"I pity the fool who want to limit Jackie Chan to being just some kung-fu clown!!"
Transposing action heroes aside, its no small compliment to say that Chan has definitely dispelled all such perceptions with this effort, for which he takes double credit as screenwriter and, one can be sure, a major influence on the final product.
Its just before the formative years of the Chinese empire, in a period where feudal lords are battling for supremacy and the idea of one nation is just that, an idea. In reality, harsh conflicts are taking place as the wait for that one overarching personality to unite/crush all parties emerges.
in the thick of that is the battle between Wei and Liang, a turning point of which is a bloody battle by a deserted, aggressively barren mountain pass that leaves everyone on both sides dead - well, almost. The survivor, a Wei general, is taken into captivity by an old, seemingly decrepit and useless Liang deserter (Chan) who aims to take the general back to the Liang side and claim a hefty reward.
Of ocurse, it doesn't quite work out that way, and the pair - through obstacles natural and man-made - become a kind of ancient Chinese version of Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48HRS. Brought to the screen by Deng Shin (Police Story, Knight Underdog), the film had its own torturous journey, withstanding 20 years of development hell.
But now, its here, and its all worth it, at least to these eyes. Of course, there's a lot of intense combat, both armed and unarmed and there is more than enough of the kind of now classic "buffoon kung fu" that Chan - among others - made famous. But Little Big Soldier has a lot on its mind, and pretty much all of it is worth sharing. In its genre-crossing path it raises some of the same issues raised by the Jet Li character in Zhang Yimou's "Hero": courage, patriotism, loyalty to individual, nation and ideal, and the corrupting influence of power, but from a very different perspective.
Also intriguing are the many visual cues inserted - a tortoise lumbers across the screen the instant before soldier and general hobble along their way, and even more telling, the flag of one faction is held up in a most unusual and bloody way in the opening scene.
the flag motif becomes even more significant at the end, when the whole story unravels in a way that is initially unsatisfying but, on further reflection, quite natural.
Good though, to see Chan flying his own flag high as a visual storyteller