Director: Benny Chan
Screenplay: Jackie Chan, Benny Chan & Alan Yuen
Producers: Benny Chan, Jackie Chan, Willie Chan, Solon So & Zhonglei Wang
Starring: Jackie Chan, Michael Hui, Louis Koo, Charlene Choi, Biao Yuen
Country: Hong Kong
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 134 min
I wanted to squeeze this review in before I went to Cannes (off tomorrow, can’t wait!) as it’s released next week here in the UK. Robin-B-Hood is marketed as Jackie Chan’s true return to the Hong Kong action comedies he became famous for in the 80’s and 90’s, and for the most part it delivers this, but it’s no Project A or Police Story.
The film tells the story of three down-on-their-luck thieves (Jackie Chan, Michael Hui & Louis Koo) who take on a well paid job that ends up with them having to take care of a kidnapped baby. Meanwhile the police are on their tail (headed by Jackie’s old friend the great Yuen Biao) as are some bailiffs after Jackie’s debts and the gangsters who are trying to get their hands on the baby to prove it’s heritage as grandson to their boss. Alongside this the characters all have their various relationship problems which are eventually solved through looking after the baby.
Now, I’m a big fan of Jackie Chan, but I must say I’m more of a fan of his earlier action-heavy comedies like Drunken Master than his purer comedies with minimal physical set-pieces. I just find their sense of humour a little too simplistic and silly to carry a movie. I love Jackie’s slapstick physicality, but the actual jokes in his films are usually pretty weak. Robin-B-Hood unfortunately suffers from the same problems for the most part. Out-of-their-depth men being left with a baby films have been done so many times before and this scrapes out the usual clichés e.g. trying to stop endless crying and dealing with far too many dirty nappies (diapers for you Yanks). It’s also far too long, clocking in at well over two hours. The main reason for this is an over-abundance of characters and unnecessary side-stories. Too much time is spent on everybody’s individual relationships away from the central narrative, meaning the actual film feels very slight even though so much happens for so long.
That said, the film is not boring though, the pacing of action and comedy is quite strong, even if the substance is flabby and uninspired. This is what really saved it for me. Although I would hardly call it a great movie, or even a great Jackie Chan movie, it is exciting and fun to watch. The comedy didn’t make me laugh all that often and is very crude, but it has an energy to it that keeps you watching. Of course what really got me excited though was the action. There are a lot more fights and stunt-work than I expected from Jackie these days. In these aspects this is a true return to form. He’s not quite as limber as he was in his 20’s, but he still pulls out all the stops and there are a bunch of memorable sequences. Standouts include a fight with Yuen Biao in an apartment packed with prop-based action and a showdown in an amusement park at the end featuring some roller-coaster stunts and an awesome fight in a gym. It’s thankfully fairly CGI free too other than baby-based stunts, which would probably be quite disturbing if they looked too realistic.
At the end of the day it’s not a brilliant film by any stretch of the imagination and suffers from an over-stuffed cast list as well as some very basic humour. Those looking for a film of substance or wit will have to look elsewhere, but if you’re a fan of Jackie Chan’s 80’s and 90’s output you’ll be used to these problems and will find that he’s not forgotten what made those films great fun.
Robin-B-Hood is released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK on 24th May by Cine Asia. Both versions feature a host of featurettes and interviews – nothing too groundbreaking, but there’s a lot of interesting background information on the cast and director and it’s great to be reminded how much of the stuntwork was done for real. Refreshingly it’s not all too Jackie Chan centered either, the rest of the cast and the director are given time too.
RowThree's UK correspondent.