By now, we are already resigned to the fact that Jackie Chan isn’t the same anymore. That tidal wave of unbridled energy that made classic Hong Kong action flicks like Armour Of God, Police Story, Project A, and Drunken Master II has slowed down to a mere trickle, and is more and more apparent with every new movie he releases.
From the ponderous Dragon Blade to the inept Skiptrace, his past few films have increasingly highlighted Chan’s decline in powers. It’s a fact that is probably not lost on Chan though, who seems to be putting a greater focus on his acting rather than the fighting, (Skiptrace aside), and also giving his co-stars a lot more of the limelight.
Railroad Tigers is a fair reflection of Chan’s new direction. Set in 1941, during Japan’s occupation in China, the railway from Tianjin to Nanjing in East China was a key military transportation route. Chan plays Ma Yuan, a humble train station porter in a rural village who leads a motley gang of his fellow villagers on missions to rob Japanese supply trains. Calling themselves the “Flying Tigers”, they are at first content with their smaller sorties, but an encounter with a resistance fighter leads them to dream of achieving bigger things, namely, blowing up a bridge that is essential to the Japanese army’s supply lines.
Storywise, Railroad Tigers isn’t really much of a stretch, playing like a lighter version of The Bridge On The River Kwai. Director Ding Sheng takes a tad too long to build the story towards the action-packed finale, but it gets better once the trains start chugging and the cannons start blazing (though it does get a bit too CGI-heavy for my liking at times).
Chan is his usual likeable self here as the humble but steely Ma Yuan, who is determined to score a major blow on the Japanese, who were responsible for the deaths of his father and his wife. Chan may not fight as much as he used to, but he uses his trademark comedic fighting moves to good effect here – it’s never clear whether Ma Yuan can actually fight in the conventional sense, but boy is he good at dodging kicks, avoiding punches, and getting out of sticky situations.
It’s his interaction with his younger stars that really stand out though. Ma Yuan may be the leader of the group, but the rest of the members get their fair share of screentime too. And, there is a general feeling that Chan is acting as a mentor for this new bunch of actors, one of whom is his son, Jaycee.
Chan’s scenes with his son are among the highlights of the movie, which include a comical action sequence where they have to deal with Japanese soldiers while hanging from a beam on opposite ends of a rope; and one where they both get captured and end up throwing insults at one another (probably the only time Jaycee can get away with making fun of his father’s nose).
It is to Jaycee’s credit that he still manages to stand out even when his father isn’t on-screen with him – his handyman character is one of the more memorable characters in the group, along with the suave Wang Kai’s former soldier turned restaurant owner.
While Railroad Tigers is hardly a classic Jackie Chan movie, it is a good representation of where Chan is at this point of his career – fun, entertaining, and with enough action comedy to please regular Chan fans. It’s no Project A or Armour Of God, but hey, these days, we’re just happy we still get to watch new Jackie Chan movies.
Cast: Jackie Chan, Huang Zitao, Wang Kai, Darren Wang, Sang Ping, Alan Wu, Xu Fan, Jaycee Chan
Director: Ding Sheng