avenging Fist (2001), helmed by Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs).
Yet, for all his acting credits, Wang, born in Rochster, New York, is most notable for being a multiple award-winning musician who has released 25 albums, and sold over 15 million records worldwide.
With more than 100 films under his belt, Chan’s passion for filmmaking seems to grow with every production as his enthusiasm is continually fuelled by fresh collaborations.
For his pet project, Chan chose to work with Ding – a veteran in TV commercials, as he admired Ding’s efficiency and portrayal of masculinity on screen.
After Ding directed The Underdog Knight starring China’s Liu Ye and Hong Kong’s Anthony Wong, Chan decided to entrust Ding with his pet project.
“Many directors nowadays are from TV commercials background. I’m touched by his enthusiasm, new ideas and concept. I have great confidence in him and left everything in his command. Anyway, I was around all the time, and I would lead him whenever needed.”
A graduate from the prestigious Beijing Film Academy, whose alumni include notable filmmakers like Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, the meticulous 39-year-old auteur further impressed the cast and crew as he would prepare storyboards for every shoot and draw them up himself every evening.
Deeming his latest film venture a noir comedy action adventure, Chan has also invested heavily in Little Big Soldier, which is his first film project where he is executive producer, producer, action director as well as actor.
According to the film crew, Chan seemed almost superhuman as he played many roles on the set and sometimes even made changes to the storyline to keep the proceedings more lighthearted.
Apart from being an actor, director, cinematographer, stuntman, scriptwriter, action choreographer, the veteran multi-hyphenate had no qualms about helping with the lighting and props.
This prompted Ding to comment: “He creates a very relaxed atmosphere on the set and would never make his co-workers feel nervous or uneasy.”
The female co-stars, Lin and Xu, also remarked how they enjoyed working with Chan.
Lin, who plays the songstress, said: “He’s very encouraging and would cheer me on. During a scene we filmed together, he looked at me and said reassuringly, ‘Don’t be afraid, just carry on.’ That gave me the strength to focus my efforts and complete the action with satisfactory results.”
Xu, who plays the warrior, said: “He’d show a lot of concern for our work and share tips that he had accumulated from his years of experience.
“He’d offer suggestions on how to create better results in a certain frame or even point out where our eyes should focus for a certain scene to work better.”
With upcoming projects that include The Karate Kid, Chinese Zodiac, Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom Of Doom, Shaolin and Flying Duck, it appears that the renowned Chinese film star shows no sign of slowing down.
Little Big Soldier, distributed by Golden Screen Cinemas, opens in local cinemas nationwide on Feb 14.
> The Soldier (Jackie Chan): A foot soldier from the state of Liang who was never meant to be a warrior. Born a peasant, the simple man has already lost his father and brothers on the battlefield. Hence, he despises war and wishes for a discharge so that he can go home and work in the fields.
> The General (Wang Lee Hom): A dashing young general who is actually the prince of the state of Wei and heir to the throne. Seriously wounded after a major battle, he is captured by the Soldier who hopes to trade him in for a ticket home. Though held captive, he is constantly condescending to the soldier whom he deems a coward.
> The Prince (Steve Yoo Seung -jun): The younger brother of the General, Prince Wen thinks that he deserves better and sets out to usurp the throne. Desperate to secure his position, he hatches an assassination plot disguised as a rescue mission.
> The Songstress (Lin Peng): A mesmerising songstress who has other tricks up her sleeve. Meeting the Soldier and the General, the young lady pretends to be a slave in order to earn their trust. Then, she drugs the duo and steals the jade medallion, which is the only proof of the General’s identity.
> The Warrior (Xu Dong Mei): A female warrior who leads a tribe of barbarians. While out riding with the pack, she encounters the Soldier and the General. Not surprisingly, she falls for the handsome young general. – By Seto Kit Yan