Released by: Well Go USA
Released on: 8/23/2011
Director: Sheng Ding
Cast: Jackie Chan, Leehom Wang
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Another Chinese period war film set before the country was unified, Sheng Ding’s 2010 film, Little Big Soldier, begins when two factions, Wei and Liang, go to war. A battle ensues and leaves everyone dead on both sides save for a quirky low ranking soldier on the Liang side (Jackie Chan) and the commanding officer of the Wei Side (Leehom Wang). ‘Liang’ is more or less unhurt, as he basically just played dead until the battle was over, but ‘Wei’ is injured and winds up the prisoner of his enemy who intends to bring him back to his homeland and turn him in for a reward in the form of some top quality farm land – which is all he really wants, he has no love of war, that much is obvious.
As Liang takes his captive back, bound to a wagon, the pair eventually wind up on the wrong side of a general (Rongguang Yu) and his army who, for reasons not initially clear, are trying to track down Wei. Of course, this essentially being a buddy film, our two unlikely characters start to grow slightly fonder of one another and soon find that in order to survive they’ll need to work together.
If the film isn’t as deep as maybe it was meant to be (yes, we know that war is bad for people and that sometimes little birds die too) that doesn’t take away from the film’s entertainment value. There are some great fight scenes here and a few impressive stunts, typical with Chan’s best work though not as frequent as it was in his younger days (and understandably so) and, of course, there is a lot of comedy here too. On the surface this may look like a Hero-inspired epic and there are elements of that seemingly in vogue style apparent in this picture, but the film is really more of a buddy comedy.
Using the tried and true ‘opposites attract’ mantra, it’s fun to watch Leehom Wang’s character warm to Chan’s. One a master swordsman and a legitimate high ranking officer, the other a farmer forced to go to war with a penchant for singing off key and telling tall tales, they’re very certainly an ‘odd couple’ in the truest sense of the word. They do, however, share a great chemistry together in this film and while the action set pieces are impressive for all of their showiness, it’s the way in which our two lead actors play off of one another that gives the film its heart.
It’s also interesting how this comedy is placed against what is, in all reality, a pretty dire backdrop. The war scenes and their aftermath are not glossed over here and the senseless loss of life which permeates a few of the scenes in the film is meant to, and does, have some impact on us. The film’s comic relief elements (which, not surprisingly, pretty much all stem from Chan’s character) take a bit of a backseat in the last half when the undiluted nobility and selflessness of Chan’s soldier come into the spotlight, and while it might be a bit obvious to anyone who has seen some of his other films that this is going to happen, it still has a touching impact on the story. In the end with wind up with a fairly melodramatic film but one with loads of worth thanks to some effective comedy, two great lead performances, some great action scenes, fantastic location photography and impressive production values. All of this adds up to one of the best films Chan has appeared in for quite some time.
Well Go USA’s AVC encoded 2.40.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer does a good job of replicating the film’s dusty, hot look without sacrificing detail or texture. A couple of questionable CGI enhanced scenes look a bit off but otherwise this is a well defined picture showing good detail, nice contrast, great color reproduction considering the film’s muted approach to the visuals, and strong black levels.
Also impressive is the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, in Mandarin with optional English subtitles. Directional effects are plentiful and well placed throughout the movie while levels remain properly balanced throughout. Dialogue is clean and clear while the film’s rousing score is spread out throughout the mix to nice effect. An optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound option is provided in English and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks are offered up in Mandarin and English, but if you’ve got the hardware for it, the lossless option is obviously the way to go.
The only extra of much worth is the fifteen minute making of featurette that includes fairly brief interviews with the cast and crew of the film and some interesting behind the scenes footage. It’s not deep, but it’s worth checking out even if it is fairly promotional in nature. Aside from that? There are two trailers for the feature, trailers for a few other Well Go USA properties, and a Jackie Chan music video for the song ‘Rape Flowers’ (no, that’s not a typo) which is used in the film.
Menus and chapter stops are included and the release is a combo pack, so it comes with a copy of the movie on DVD and a copy of the movie on Blu-ray – both discs feature identical extras, though the only ones that get an HD upgrade on the Blu-ray disc are the trailers.
The Final Word:
The extras are slim and the movie deserved more than it got in that department but the presentation for Little Big Soldier, one of the best movies Jackie Chan has made in years, is impressive. If you’re a Chan fan, pick this one up, you won’t be disappointed – if it’s not the over the top action extravaganza he was once known for, it’s still a funny, exciting, dramatic and poignant picture featuring some excellent cinematography, top notch production values and two fantastic lead performances.
NOTE: Due to technical difficulties with this particular disc, the screen caps below are from the DVD, not the Blu-ray.