VOLUME 28 NO. 4 | JANUARY 17 - JANUARY 23, 2009

Bollywood meets martial arts … and it’s not disastrous?

Last updated 1-15-09 at 1:52 p.m.

“Chandni Chowk to China,” distributed by Warner Bros. Company, may be the first film to mix martial arts with Bollywood — and it does so successfully.

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

“Chandni Chowk to China” is an audacious Bollywood/martial arts extravaganza that begins in outer space as the narrator directs us to the “only wonder of the world” visible from space — the Great Wall of China. Moving closer to the Great Wall, the camera traces, in a few short shots, the valiant life and glorious death of one man — Liu Sheng. Sheng died defending the Great Wall from invading marauders.

The film presents us with mighty battle sequences across the landscape, many of which involve the defiance of gravity. Despite all the action, it always comes back to the struggles of empathetic characters who rely on each other for victory, on and off the battlefield. The film keeps its flashy aspects grounded by the humanity of the characters.

Liu Sheng was a Chinese prince of the Western Han Dynasty. However, because of the film’s sensationalized sequences, the facts seem trivial. For more than two hours, you’ll have to leave your analytical thinking at the refreshment stand when you pick up your popcorn.

The film’s legendary Liu Sheng died fighting off the enemies of the Chinese people. In the 21st century, the narrator advises, threats sometimes come from within. A dark Rolls-Royce cruises across the screen, unloading the evil antagonist, Hojo.

Played by Gordon Liu, the bald-headed veteran of Hong Kong films, Hojo displays beady eyes, a sinister grin, and a razor-edged bowler hat that draws blood from opponents (an idea borrowed from the James Bond film “Goldfinger”).

Hojo treats the locals like slaves. They unearth relics that Hojo illegally — and lucratively — sells off to foreign bidders.

The village wise men, convinced that Liu Sheng must have been reincarnated somewhere on present-day earth, undertake a desperate search to find their savior.

Their search ends in the unlikeliest of places; Chandni Chowk is the busiest market square in India’s second largest city of Delhi. It holds a humble food stand run by Sidhu (Akshay Kumar). Young Sidhu works night and day, sporting a ridiculous thin mustache that often threatens to fall off the actor’s face.

Sidhu struggles to please his glowering stepfather, Dada (Mithun Chakraborty). He has only one friend, a thief named Chopstick (Ranvir Shorey).

Sidhu does not appear to portray the characteristics of a recincarnated master warrior. Through a series of comic chance happenings, language barriers, and Chopstick’s ever-burning lust for a full wallet, the Chinese emissaries seem to believe they have their man. From there, Sidhu heads for the Great Wall to battle the enemies of the Chinese people.

“Chandni Chowk to China” combines Bollywood dancing, singing, and Hong Kong–style battles quite successfully. Both traditions rely on excess, and director Nikhil Advani finds it easy to intersperse them.

The considerable social, political, and cultural differences between India and China appear to vanish. For the purpose of this film, it works.

However, the film doesn’t succeed in certain aspects. Sometimes, it tries to do too much. It throws in a worthy subplot involving a left-for-dead kung fu policeman (Roger Yuan) and his estrangement from his two daughters. Then it throws in a second, more strained subplot involving Chopstick going undercover in Hojo’s gang.

The plot gets grimmer after the first hour, when the fantastical dancing and warm comedy transforms to themes of pain, loss, and vengeance.

On the other hand, its energy, humor, and heart make this a worthy film. Just don’t forget to pick up your analytical mind on your way back. (end)

“Chandni Chowk to China” opens Friday, Jan. 16, at various theaters. Check local listings for prices and showtimes.

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.


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