MANILA, Philippines - Why watch a Jackie Chan movie? Because it is there. You catch one while channel surfing and you stay, knowing you will enjoy it. After all, there have been a lot of times in the past when you did. That goes from Drunken Master to Police Story to Armour of God to Rush Hour and many others. Why, the guy has been at it for 50 years.
Besides, never in any of those films and many others can Jackie be accused of ever having shortchanged his audience. He constantly aims to please, often disregarding his personal safety to come up with difficult stunts or the most elaborate action sets. That quality in him is always much appreciated and his loyal fans love him for it.
He is no different in his new release, the action comedy Railroad Tigers. The smiling, chinky eyes, the trusting but determined expression and the legendary derring-do are all there. Somehow, the viewer sort of expects this Jackie to be a bit different. He is, after all, older. But no. It is obvious that as always, he wants to please his fans. So, if you want Jackie and you know what to expect in his movies, then you will not be disappointed with his latest.
Directed by Ding Sheng who also megged Jackie’s acclaimed Police Story, Railroad Tigers tells the story of Ma Yuan (Jackie), a humble railroad porter in a small town, who it turns out, is destined to play an important role in the fight against the Japanese invaders of China in 1941. Yuan and his ragtag army of “Tigers” embark on a mission to cut off the supply route of the oppressors by taking over a train to demolish a bridge.
Now, this is something interesting, a view of World War II from the side of the Chinese. We have had lots of movies about fighters against the Nazis in Europe and a few about the Japanese in the Philippines but not much about the Japanese in China. This makes me wonder about how that part of the war ended.
Then the picture is set on a railroad. Trains are fascinating things from the small electric versions surrounding a Christmas tree to the luxurious Orient Express to bullet speeders down to ordinary commuters. I remember From Russia With Love, Cassandra Crossing, Von Ryan’s Express, even Train To Busan and the classic of them all, Buster Keaton in The General. Trains combined with Jackie offer a lot of thrilling, dramatic and in this case, hilarious possibilities. Railroad Tigers does not skimp on any of those.
Yuan and the bumbling Tigers are already fighting the Japanese in their own way by robbing them of food and other supplies whenever they pass by their village. A meeting with an injured Chinese soldier drives the Tigers to try their hands at something more important and dangerous, that is blowing up a heavily guarded railroad bridge that even the Eight Route Army of the National Revolutionary Army of China cannot destroy. The train that will pass by the bridge is filled with weapons for the front lines and must be stopped at all costs.
Sheng concentrates the action on this train for most of the picture. It is a suspenseful, wonderfully choreographed, very well-photographed series with Yuan and his friends using their unique skills to fight the enemy, on, outside, inside and everywhere around that train. It is also goofy in simple, effective ways with all of the Tigers engaged in assorted types of buffoonery. Jackie here gets a tad serious but pay no mind to that. In fact, he comes across as a conductor leading an unlikely orchestra towards a winning climax.
The players are Fan Chuan (Kai Wang), a sharpshooter; Da hai, a tailor (played by rapper and singer Zitao Huang); Xing’er (Xu Fan), a maid; Sian Laizi (Alan Ng), a thief; Rui Ge (Jaycee Chan) and Da Qui (Ping Sam), railroad workers; and Auntie Qin (Zhang Yishang), a pancake vendor. The stellar casting carries over to the enemy territory with Ip Man himself as the evil, leering Japanese officer Ikeuchi, Zhang Lanxin as his stern assistant and in a surprise appearance the famous Andy Lau himself.
These names though pale in comparison to what Sheng has accomplished. Railroad Tigers is a funny, very entertaining action film with lessons in patriotism and heroism and lots of heart.