Thursday, January 3, 2013

Nitpickery: The Search for Jackie Chan

Hey y'all.  So, one of my favorite movies is a Chinese film, called The Search for Jackie Chan.  Actually, that's the Chinese name.  The name in the english market is Jackie Chan: Kung Fu Master.  For some reason.

Look, peeps, if you're going to sell something to somebody, you have to market it for what it is.  Don't lie to your consumers.  They never like that.  That's at least half the reason why people despise Star Fox Adventures.  We looked at the cover and expected a Star Fox game, not a mediocre dinosaur story with gameplay ripped off from the Legend of Zelda.  And when an American sees a movie with Jackie Chan's name and face on the front, he generally expects a kung-fu movie with Jackie Chan as the main character.  He doesn't expect a movie about a dorky Indonesian kid on a kiddie adventure to find Jackie Chan.

Lying to your audience is never good.  I'm really sad that the film company felt they had to do that.  What makes it worse is that this movie could be plenty successful without the lying.  It's a really endearing film about a young man's struggles in school.  The boy is constantly bullied in school because he doesn't make good grades (remember, this is Asia) and so he wants to find Jackie Chan so that he can get Jackie to teach him to fight the bullies off.  He goes on a fun adventure where he learns the importance of family and working hard.  It's a great film -- just not an action film.  Sure, it has some highly stylized, almost cartoony fighting, but those are only about as violent as watching a karate class, and they don't define the film.

There's a market for this kind of movie.  Kids would love this stuff because it's fun, and adults would love it because it's morally sound and still interesting.  There are people out there who would love to discover a kid's adventure movie.  Kid's adventure doesn't get fun stuff that much anymore, just really dark, melodramatic stuff like Harry Potter; really stupid, overly patronizing crap like Alvin and the Chipmunks, or stuff that tries way too hard to appeal to adults, like Rango.  This movie reminds me of back in the nineties when people actually made good movies for children.  It's good, clean fun, and we need more of that these days.

Honestly, had they marketed this as a children's movie, it would have sold so much better.  It would have found the right audience, and people wouldn't have been so disappointed from false expectations.  Did they really expect that no one would buy it if Jackie Chan wasn't plastered all over the DVD cover?  If they didn't make it look like something it wasn't?  Honestly, there's only one picture of the real main character on the back, and it's just a tiny one.

Look, Americans aren't a bunch of idiots who will only want to watch movies with a lot of action and shiny 'splosions.  We actually do want good story, it's just that Hollywood...well, I'm convinced it just wants to indoctrinate and/or make America look bad.  Or maybe Hollywood just hates us.  You can't blame the Chinese for this one.  Their title for this movie was accurate.  It was the Hollywood meatheads that decided not only to give the movie a misleading name and cover, but they also put non-family friendly previews on the DVD, so I can't even recommend this movie to anyone at the used bookstore where I work: not the action people who might want something new, and not the family members who want something safe to plop in front of their kids.  Stupid Hollywood.

But conspiracy theories aside, The Search for Jackie Chan (as I will call it from now on), is actually a really good movie.  It does have the disadvantage of being a Chinese redub, so either you're going to have to watch it with subtitles, learn chinese, or deal with not having the words match people's lips.  The english dub is actually pretty professional, so it's not that bad.  It doesn't have those really annoying voices that other dubs have, like the really annoying Azumanga Daioh dub.

In any case, the movie starts out with a movie action scene, with Jackie Chan filming his latest movie.  This transitions into a search for extras, where we meet our protagonist, Zhang Yi Shan.  Yi Shan is a sixteen year old boy who idolizes Jackie, which is why he's so sad when the search for extras ends up being a dream.  He wakes up to be still in his grandmother's house in Indonesia, where he must get up, finish up his last day of middle school, and face all the people that witness his academic failures.

China must not be very like America in its school system.  Here, we generally never put up grades for lots of people to see.  However, here they show Yi Shan's terrible Chinese essay and read aloud all of his mistakes.  Huh.  In my school the closest we had to that was a teacher who announced our test scores.  But not only do the kids get to read his terrible essay, but he is berated before his class for having such terrible scores.  And when he complains about this after school, he's promptly beat up by a crowd of his peers.

His grandmother tries to send him to his other grandparents in Beijing (Yi Shan's parents are busy somewhere -- it's never specified), but Yi Shan takes the opportunity to go to a temple where Jackie is filming a movie.  Unfortunately, his bad Chinese takes him to the completely wrong temple, where he stays out in the cold until the headmistress takes him in and lets him stay for a bit.  He has a few mishaps with trying to find out where Jackie Chan is from Jackie's brother (which of course does not pan out) and then heads on for the appropriate place...only to have a run in with a street criminal.  I'm not going to spoil the plot by describing it further, but yeah.

One of the weaknesses of this movie is the transitions.  They transition through scenes by having Yi Shan do a monologue.  My distaste for monologues aside, these are just really too obvious.  When Yi Shan is staying with a cop and she unexpectedly departs, we don't need to be told that Yi Shan is excited about the opportunity to escape and go find Jackie again.  We can see that for ourselves.  So many of his monologues are just the same, too obvious.

Yi Shan himself is pretty endearing, despite the fact he's kind of a jerk and is way too unsubtle about his quest.  He's very forthright about his reasons for finding Jackie, and doesn't seem to mind telling anyone what he's doing and why.  It's kinda silly, actually.  In personality, Yi Shan is pretty similar to Greg Heffley from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, except Yi Shan is more endearing.  Unlike Greg, he doesn't directly seek to manipulate anyone, but he has a hard time noticing how much trouble he's giving other people while he goes on his personal quest.

Another flaw with this movie is that it doesn't really resolve two plotlines.  Yi Shan meets Li Xia at the Taoist temple he goes to, but just sort of leaves once that segment is done.  The female cop he meets is similarly ended, namely abruptly.

Still, overall this movie is really good.  It's the endearing story of a boy who learns to be responsible and take pride in his own family, instead of chasing glory from a kung fu star.  It's pretty sweet, even if it's not the action movie it was advertised as.

This movie is for:
- Parents looking for a clean movie.
- Children at heart.
- Children.
- People who want to learn more about Asia.
- People who miss the nineties.

This movie is not for:
- Serious action buffs.
- People who think a movie isn't a movie without cursing and naked chicks.

Best actor: It's a hard race.  All the characters did pretty well.  I'll just say that Yishan Zhang (that's how imdb credits Yi Shan) as the main character did the best, because he was very immersing, and I believed him every moment he was on the screen.

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