Review: RAILROAD TIGERS (2016) Teeters Off The Rails With Stifled Fun And Spectacle


Firstly, I'm much more geared toward action star and Oscar-winner Jackie Chan's old school titles, though I can appreciate the aesthetic value in his newer movies given the etymology of his overall filmic vision. He certainly erects it in his latest, Railroad Tigers, loaded with sprightly comedy and colorful characters, and some huge set pieces to boot, though not without a few bumps and thumps.

An otherwise watchable affair from start to finish, the film introduces us immediately to our ragtag bunch of Chinese rebels stealing from the Japanese in 1941. They're just one more heist away from their goal when a wounded soldier tips them off, landing our heroes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tip the scale and cripple the Imperial Japanese army for good.

Ding Sheng directs this epic World War II adventure, written in five chapters as our heroes set out, often fumbling in the process, to retrieve explosives. Following the big opener, the action ensues in the vein of Indiana Jones with at least three more major sequences, including the finale with Chan and action choreographer He Jun setting the pace accordingly among our players.

Actor Jaycee Chan gets a great deal of screentime in this regard while you would be forgiven for not noticing him too much - penance, no less, for his earlier marijuana stint as China takes ill to these sort of matters among its celebrities. For all intents and purposes, his screentime with father Chan is some of the best this particular film offers, and even the younger Chan himself stands out in plenty of moments on his own, accompanied by a nifty hammer, no less.

Wang Kai charms the screen as mild-mannered sharpshooter Feng. Others who stand out for some of their attributes include actor Huang Zitao, as do actresses Fan Xu and Zhang Yishang and actor Ping Sang. Actress Zhang Lanxin and actor Ikeuchi Hiroyuki illuminate the deceptively comedic fervor as our principle antagonists; Ikeuchi's first scene is a modest nod to his badassery in Ip Man, only now thrown in the mix of a Chan movie which sees him at his worst when intoxicated by some seriously gamey pancakes. Yes, he's still evil and cold-blooded, but he's just the right kind of evil and cold-blooded for a movie of this tambre.

You also have a weary station manager, an fluke magician with a snake as a gimmick, and an oddball, Japanese solider whose smile raises superstition among his colleagues. Amid all this is Chan who leads the Tigers on their quest to cripple the Japanese, whilst dealing with his own personal losses as a child, informally handed down to him in the form of a pipe which he used to smoke. He clings to it nonetheless, and surely enough, it becomes handy.

Two of the biggest things here which through me off about Railroad Tigers deal with one simple fact, mainly surrounding the storytelling process. These are small things, but speak largely to the threat of throwing in unnecessary elements, including a modern day sequence followed by a celebrity cameo that does nothing for the film except give it a face that sells.
Other factors here deal with some bad computer graphics and a formula for storytelling and action that has become typical for Chan films. I appreciate the aesthetic value that Chan's films have as they continue to invoke why he is the celebrated living film legend that he is. Still though, he operates by a formula which often feels exhausting for all its family friendly value, and that goes for most of his films, and prominently at that. It's why I didn't enjoy CZ12 for all its goofball antics - granted, of course, Railroad Tigers mingles with less of that and our dear director Sheng knows how to weave a story albeit tight enough so as to avoid that caliber of mediocrity amid the slapstick.

Such is why I enjoyed Sheng's previous titles, Little Big Soldier (2010) and Police Story: Lockdown (2013) - films I would lend a three-and-a-half star rating out of five if ever I used stars on this site. The action is big scale and the quality is mostly top notch, though not so much as Railroad Tigers as I wonder when film productions like these, especially in China, will ever get around the issue of bad computer graphics among its flaws. Were it not for these, this latest effort would have earned at least four.

Home viewing is recommend via rental or purchase - streaming, DVD or Blu-Ray or whatever your preferences may be. If you're a hardcore Chan fanatic, instead, at any rate, chances are you don't need me to tell you to check it out on the big screen. Not that I would, quite the opposite, though it wouldn't matter, hugely.

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