A buddy flick isn’t so much a buddy flick when said buddies aren’t together anymore, a detour Little Big Soldier finds itself on about midway through. Big Soldier (Jackie Chan) and Little Soldier (Leehom Wang) are on opposing sides of Chinese warring factions, Chan’s simple farmer securing himself a score by capturing Leehom’s General character.
Chan does everything right, caring for locale animals, feeding the sick children on the sides of paths, and never abuses his own prisoner. Their physical altercations are more playful, celebrating some of the better Chan work in a few years. That’s saying something for a man pushing 60-years old.
Little Big Soldier is a 50/50 film, splitting its hairs between humor and drama, mixing the widely divergent genres with grace and skill. The detoured narrative sticks in multiple paths, some of them feeling innocuous until they’re slammed together in the end. It’s all heading for an unexpected, downbeat, somber ending, finishing on a dramatized shocker that is not typical Chan fare.
It’s an appreciated end though, the journey bringing Chan and Wang together through bubbly, personable conflict, full of both heart and a swell of energy. Even as the script seems to be drifting off, Little Big Soldier is never lost or misguided. It just seems that way.
As Chan ages, his starring roles become less and less about the brawling and more about the emotional, this one no exception. Chan’s few fights show some wire guidance with plenty of dazzling choreography, the rest left to a younger, more agile cast. This is a Jackie Chan film, although one that is definitely part of his changing tide from this later section of his career.
Well Go brings this one to an audience across the pond, delivering a focused transfer almost entirely free of imperfections, if not much in the way of standout qualities. A grain structure is sapped of all impact, marginalized to the point that’s it has barely become part of the image. Either this Kodak stock is the finest grained 35mm in the world, or a mild layer of reduction has rendered it inconspicuous.
Regardless of what the transfer process has done, the results never show on screen, the look entirely typical for a Chinese romp here in the States. Miniscule details, while never firm, exists in a pure form. Armor proves defined and skin never takes on a digital or waxy facade. While low on wow factor, Little Big Soldier comes out swinging, even if it may only land a late round T.K.O.
Colors are given a blandness, the Chinese taking a piece of the Michael Bay style, effectively dampening the visual prowess with a flat orange and blue palette. As downtrodden as this one may be, the color scheme never seems appropriate, and all soldiers come across as wearing the same colors. On a battlefield, it would have been a nightmare to have everyone choosing orange and blue for their side.
Black levels are left to their own devices, never MIA when they’re needed and producing an image with zest even in the darkest interiors. A nighttime cave sequence provides ample opportunity for failure (and teal saturation), yet the darkest corners of the image are admirable in their depth. A contrast with a zest for life can demand attention elsewhere, sometimes bleaching portions of the image for a bit of intensity. Pleasing regardless.
Little Big Soldier astounds with its aggressive, swirling audio presence, horses hoofing it (ha!) through the widely split stereos, bo staffs swirling around as they seek a target, and swords whooshing through each available channel just because they can.
There’s hardly a dull moment in this Mandarin track, mild ambiance keeping it lively when people are not trying to kill each other. Voices find their range with directionality, and rain ensures it remains a presence. A character yelling from a cliffside echoes throughout the area and the room, the proper enveloping effect kept in check and natural.
Nothing here feels magnified, the channels equalized and balanced. Localization can sometimes run hot, blowing out the surrounds just because, Little Big Soldier not a casualty of this trend. The only gripe coming from the mix is the bass, which seems to come into play when it wants to, not when it should. A marching army at 37:04 kicks up some low-end action, the bass non-existent right up until the edit when it catches fire. It almost sounds out of place at that point.
Well Go brings over a subtitled making-of, obviously split into sections in its homeland, thankfully just a singular 14-minute piece here. Typical praise is showered upon those involved, although plentiful behind-the-scenes footage is here to counter it. A music video and trailers are not quite up to the expectations for Chan film extras.