When is a Jackie Chan film not a Jackie Chan film? When it's called Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid, that’s when. Originally entitled ‘Looking for Jackie’, the film begins in Indonesia, where we learn that 15-year-old Zhang Yishan is underperforming at school. He shows little interest in anything other than his big screen hero, and his classmates spend most of their time belittling him. His solution is straightforward enough; find the real Jackie Chan and become his disciple. Easy.
Upon learning that Jackie is working on a new film in Beijing, Zhang sets out on a quest to meet his idol, under the pretense of visiting his strict grandparents instead. Events spiral out of control as Zhang makes bad decision after bad decision, interacting with a strange bunch of characters along the way. Will he get the chance to meet the biggest little man in the world? Will he learn any valuable life lessons along the way? More importantly perhaps, will we care either way?
Any film that stars Jackie Chan has got to be worth a look, but to claim that this is a Jackie Chan movie is like saying Hitler was a little misunderstood. Jackie makes an appearance at the start of the movie and at the end. He pops up occasionally in between but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is his film. He guest stars in an action sequence at the beginning and that’s pretty much all you get, which goes to show just how conniving the marketers have been with the money grabbing title change.
So it’s my duty to inform you just how misleading that title change actually is. If anything The Kung Fu Kid is a coming of age drama, but to be honest, it doesn’t really get that part right either. So lets start with Jackie, because lets face it, he’s the only reason you’ll be tuning in anyway. It’s nice to see Chan in action again but don't be fooled, this is hardly vintage Chan. The Kung Fu Kid has a made-for-TV vibe running through it, and the action choreography fails to impress at every turn.
The rest of the movie doesn’t fare much better. Jiang Ping & Fang Gangliang make some horrendous directorial decisions along the way and appear incapable of making amends. The classic Benny Hill theme ran through my head as they sped up the camera movement for no apparent reason, and the use of comedy sound effects coupled with the deployment of unusual editing techniques added to my distaste. The Kung Fu Kid feels flat at every turn and not even Jackie Chan can do anything about that.
For the next eighty minutes we're asked to follow Zhang on his journey, and quite what the filmmakers had in mind when they pitched this movie is beyond me. Apparently it proved to be quite the success back home but I fail to see why. The characters that Zhang interacts with occasionally hit the spot, but there seems to be very little point to the production. Zhang is really annoying and in need of a good slap for most of the movie. Come to think of it, I probably would have really enjoyed the film had Jackie knocked him out in the end. That would have been worth the ninety minutes I wasted on this minor curiosity.
The lackluster storyline, uninspiring characters and fleeting Chan appearance don’t equate to much, and you’ll have every right to feel cheated by this timely region 2 release (it was released just after The Karate Kid hit the U.K.). Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid will struggle to find an audience on our shores, and if you're unfortunate enough to watch it, don’t be surprised if you feel like kicking somebody’s ass as a result. Much like Zhang, we all like to embrace our inner child when we watch our big screen idols, but that feeling of invincibility is rarely brought on by rage and anger.
The Kung Fu Kid is a Jackie Chan picture in name alone. You might even find yourself praying for Chris Tucker to show up. That’s when you look for the nearest exit. AW