TL;DR – Kung Fu Yoga is a classic Jackie Chan action film, with a Bollywood villain, and Indiana Jones plot, and if that does not sound amazing to you then I am not sure how else to sell it to you.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
I remember my first Jackie Chan movie, one of my friends had gotten their hands on Rumble in the Bronx and we all snuck over to their house, because it was more mature than we were allowed to normally watch at the time, and it was amazing. I had never really seen a Chinese/Hong Kong action film before, and it was a revelation that action could be fast paced, but also fun, as long as you didn’t find yourself on the wrong end of a wood chipper. Since then we have had a lot of delightful films from his comedy turns in the Rush Hour’s, to the really quite good The Forbidden Kingdom (yes it has a rough start but go with it and it’s so fun), but neither of them really harkened back to these movies of the past. So I was really excited to hear that one of my local cinemas was showing his latest film, and while it has some rough edges Kung Fu Yoga was an amazing blast of fun.
So as I said in the TL;DR, Kung Fu Yoga is a classic Jackie Chan action film, with a Bollywood villain and Indiana Jones plot, and to be honest that’s all you should really know before you go see it, but if you want to know more I’ll be going through it here, but there may be some spoilers for you going forward.
Kung Fu Yoga opens with a story of Princes, Princess, battles, elephants, and coups in ancient Magadha India. Now, of course, this opening sequence is completely in CGI which is an odd move, though it probably saved a lot of money, but if you are concerned about it all being CGI don’t worry, because moments later we are thrust into the present and meet Jack (Jackie Chan). Jack is a professor of archaeology in Beijing who specialises in Chinese-Indian history, and pigment reconstruction, which means he was the perfect person for professor Ashmita (Amyra Dastur) to consult with, as she had an ancient map to an ancient treasure that was lost on the way from India to China 1000s of years ago. From here we are whisked on an adventure that takes us across the world, battling bad guys from within and from without, and fighting for the lost treasure.
When it comes to the casting you are already off to a good start when it comes to casting Jackie Chan in your film because even when he is in crap films, he always brings his a-game and never phones it in, so when you give him a great role he shines, as he does here. The other stand out is Aarif Rahman who plays Jones, he nailed the Han Solo-like role with lots of charm and swagger, and I think he’ll be having more than a few Hollywood agents giving him a call after this. I also quite liked the movies big bad Randall played by Sonu Sood, he brings everything you want for a classic Bollywood villain. For the rest of the cast, there aren’t any real standout performances, they all sort of fall into the background or play very stock standard roles. It would have been nice to see Zhang Yixing (Xiaoguang) or Miya Muqi (Noumin) do a bit more with their roles, but that might just be because they are teaching assistants, and you have to look out for your colleagues.
Kung Fu Yoga makes great use of its locations from Iceland to Dubai to India, and this really helps give the story extra weight. Sure you can build a set that gives you the facsimile of a thousand-year-old temple or you could shot among the temples that already exist. Overall even though the story does take more than a couple of cues from Indian Jones, and that whole genre, it is also quite good at blending three different genres together, you have a classic Kung Fu action flick, a Bollywood epic, and pulp treasure hunt, and they all work well with each other. So you have those classic action sequences, brushing up against Bollywood physics, whilst are heroes run through an exotic marketplace, it all fits together really well. Also it was interesting to look at the politics of the story, now, of course, I am not Chinese nor am I Indian, so I can only comment as an outside observer, but there were more than a few references to Chinese policies with regards to Chinese-Indian relations, and I think it will be interesting to see how this goes down in India, indeed the very title Kung Fu Yoga references this.
Now of course when you want to go see a Jackie Chan film you want to go see some well-crafted action set pieces, and does Kung Fu Yoga have them in spades. Now Kung Fu Yoga was the first Jackie Chan film I watch since seeing Tony Zhou’s break down on his action style (See Here) and it was really fascinating to watch all those features play out on the big screen. On the whole, this is such a well-designed action flick, you can tell what is happening at all times, you can tell that most of the cast is trained how to fight instead of faking it with the camera, and each hit has weight behind it as do the falls. Also, it is really funny at times, I have not laughed like that in a cinema in such a long time, seriously there is one sequence with an animal that is worth the price of admission alone. There were a couple of odd moments where the film is clearly sped up, and if you are a fan of expensive cars you may want to prepare your gasps of horror in advance. Now I do have to say I did see Kung Fu Yoga after watching Resident Evil The Final Chapter (See Review) which of its many faults, it actions sequences were truly awful. So I could be heaping praise on Kung Fu Yoga just because anything would be better than that 6-cuts per second mess, but I don’t think this is the case, Kung Fu Yoga is just a blast of an action film.
While I did really like Kung Fu Yoga it did have some rough edges which while not enough to damage the film, do lead to it not working as well as if could have. First, with a lot of the female characters in the film, it felt like they could not decide if they were kickass action stars or damsels in distress, with some of the actors transitioning from one side to another in the same fight. Also with the story, it felt like a couple of times that there was scene cut between locations, so you go ‘who is that?’ for a bit, while it never gets in the way of the story, it does make it a little bit harder to follow. Also, while Kung Fu Yoga is not alone in doing this, and the sequence was quite amusing, it was a bit sad to see it hit every stereotype of India in about 5 minutes, though at least it did mix some of the tropes up a bit. None of these are deal-breakers, but they do stop Kung Fu Yoga from being a fantastic film.
In the end, I laughed, I marvelled, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Kung Fu Yoga, it is a solid action flick with moments of pure joy, and in an industry where action flicks tend to wallow around in mediocracy, it is great to see one stand out above the rest. I highly recommend Kung Fu Yoga and I think you’ll get a kick out of it too.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Stanley Tong
Written by – Stanley Tong
Music by – Nathan Wang & Komail-Shivaan
Starring – Jackie Chan, Aarif Rahman, Zhang Yixing, Miya Muqi, Sonu Sood, Disha Pantani & Amyra Dastur
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: na; NZ: PG; UK: na; USA: na