Early on in his latest picture, the family-fawning Rob-B-Hood (Regular Edition DVD | Limited Edition DVD), Jackie Chan tries to pass as a hunchback. Actually, he's a burglar trying to sneak past security guards with stolen booty strapped to his back, but it's hard not to think of that load as the baggage of his career.
If you came to Chan late, through his Hollywood movies, that baggage is somewhat embarrassing, but if you've been exposed to his most glorious decade (dating from Project A to Drunken Master II), the baggage is a treasure to be safeguarded. As with two of his recent made-in-Hong Kong projects (The Accidental Spy and New Police Story), Rob-B-Hood makes excellent use of his unique talents, but falls short in other areas.
The good parts first: As Todd has already written: "the film features some of the very best stunt work Chan has done in years, his descent down the outside of an apartment building leaping between air conditioning units being a real show-stopper." Very true, and watch for the out-take in the closing credits that expresses how Chan felt about doing the stunt.
Other highlights include a marvelous, intricately-choreographed fight scene featuring seven people and a baby inside a small apartment, followed immediately by a chase sequence involving all manner of vehicular and pedestrian mayhem on the streets of Hong Kong, with one metal-banging moment that made me stand up and cheer for its sheer audacity, as well as an extended chase in a private amusement park and a fierce battle between Chan, his partner, and two white-outfitted henchmen.
It must be acknowledged: Jackie Chan moves with more agile grace and subjects his body to greater punishment than any other 52-year-old multi-millionaire in the entertainment industry.
The problem here, though, is the same one that has often dragged down his films -- the non-action scenes. I think it was in his autobiography that Chan said he would think up three great action sequences and then tell the scriptwriter he had to figure out how to link them all together. You can see that same formula at work here -- the script even credits Jackie Chan and director Benny Chan along with Alan Yuen.
The plot is simple, and, yes, is reminiscent of Three Men and a Baby. Irresponsible burglars have to take care of a baby and grow up in the process. Between the action sequences, we have scenes of humor, romance, and drama. Some of these work quite well. Chan brings gifts home to his family and is roundly reprimanded by his gray-haired father, for example. But the scene plays as though it was created simply to allow Chan to express shameful sadness ('to be a real actor,' as it were) without any corresponding follow-through.
Likewise, Louis Koo, as Chan's partner in crime, treats his young wife Yan (Charlene Choi) caddishly for no apparent reason other than the exigencies of the plot, which means that Choi none-too-subtly stalks him and dresses up in various costumes. (Speaking of 'none too subtle,' Koo mugs 'comically' to an extreme degree throughout the picture.) Chan and Koo's 'business manager,' Landlord (Michael Hui), has a wife who drags around a baby doll because, evidently, the couple cannot conceive a child of their own. It doesn't make any sense unless you watch the deleted scenes, but I guess a couple of extra baby crap jokes were deemed more important than providing greater understanding of the characters.
Yet trying to compose a critical analysis of the film's faults makes me feel exceptionally churlish because clearly it's pitched at a very broad level for a very broad (Asian) audience (with a Hong Kong rating of Category II-A). It provides a decent amount of entertainment, includes a few pleasant cameos -- most notably Yuen Biao, who really should have played Koo's role -- and the re-teaming of Chan and Michael Hui washes out some of the unpleasant taste left from their portrayal of Japanese mechanics in the Cannonball Run movies. Hearing Chan speak in his native language is also a reminder that he's a much more effective actor, with a wider range, than his Hollywood roles would suggest.
For a film that runs 135 minutes in its extended version -- 13 minutes longer than the Hong Kong theatrical release -- it maintains a generally zippy pace, thanks to director Benny Chan (though I can't help thinking that his initial promise as a director has slipped away ever since he started working with Jackie), and it won't cause cancer. More praise than that is unwarranted.
If Rob-B-Hood is available to you as a DVD rental, it's a no-brainer to recommend it. If you're considering a purchase, you have two options from distributor Joy Sales as of this moment. The Limited Edition is still evidently available; it includes various goodies of interest to collectors.
I opted for the Regular Edition, a two-disk set that features a very handsome visual and robust audio presentation. It's marked as Region 3, but played just fine when I tested it in two different Region 1 players.
Subtitle options include traditional and simplified Chinese as well as English. The latter refer to Chan's character as Thongs rather than Slipper (as on the back of the DVD cover) so, thankfully, we can rest assured that the character is named after footwear rather than underwear. However, the timing of the subtitles is a bit off, often running behind the dialogue spoken on screen.
An audio commentary with director Benny Chan is included, with English subtitles.
The second disk is devoted to an extensive set of special features. It includes press conference footage ("star trip"), television commercials ("TVC"), behind the scenes footage (divided into 12 sections ranging from 30 seconds to six minutes, all subtitled), "making of + music video," (22 minutes of interviews and on-set footage, interspersed with two trailers and one music video, all subtitled), photo gallery, and four trailers for the film.
Much of the footage in the "deleted scenes" feature consists of extensions to existing scenes, but there are a couple of scenes that were cut outright. The footage amounts to 22 minutes and is subtitled, though timecodes appear above and below the picture and post-production effects (ambient sound and music) were not added.