Kung Fu Yoga
"Gleefully helping itself to whatever seems fun at the time, Kung Fu Yoga captures the matinee spirit perfectly."

Since Indiana Jones first appeared on our screens in 1981's Raiders Of The Lost Ark, there have been dozens of imitations, but few have had the guts to be honest about it. When a student flutters her eyelashes at a young assistant lecturer early in this film, and we see the Chinese symbols for 'I love you' painted on them, it's clear that there's going to be no messing about in this case - which is great, because it makes room for a cheery homage which in many places captures the spirit of the originals considerably better than Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull did.

The assistant lecturer, Xiaoguang (Yixing Zhang), is not himself a legendary adventurer - not yet, anyway. He's just helping out professor Jack (Jackie Chan), whose particular speciality is ancient Indian archaeology. When they are visited by the beautiful Ashmita (Disha Patani), who shows them a crumbling map, they decide to go exploring in remote ice fields where a famous warlord's treasure is said to have been lost. Along the way, they acquire the help of a friend of Jack's, a young man called Jones (Aarif Rahman) whose father is said to have been an archaeologist. But they also attract the attention of sinister stranger Randall (Sonu Sood) who has been hunting for the treasure for a long time and isn't about to let it go.

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What follows is a rambling, episodic adventure which takes us from the Himalayas to Dubai and then back to India. The Indiana Jones films, with their Saturday matinee sensibilities, had a habit of exploiting the most sensational aspects of the cultures they used as backdrops, and it's interesting to see a Chinese-Indian co-production doing the same thing. Most notable is the professor's impromptu borrowing of a sheikh's SUV, which happens to have a lion in the back - an entertaining element to build into a car chase scene which borrows elements from Raiders but makes them its own.

Needless to say, several characters turn out to have their own agendas, and there's a lot of double-crossing as Jack strives to get his hands on a famous diamond which may have the power to unlock centuries-old secrets. Rahman shows off his fighting skills as he and his friends face off against a pack of hyenas but the big showdown is between Sood and Chan, and whilst the mood is playful throughout, it features some impressive moves, with both of them interweaving traditional Chinese and Indian disciplines. There's a suitable helping of underground adventure with puzzle-solving and trap-dodging, but there's a twist at the end: unlike ancient Judaism, early Christianity and Hinduism, Buddhism doesn't really have a concept of vengeful gods. Suffice to say that the treasure is not what was expected and the divine lesson takes a very different turn.

Gleefully helping itself to whatever seems fun at the time, Kung Fu Yoga captures the matinee spirit perfectly and does a great job of adapting it for the Indian market. Although none of the characters is exactly complex, they work efficiently enough to carry us through, and Chan uses his star presence well. The rhythm is interrupted by the occasional joke aimed directly at the six-year-olds in the audience, but there's also plenty of humour for adults. Probably the film's biggest problem is its ropy CGI. But whilst it could definitely have benefited from a bit more time in post-production, it's a rip-roaring adventure where suspending disbelief was always going to be a requirement. What's most important is that all involved are clearly having fun, and if you're willing to get into the spirit of it, you will too.

Reviewed on: 26 Jul 2017
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Kung Fu Yoga packshot
A Chinese archeology professor teams up with an Indian professor to search for lost Magadha treasure.

Director: Stanley Tong

Writer: Stanley Tong

Starring: Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur, Aarif Rahman

Year: 2017

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: China, India


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