Chandni Chowk to China
Directed By: Nikhil Advani
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Mithun Chakraborty, Ranvir Shorey, Gordon Liu, Roger Yuan
In Chandni Chowk to China Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar plays Sidhu, a somewhat addle pated young man who works chopping vegetables at his adopted father, "Dada's" (Chakraborty) food stand in the Chandni Chowk market in Delhi. His head is full of dreams and schemes for success, but frequent kicks to his backside from the stern Dada keep him humble. Sidhu's life takes an adventurous turn when a group of Chinese villagers, encouraged by his Cantonese-speaking con-artist friend, Chopstick (Shorey), decide that he is the reincarnation of ancient Chinese hero Liu Sheng. They recruit Sidhu to come with them to the Chinese village of Zhange in order to kill the evil smuggler Hojo (Liu) who is terrorizing their village, stealing their treasures, and smuggling them out of China. Due to some judicious mis-translation from Chopstick, Sidhu accepts the challenge under the impression that his mission is much less dangerous than it really is. Sidhu initially revels in his hero's welcome until Hojo learns of his presence, at which point he is faced with danger, personal tragedy, humiliation, and a decades old mystery involving a missing police inspector named Chiang Kohnung (Yuan) and his twin daughters (both played by Deepika Padukone).
This "east meets east" hybrid seems like a great idea on paper. Popular Indian film star Akshay Kumar has a background in martial arts, Hong Kong film legend Gordon Liu plays the film's villain, and the Bollywood and Hong Kong film industries are the two biggest sources of motion picture production outside of Hollywood. Without even seeing the picture, one can picture in their mind the martial arts training sequences set to booming Bollywood beats and the blending of musical and martial arts choreography in the fight scenes. Further sweetening the deal, the film is the first Bollywood film to be co-produced by Hollywood studio Warner Bros., and the producers achieved the unprecedented feat of convincing the Chinese government to let them shoot key fight sequences on the actual Great Wall of China. With all of these resources at the filmmakers' disposal, one cannot help but be disappointed that the end result was so disjointed and mediocre.
The film gives every indication of having been rushed into production based on its premise more so than a fully developed screenplay. The broad cartoonish humor of the first act simply does not mesh with the more serious minded revenge plot into which it subsequently morphs. While Indian films frequently offer audiences a wide range of experiences ranging from comedy to tragedy and all points in between within a single package, based on my limited experience viewing them, the difference between the good ones and the bad ones is how well they negotiate their twist and turns without either sabotaging what is to come or undermining what has gone before.
Director Nikhil Advani never quite causes the disparate elements of this film to coalesce, which, when you have made a movie that runs two and a half hours, can be the difference between an engrossing epic and an interminable bore. Sidhu's character is so incompetent, useless, and unrelatable in the opening reels, that by the time he is finally being instructed in martial arts skills, the film feels like the answer to the unasked question, "What if Luke were replaced by Jar Jar in the original Star Wars trilogy?"
The film does get better as it goes along, and while the mystery elements are not too mysterious and the romantic elements feel a bit perfunctory, the dramatic (betrayal, loss, redemption), and action (martial arts training and fighting) elements fare a bit better. In another miscalculation, the best fight in the film occurs early featuring a jewel smuggling "Meow Meow", as played by the beautiful Deepika Padukone, taking on a bunch of airport security guards in a fight that only uses minimal "wire-fu". Later fights suffer from over use of wires and special effects.
It is always nice to see martial arts film legend Gordon Liu, but he is somewhat wasted in the one dimensional role of the head villain whose signature move involving a razor-rimmed bowler hat is stolen shamelessly from "Odd Job" in the James Bond film Goldfinger. Deepika Padukone has a lot of fun in her dual role as sisters raised apart in India and China, and gets her own James Bond homage when her Sakhi character, known in her spokes-model job as "Miss TSM", gets equipped with a bunch of gadgets by her company in China. One of these is a parachute umbrella that pays off in a later escape from a skyscraper - providing an opportunity for a musical interlude where Padukone and Kumar sing a love song to each other while floating above a Chinese city suspended only by the umbrella. [Ahhh...only in Bollywood...]. In her role as Hojo's enforcer, Meow Meow, she gets to don some toxic lip appliqués which provide a lethal subtext to the traditional Indian musical production number moments where two actors almost kiss but do not.
The 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 transfer/encoding maintains a high bitrate throughout and is generally pleasing. Color, contrast, and detail are all above average, but the presentation falls short of perfection due to some edge halos that intrude from time to time. They are usually low in intensity, but sometimes feature second order ringing (halos around halos).
The only audio option is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in Hindi (with occasional Cantonese passages). It is a wonderful, dynamic mix that not only does justice to the many musical numbers, but makes creative use of the 5.1 sound field for non-musical sequences as well. It is presented on disc with excellent fidelity.
The only extra is a collection of eight Additional Scenes. They are accessible from the discs main menu and run a total of eight minutes and 30 seconds. They are presented in 4:3 letterboxed video w/Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. The scenes are not accessible separately through the disc menu, but they do have their own chapter stops. Descriptions follow:
- Sakhi discusses traveling to China with her mother who absolutely disapproves. (:38)
- Sleeping gag with Sidhu and Chopstick on the airplane to China (:26)
- In a hotel room, Sidhu cannot sleep because he is too excited and annoys Chopstick. He seems to refer to "Dada" as his grandfather, which is not the relationship established in the film - at least according to the subtitles I read.(1:26)
- Sidhu and Chopstick are welcomed by a village elder as the villagers express their enthusiasm and Sidhu gets drunk (1:07)
- Hojo scolds his son for being beaten by a girl (:49)
- Chopstick spies on Meow Meow who pretends to be romantically interested him and then throws him to the floor. (1:03)
- Chiang Kohung tries to send Sakhi back to India, but she tells him she is staying. (:56)
- Extensive sequence where Sidhu is pursued by Hojo through a kitchen and thrown through a window to the street below(2:00)
The single-sided double-layered disc is packaged in a standard Amaray case with no inserts. The menus are spare. There is no chapter menu and the only sub-menu beyond the main menu is for choosing subtitle options.
While it seems like a good idea in concept, Chandni Chowk to China fails to live up to the potential of its Bollywood-meets Hong Kong martial arts movie premise. Due to its "everything but the kitchen sink" mix of comedy, drama, romance, and action, it is fitfully entertaining. Unfortunately, it squanders too much audience good will during its cartoonish opening act and never coalesces as a whole. It is presented on disc with outstanding audio and a video presentation marred only by sporadic edge ringing. The only extra is a collection of deleted scenes that are mildly interesting, but rightfully excised.