Railroad Tigers
"The peril inherent in the resistance group's situation is leavened by a large helping of slapstick comedy."

When we think of the various heroes of the resistance who have held out against invading armies around the world, we tend to think of great danger and high drama, of daring raids and terrible sacrifice. It's easy to forget that most acts of resistance are small ones, and no less important for it. In 1930s Manchuria, a small band of railway workers led by the ageing Ma Yuan (Jackie Chan) risk the wrath of the Japanese every day simply to smuggle food to those in need. Their bolder ambitions are held in check by their awareness of their limited skills and resources. But when a fleeing soldier from the much more professional Eighth Army Faction tells them a bridge needs to be destroyed, and they are unable to contact his unit, they find themselves taking on the challenge of a lifetime.

Although Chan was 62 at the time of filming, this is in many ways a return to his roots. The peril inherent in the resistance group's situation is leavened by a large helping of slapstick comedy, as these bumbling amateurs conspire to steal explosives, evade their enemies and, eventually, seize control of a Japanese supply train. The innate horror of an interrogation scene turns into something quite different when Chan is chained up opposite a comrade played by his son Jaycee and the two begin arguing over which of them is better looking. Despite a darker edge - people do die in this film - there's something of the character of Buster Keaton's work in scenes where the men move up and down on a pulley around their unwitting enemies, and in a sort f fencing tournament between two tank close enough to touch.

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Police Story: Lockdown director Ding Sheng likes to keep things moving and there are very few parts of this film where the action slows down. The script is not as tight as in his last collaboration with Chan, however, and as an editor he's perhaps a little too caught up in his own vision of the film, making some parts hard to follow. This is more problematic because the film features around 20 named characters (each introduced with a catchphrase in the style of a children's cartoon), and it's difficult to keep track of them all. We depend on the variable talents of the actors to show us the relationships between characters we have barely seen speak to one another.

The stunts are backed up by suitably spectacular special effects, which combine model work and CGI to maximise the potential of the train-based action scenes. On occasion these don't quite work and the flaws they reveal are glaring, but this is infrequent enough to be forgiven if one simply wishes to enjoy the ride. For all its problems, Railroad Tigers has spirit and energy. Ding has taken one of the darkest chapter's in China's history and created an adventure story that will entertain viewers of all ages.

Reviewed on: 08 May 2017
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A railway worker in China in the Forties leads a group of men against the Japanese to obtain food for the poor.

Director: Ding Sheng

Writer: He Keke

Starring: Jackie Chan, Jaycee Chan, Zitao Huang, Fan Chuan, Da Qui

Year: 2016

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: China

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