Review: The Myth (2005)

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Well, we’re a little late with this one, and we’re terribly sorry — a new Jackie Chan film should be an event, exploding on to the screen with jawdropping stunts and inspired action choreography. With ceiling fans, clock towers and pachinko parlours. Instead, my copy of The Myth has sat on my shelf a while, looking sorrowfully at me while I passed it over in favour watching of Shaw Brothers classics.

But no more. I picked it up the other day and spun the disc, feeling nostalgic for a bit of the magic that Jackie’s films always seemed to have. And to my surprise — since I’d heard quite a bit of negative feedback on The Myth — this film has it. It’s a departure for Jackie, with its ambitious setting and plot, large-scale use of CGI and even a tragic lead character; but it has moments in it that recall Jackie’s best work and how talented an action choreographer he really is. Unfortunately, these moments are separated by others that aren’t quite so magical.

The plot is dramatic, location-heavy and follows two separate timelines: in one, Jackie Chan plays loyal General Meng Yi, sent by the Qin emperor to receive and escort his newest wife, a Korean princess (Kim Hee-seon), to the capital. This isn’t an easy task: a large army of Korean soldiers who don’t agree with this particular union are out to recover Princess Ok Soo before the General delivers her to the emperor.

Interwoven with this plot is that of hip, modern Jackie Chan: here, he’s Jack Lee, an archaeologist living in Hong Kong. He’s tormented by bad dreams, something to do with ancient battles and beautiful princesses. To occupy his waking moments, he hangs out with scientist William (Tony Leung Ka Fai), who is investigating a strange phenomenon: rocks that apparently enable the owner to defy gravity and float in midair. In traditional action-movie-archaeologist style, Jack and William break into a tomb in Dasar, India to find a coffin floating in midair, along with a painting of the princess that has been haunting Jack’s dreams. While in Dasar, Jack is rescued by a beautiful young woman named Samantha (Mallika Sherawat), who helps him evade the authorities (you can’t tomb-raid with impunity any more, nowadays!) and introduces Jack to her uncle, a teacher of Indian martial arts.

This structure is considerably more complicated than any of Jackie’s more recent outings, and he and director Stanley Tong don’t quite pull it off. The film sways between genres, skipping from soaring orchestral moments of emotional drama for the tragic general to the more conventional comedic hijinks of the present-day plot. There’s an awful lot of exposition in there to explain what’s going on, too. Nevertheless, there are a couple of action sequences that really stand out, and the suggestion that Jackie is very capable of doing well as a dramatic actor — some of his scenes as General Meng Yi wring some genuine emotion from the role, and present a completely different side of Jackie Chan from what we’ve seen before.

So, in summary, the film is a bit of a mixed bag. While there’s a lot of action and some interesting elements to it, the drop in realism every time some sort of CGI was used made me twitch a bit. This culminates in an unexpected, almost completely CGI ending that’s very reminiscent of Michelle Yeoh’s film The Touch. Jackie Chan’s still got it, but what he’s got isn’t used to the full in The Myth.

7 ancient Chinese super-horses out of 10.
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