Friday, January 23, 2009

Movie Review: Chandni Chowk to China

Last month I wrote in this entry about the zany Bollywood meets Chinese Kung-fu flick, Chandni Chowk to China. It's an Indian directed film with Chinese action sensibilities, a sort of East meets farther East story; a combination that works more often than not. Check out the trailer below:

Lisa and I went to see it tonight after work. The theater was one we'd never been to before on 3rd Ave. and 11th st. It was a small, no-frills Loews cineplex, but passable. It just so happened to be the only theater in the city showing this film, though, so we didn't have much of a choice.

The film stars actor Akshay Kumar, a real-life kung-fu martial artist turned actor in India. It also stars my new crush in life, relative newcomer Deepika Padukone, an Indian supermodel turned actress. I would love to see more movies with her in them, you bet! :)

The movie is about a lowly street vendor's son, Sidhu (Kumar), eking out a living on the side-streets of Chandni Chowk, a district in Delhi. He has an infatuation for a local commercial talent actress, Sakhi (Padukone), but bungles his first attempt to win her affection when their paths cross for the first time.

Enter in some poor, beat-up villagers from China who travel all the way to India after believing that Sidhu is the reincarnation of their local Tang dynasty folk hero, Liu Sheng. The villagers enlist Sidhu's help to come back to China and rescue their village from the nefarious hands of criminal mafia boss, Hojo (Gordon Liu). With his prospects back home less than stellar, Sidhu decides to play along with the absurd notion and agrees to return with the villagers on the hopes of garnering adulation and attention from the locals there.

This is a typical, light-hearted Bollywood film (and lord knows I've seen my fair share of these by now). What this means is that it is fairly comedic and not to be taken too seriously. It's full of silly gags and prank humor that many Western audiences would fine downright amateurish. I must admit, it was the least appealing aspect of the film for me, but I'm kind of used to it now. The film also borrows heavily from action chop-socky films like Kill Bill and Kung-Fu Hustle, particulary the latter.

It's obvious the film was directed by an Indian director (Nikhil Advani), in that the China portions of the film are extremely one note-ish and full of stereotypes -- in much the same way Hollywood films bastardizes Chinese culture. All the Chinese are great kung-fu practitioners, and if they're not lowly peasants still wearing 15-century clothing (for some reason), then they're cookie-cutter Triad wannabes dressed in black kung-fu suits.

But, you know what? This is a comedy. You kinda have to forgive it its faults and just sit back and enjoy this. And enjoy it I did, despite the two and a half hour running time (quite breezy by typical Bollywood standards). The story is remarkably fleshed out for a comedy, and has genuine drama thrown in during lengthy, sometimes surprising, scenes that come out of nowhere. But I loved it!

Akshay Kumar is brilliant as the bumbling idiot, Sidhu. His comedic timing and delivery is excellent, but even better are his dramatic scenes. And in the final third of the film, his transformation into genuine kung-fu master is particularly well-done. It was obvious for me to tell that he's a martial artist in real life. Although not quite as up to par as the Chinese masters in this film, he certainly holds his own nicely. The action scenes were genuinely well choreographed. I had a lot fun watching them.

Deepika Padukone, too, was delightful playing double duty as both the sexy love interest and also the seductive bad girl (you have to see the movie to see how this happens). Truly, her presence in this film was magical, and I'm not just saying this because of my crush!

The supporting cast were great as well. It was a little weird hearing Hindi mixed with Mandarin -- and judging from the Chinese portions at least, I have to say the subtitles writers were on crack. If the Mandarin translation is any indicator, I fear for how badly they mangled the Hindi portions. Someone who does actually speak it can correct me if I'm wrong. But, blah, so what? I loved this movie. It has some faults--including a really slow and boring middle section--but the overall experience was well worth the price of admission.

I'm definitely buying this on DVD! I would recommend this to you all, but I doubt it's playing anywhere in this country outside of the NYC area. I could be wrong. Check your local listings.

Rating: 7/10

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