Little soldier, big laughs
Review by AMY DE KANTER
Jackie Chan’s Little Big Soldier brings in the New Year with tiger-sized roars of laughter.
Christmas has Santa Claus, Easter has the Easter Bunny, Chinese New Year has Jackie Chan. He is a small screen tradition, his movies are as much a part of the holidays as red packets and New Year songs. Though usually we have to settle for the classics on TV, this year we can head over to the cinema of our choice and watch his newest release, Little Big Soldier.
Little Big Soldier is, auspiciously, Chan’s 99th film, one in which he triple-hats as star, action director and producer. He is as remarkable and as funny as ever.
The story takes place during a particularly brutal time in China’s history; during the war between the Liang and the Wei. It is a time when there is no honour in living peacefully, happily or in living at all. Soldiers are expected to die and to take as much of the enemy as they can with them when they do.
Battle deaths in the film are frequent and gruesome thanks to the crude weapons of the time — arrows, heavy swords and huge axes. No one goes gently.
The opening of the film looks like one of the old game animatics, like the opening sequence of Diablo. A great battle has just been fought and, apparently, lost by both sides. The landscape is an open-air graveyard of soldiers. Those who were not killed outright have finally succumbed to their wounds and all is silent except for the cawing of the crows feasting on eyeballs..
A soldier sits upright. This is Chan’s character and, despite the arrow that seems to have pierced his chest, he is just fine.
Chan is a Liang foot soldier and about as useless in battle as anyone could be. It turns out that two more warriors have survived the carnage, one from each side. As they start fighting to the death to protect their flags, Chan cowers behind dead bodies, watching and waiting.
The victor of the fight is a general for the Wei. He raises his flag but then collapses and the hiding soldier comes back out, ties the general up and starts dragging him home.
Despite first impressions, we learn that Chan’s character is not a coward. Nor is he a soldier. He is a peasant who, like all the others, has been forced to join the troupes. All he wants is to return to his peaceful life.
Now he can. There is a reward for bringing back enemy generals: being excused from combat and given land for farming. He could ask for nothing that would make him happier and refers to his captive as his “only luck”.
The brave general is furious to find himself the prisoner of this “little man”, but even if he were not tied up, his battle wounds are too severe for him to put up a good fight.
Not that he doesn’t try every chance he gets, but the soldier holds on stubbornly to his prisoner; his last and only chance to be released from the battlefields.
The general is not the soldier’s only worry. The Wei’s crown prince is hot on their trail with a private entourage of warriors. They are seeking the general to kill him. The reason why they want to destroy a hero from their own side is only explained near the end of the movie.
On top of that, there is a hungry bear that comes sniffing after them plus they’ve made bad decisions, one of the worst involves a beautiful woman they just happen to come across in the middle of nowhere.
Neither a comedy nor an action film, Little Big Soldier is a war drama. So much about the story is tragic, including the soldier’s story. He is a man who wants nothing but peace and the freedom to live his life but war mongers block even these small dreams.
In times of war, words like honour, glory, courage and peace are twisted up with killing. One wishes (as we do in modern times) that all the people who actually want war would do us the favour of getting on with it and finishing each other off. Unfortunately, the way it works — the way it has always worked — is that the war machine feeds on the innocent. A gentle peasant who has never hurt anyone is given a sword and asked to kill and die.
Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, let me assure you that although Chan’s character is the only humorous thing about the movie, he is enough. You will laugh, frequently and loudly. Though you may cry a little bit, too.