The Myth Review
Jackie Chan is an international superstar. In his mid-fifties, and with over a hundred films under his belt, he is still churning out several movies a year. Sure, he may have slowed down somewhat over the last decade or so, but he is still an absolute legend. And he still has those lightning-fast moves to show off, along with a seemingly endless supply of charisma. He made his name kicking ass, breaking bones (unlike his fellow martial arts stars, they were usually his own!) and doing insane stunts in numerous familiar franchises - most memorably the Police Story and Armour of God movies - before eventually trying his luck at the Hollywood machine. Whilst his solo movies there did not fare so well in the West, his buddy-buddy franchises were pretty popular - the Rush Hour and Shanghai movies bringing the already-ludicrously-famous-in-the-East Chan to a wider Western audience.
Still, he never really took off in the West. Perhaps it was too late in his massive career, or perhaps it's just another tale of the difficulties foreigners find in the West (not least the language problems - both Jet Li and Van Damme had huge problems expressing themselves in English) and maybe it had a lot to do with the restrictions in the States - despite the fact that his age was obviously starting to make a difference, he still probably just could not get insured to do the kind of stunts that he wanted to in the West. Thankfully he still had both feet firmly placed on Hong Kong soil, and has continued to churn out movies there irrespective of his Hollywood movements. And out of his last few, very diverse offerings - including the dark New Police Story and the Shinjuku Incident (where he plays it totally straight, and sans martial arts!) - we also got a couple of classic period martial arts outings: Forbidden Kingdom, where he paired up with Jet Li, the upcoming Little Big Soldier, and a 2005 solo vehicle entitled The Myth.
Dr Jack Chan is an expert archaeologist who has recurring dreams about being a Qin Dynasty (200 BC China) General, Meng Yi, whose duty it is to escort a beautiful Korean princess safely to mainland China so that she may marry the aged, dying Emperor and help forge a peaceful alliance between the two countries. Jack's dreams evolve every night, and he initially thinks that he may have been related to this Millennium-old warrior but soon discovers that the link may just be stronger than that. In the present time, he undergoes a journey to find a rare and mysterious material deep in the heart of India that can create a zero gravity field, whilst in the past he undergoes a very different journey. Despite having deep (and unabashedly reciprocated) feelings for the Princess, the General escorts her safely to his Emperor, and then gets sent on another mission to find a mysterious elixir that will potentially cure his fatal disease. Will Dr Jack / General Meng succeed at their respective missions?
The Myth is at once odd, disjointed, sporadically engaging, almost-epic, and hilarious. It combines so many different concepts - period drama and romance, period war battles, and sci-fi fantasy - and imbues the whole affair with all the trademarks of a decent Jackie Chan flick: fast fights, crazy stunts and funny, well-choreographed sequences that owe more to Charlie Chaplin than Bruce Lee. With this whole melting pot of ideas, it is difficult not to say that the end result is quite confusing, and does not entirely work, but considering the fun nature of the proceedings (for the most part), most of the movie's flaws are quite forgivable.
Perhaps not as engaging as some of his early flicks (in the Police Story / Armour of God golden age), The Myth is generally also not as cheesy, a modest budget, well-directed action-adventure with a better plot structure than his average affairs. Playing two parts is an unnecessarily over-used tactic for some martial arts superstars (Van Damme did it about half a dozen times, Chan did it before in Twin Dragons and subsequently in 2008's Forbidden Kingdom) but occasionally it works quite effectively (Van Damme's Timecop), and perhaps this is one of those rare examples. Whilst the dual roles do make for a disjointed narrative, where you feel that you are pulled out of the movie every time things return to the modern day, it also infuses the movie with a more epic aura.
It seems like a good excuse to have an extra bunch of action sequences as well, and this is a high point in what is a marginally overlong film (for a Jackie Chan movie, anything over 90-something minutes is too long and this is nearly two hours long!) which can get tedious with all its heavy cross-plotting. You have to remember that this movie is still pretty silly, as pretty-much all of Chan's productions are, so there's only so much thought you want to expend on this kind of film, and The Myth asks for a little too much and delivers marginally too little.
On the plus side we have some great (and rare, in the last decade) classic Chan moments. Not just his fights - which are a little slower than usual, as you would only expect from a guy who is probably finally showing his age in this respect - but also the stunts (jumping around, running up walls, sliding off cliffs) and the crazy slapstick moments (the glue-conveyor-belt sequence is unreservedly the high point of this movie). Chan is a great entertainer, charismatic and engaging throughout (even in the little moments, like where he accidently breaks a chandelier making a basketball shot) and he excels here, even if his performance seems marginally stretched because of the dual roles.
Oddly, perhaps in order to accentuate the difference between the two characters Chan was playing, or more likely because he simply did not have the stature to convince as a General in a Qin Dynasty Army, most of the shots featuring Chan's Meng Yi (in full helmet and armour) have been stretched to make him look taller. I've gone into more detail on this in the video presentation segment of the review, but basically it skews and distorts the image every single time General Meng appears on-screen - whether fighting, on horseback or in conversation. It is annoying.
To support Chan we have a few solid actors: Tony Leung Ka-Fai (Bodyguards and Assassins) plays the nerdy, weasel-like sidekick with seemingly natural ability (as always), Kim Hee-Soon is picture-portrait-perfect as the Korean Princess and Indian sex-symbol Mallika Sherawat is jaw-droppingly gorgeous as Chan's kick-ass Indian companion. Mallika is definitely a girl to remember in future, her recent move to LA could mean the birth of a fantastic Hollywood career (she could just be used for her physical attributes, but having chosen her first movie as a cross India/US Indie production under the Direction of David Lynch's daughter, Jennifer, things bode well for the charismatic gem).
The Myth is a fair amount of fun, a little overlong but still packing a solid selection of memorable and entertaining sequences in what is a more complex, well-thought-out narrative than you would usually expect from a Jackie Chan vehicle. Whilst it does not quite well at all it attempts to be, its use of such a multitude of cross-genre elements means you'll seldom be bored, even if the novelty factor does eventually run out. Chan fans will love his classic moments, and there is enough here to justify sitting through the two-hour runtime, and this is definitely one of his better-produced, more stylish accomplishments over his massive film history. Enjoyable if moderately silly.