Straight face kills the Chan brand
We expect to laugh at Chan’s innocent jokes, be awed by his physical prowess and wink along with him at the absurd plot. But the latest poster hanging in the window at Jackie’s Kitchen is a different beast. Chan’s solemn expression tells his patrons not to expect the usual adorable, aw-shucks antics. This film is serious. But like New Coke, the rebranding is a disaster.
“The Myth,” half Asian “Indiana Jones” and half “Hero” wannabe, excises everything we loved about Jackie Chan, but doesn’t replace it with anything substantial.
Jackie plays a rather goody-goody archaeologist named Jack who agrees with his friend William (Tony Leung Ka Fai) to investigate a temple in India where, legend has it, a mysterious stone can confer weightlessness. It turns out that the stone is part of the tomb of a Qing Dynasty general.
In the movie’s one innovation, the film flashes back to Qing Dynasty China, where Chan plays the general, Meng-yi, inscenes that are tied to the present day by making them appear in Jack’s dreams of a past life.
In Jack’s earlier incarnation as Meng-yi, he is in love with one of the emperor’s concubines, the wispy Ok-soo (Kim Hee-seon), who yearns for freedom but stays in the capital for Meng-yi’s sake.
Eventually, Meng-yi crosses the wrong palace minister, and through various contrivances Ok-soo ends up immortal, along with one of Meng-yi’s loyal friends, living in a cave lined with the stones that bestow weightlessness.
Of course, none of this makes any sense. In most of Chan’s movies, as in the real “Indiana Jones” films, such conceits are easily offset by impressive fight sequences and unabashed camp.
But “The Myth” suffers from a terrible malady: it takes itself seriously. The historical scenes try to imitate the new wave of Chinese art epics, while the modern scenes play at being a stern commentary on cultural ethics. This mistaken attitude contaminates every aspect of the film, especially Chan, who tries to show a desperate, tragic heroism, and doesn’t pull it off.
The bright spots in the film are naturally the fight scenes. Despite the overwrought and heavy-handed storytelling, it’s still great fun to see the quintessential professional at work. But you’ll have to sit through lots of unfortunate scenes to get to these highlights.
Director Stanley Tong said that he intended to create a more dramatic Jackie Chan film with “The Myth.” The result is a movie with the ridiculous plotting, one-dimensional characters and awesome fights of any other Chan film ― but without Chan’s traditional charm.
Keeping Chan from winking at the camera kills the film. Even on the poster hanging in the window of Jackie’s Kitchen, Chan is scowling. Someone should tell Stanley Tong that scowls don’t sell dim sum ― or campy movies.
by Ben Applegate