“I never wanted to be the next Bruce Lee. I just wanted to be the first Jackie Chan” – Jackie Chan
“Now I am older, I understand we have to accept who we are.” – Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan is indeed older but he’s still energetic and able to generate laughter in an audience while creating plenty of action on-screen. He proves this in Railroad Tigers, which opened in limited release in the United States on January 6, 2017.
“Ma Yuan” (Chan) is the leader of the Flying Tigers, a group of Chinese peasants struggling to survive during the Japanese occupation of China in 1941. Using their astonishing physical skills they are able to steal what they need from trains controlled by the Japanese. Their methods for boarding these trains without being observed are challenging and ingenious all at once.
“Dahai” (Huang Zito) is a local tailor who is part of the Tigers. “Dakui” (Sang Ping) and “Xiaohu” (Alan Ng) make up the rest of the group. “Dagou” (Darren Wang) is a soldier with the Chinese Eighth Route Army and is the sole survivor of a mission to blow up a bridge to prevent the Japanese from moving critical munitions to the front. When Dagou’s attempt to carry out the mission himself fails, Ma Yuan decides that he will ensure the bridge is blown up.
Standing in the way of the Tigers accomplishing this new mission is the leader of the local unit of the Japanese occupation forces, “Captain Yamaguchi” (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) and a female military police inspector in the Japanese Imperial Army, “Yuko Nakashima” (Zhang Lanxin). They are aided by “Auntie Qin” (Xu Fan) who is Ma Yuan’s lover and “Xing’er” (Zhang Yishang) who is Ma Yuan’s daughter. A local business owner, “Fan Chuan” (Wang Kai) who was once the bodyguard for a warlord disdains what the Tigers do at first, but eventually he joins their mission to blow up the bridge.
The action in this film has fewer of the protracted martial arts sequences that we are accustomed to finding in the movies of Jackie Chan. In fact, most of the action involves the other members of the Tigers aside from Ma Yuan. Chan and writer/director Ding Sheng have come up with a “less is more” approach to Ma Yuan. He does play a role in the action, particularly in the climax of the brilliant running battle between the Tigers and the Japanese soldiers on a train approaching the bridge. The train is filled with explosives which the Tigers plan to use to blow the bridge. It is a long sequence but intense and gripping enough that its length is a good thing.
It is a gorgeous film to look at with a number of moments “posterized” is an unusual way. We see some of the wise Jackie Chan that we saw in 2010’s attempt to reboot of the Karate Kid franchise (the proposed sequel is stalled in development hell). Alan Ng is doing double duty as a member of the Tigers and the martial arts choreographer and he does well in both roles. While it is in limited release for now, it is definitely worth finding a theater to see it in.