Jackie Chan's The Myth

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When Jackie Chan attempted to conquer Hollywood in 1995 with Rumble in the Bronx, diehard fans in the United States had high hopes. Fifteen years earlier Chan had ventured to the states in an attempt to build on the popularity he had already established in Hong Kong; but with films like The Big Brawl and Cannonball Run he failed to make a real impression on mainstream audiences. Only a small handful of chop sockey fans knew who Chan was, until Rumble in the Bronx helped to establish him with the multiplex crowd. Unfortunately, after a few successful releases of some of his older Hong Kong films, Chan soon found himself stuck in silly action comedies like Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour, which weren’t nearly as bad as The Tuxedo, but didn’t do much for his filmography in terms of quality work. In the end, Chan’s Hollywood films reduced him to watered-down version of himself, co-starring in movies that seldom used him to his fullest potential.

After suffering a series of indignities that can only come from having to star in a movie opposite a shrieking, bug-eyed actor like Chris Tucker and being directed by someone as talent-deficient as Brett Ratner, Chan wisely returned to making films in Hong Kong, where he quickly recaptured much of the magic that defined his movies of the last three decades. The most recent of Chan’s Hong Kong productions to come to the United States is The Myth, an ambitious action epic that is not likely to go down in history as one of the superstar’s defining cinematic moments, but certainly delivers its fair share of entertainment.

The plot, as is often the case in Chan’s Hong Kong films, can get a little muddled or confusing, with leaps in logic that are only forgiven by Chan’s acrobatic leaps across the screen. Chan stars as Jack, an adventurous archeologist, who dreams of a past life as Meng Yi (also played by Chan), a brave general that serves the first emperor of China. Meng Yi is charged with escorting the emperor’s new concubine, Ok-soo (Hee-seon Kim) from Korea to China. When the caravan is attacked, Meng Yi and Ok-soo are left to fend for themselves as they make the long trek back to the emperor’s palace. Meanwhile, in present-day Hong Kong, Jack’s friend William (Tony Leung) needs help with his scientific experiment that deals with inventing an anti-gravity device that will allow people to fly (and while all of this is going on, Jack keeps having flashbacks of his past life). Jack and William set off on the sort of ridiculous adventure that defines many of Chan’s other films, as they find themselves in India where they discover a fragment of an ancient meteor that can let people defy gravity. Much mayhem ensues, and Jack is forced to fight his way through India (and while all of this is going on, Jack keeps having flashbacks of his past life). Once back in Hong Kong, the film is gracious enough to deliver a nefarious villain, who brings with him a dastardly plot that involves the secret of immortality and plundering the hidden tomb of the emperor (and while all of this is going on, Jack keeps having flashbacks of his past life).

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If you’ve seen enough of Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong films, you undoubtedly know how ridiculous the stories can get, and The Myth is certainly no exception. The Myth is at its best when it is set in ancient China, where Chan, giving a solid performance as the stoic general who can’t give in to his feelings for the woman he is sworn to protect, seems to be working outside his comfort range. When The Myth moves back to the present, however, it never becomes more than a standard Chan adventure. That said, given the series of epic period pieces like House of Flying Daggers, The Promise, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that have come out the last few years, setting The Myth entirely in an era over a thousand years ago probably would not have been the best idea. Chan’s fans, for as loyal as they are, want to see him in comedies more than costume dramas.

The Myth is not Jackie Chan’s best film, but it is certainly one of his better movies of the last ten years. At the age of 53, Chan still has some great moves, and knows how to make an action sequence work. With direction by Stanley Tong, who collaborated with Chan on Rumble in the Bronx and the Police Story (a.k.a. Supercop) films, The Myth delivers action scenes that pretty much outshine everything Chan did in America. One fight scene alone—set in a glue factory in India—works better than all the combined scenes in The Medallion. Some of Chan’s more devout fans may be disappointed by the amount of wire-work used in The Myth, but it really does fit within the context of the scenes that use it.

As a conventional film, The Myth does have its problems. Tony Leung, who has earned a reputation as a great actor in films like Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, is wasted in a role that is annoyingly stupid. And Indian actress Mallika Sherawat is not on screen enough to fully appreciate her humptastic good looks. But the most notable problem with The Myth is a script that simply is not all that good. Even in terms of a fantasy adventure flick, the story just becomes a bit too confusing and contrived to ever allow it to be a good movie. But as a Jackie Chan flick, The Myth manages to deliver the merchandise—marginal though they may be in comparison to other Chan films.

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