First things first: I went with zilch expectations, simply because I am that rare (abnormal?!) species that has never watched a Jackie Chan film, except in bits on television.
Second: we are in an era where “Jungle Book” and “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” release in India first and “Kung Fu Yoga” is a big release too, and everything, or quite a lot, is skewed in the film content towards the Indian audience. The first film, essentially on Indian characters, was stunning, brilliantly conceived, written and executed. The second was run-of-the-mill. This one is run-of-the-mill and tired.
Films are supposed to be, ideally, a meeting-point of three quotients in perfect proportion for the subject: Entertainment, Emotional and Intelligence. In both “xXx…” and this one, the second and third quotients have been relegated to inconsequential, and the first one is in overdrive. That’s what we silly Indians are supposed to like, right?
No sir, that’s not right! Meaningless entertainment has always collapsed over here, and a strong grasp on the emotional aspects always wins. And that other golden funda of Indian cinema is that action (with or without comedy) will score ONLY when accompanied by identifiable emotions.
I do not know about past films of Chan. All I know is that they were all essentially foreign movies, which Indian audiences like or reject on their own parameters and qualities that may vary considerably from our roots and sensibilities. But here, we are talking about an Indo-Chinese story and co-production, with a lot of the cast from our country, and a story of a treasure hunt where we have liberal exposure to Indian ingredients like palaces, princesses, the Indian rope trick, a cave temple and even an idol of Lord Shiva. An expert Indian co-writer and a supervising director would have worked wonders!
As things stand, there is a prelude set about 1400 years ago, when a Chinese supported an Indian princess against a renegade general. Cut to 2017, and we have a middle-aged plus archaeologist, named Jack (Jackie Chan) who is an expert in everything from restoring terracotta figures to hunting for treasure and in his knowledge of diverse cultures. Dr. Asmita (Disha Patani) visits him and informs him about a lost treasure centuries ago, and has an assistant Kyra (Amyra Dastur). Jack takes the help of a young man (Aarif Lee Rehman) who is the son of a dead colleague. Then comes villain Randall (Sonu Sood) to upset plans. Randall – an Indian prince???
Step by step, their search leads them to Tibet, Dubai and finally India. And Randall wants it all.
For an action comedy, the laughs that come are sparse, and very few are truly hilarious or humorous, like the lion suffering from motion sickness and Jack’s passing infatuation for Asmita. There are sporadic witty lines at other places, but that’s it. The action too is remarkably tepid, and the excessive spoken words give the film a South Indian dubbed action movie aura!
As it is, the film ends up as a wannabe Hindi film of the mediocre variety, proof of which lies in the fact that at 103-minutes there are points where I became restive. The direction, shot breakdowns and editing are not just choppy but jerky. The Hindi dubbing is alright, though predictably clichéd on many occasions. The post-climax Indian-style number, choreographed typically by Farah Khan, may charm viewers of other nationalities but is pretty average. Mercifully, the mediocre Hindi promotional song was not around!
Technically not-too-smooth, but for the underwater sequences, the film has no standout performances to boast of as a redemption. Chan looks like the aging Dev Anand of the late ‘70s to early ‘90s and acts sincerely. But his action does not seem to be what is needed to create an icon – clearly, he needs a makeover, because his charm is intact. Sood grimaces, snarls and fights, and frankly that is still preferable to his inexplicable reformation after which his smiles look terribly fake! Patani looks fetching but has nothing to do except smile, show skin and generally look dishy. Dastur is bright but lacks charisma and a good role. Mi Yamuqi is fetching, and Rehman and the rest serviceable.
The only aspect I took home from the film was the fairly engaging hyena sequence. And for a lot of tepid Kung Fu, there was barely any Yoga. As an entertainer, this is presumably strictly for Chan fans, and may work on the very novelty it offers to audiences worldwide – its mediocre Indian slant.
Taihe Entertainment and Shinework Pictures present "Kung Fu Yoga"
Produced by: Barbie Tung
Written and directed by: Stanley Tong
Music: Nathan Wang and additional music by Komail and Shivaan
Starring: Jackie Chan, Sonu Sood, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur, Mi Yamuqi, Aarif (Lee) Rahman, Zhang Yixing and others.