Little Big Soldier

 

Little Big Soldier

Written by Ding Sheng

Story by Jackie Chan

Produced by Jackie Chan

Action Direction by Jackie Chan

Directed by Ding Sheng

2010


Cast:

Jackie Chan

Wang Leehom

Steve Yoo

Lin Peng

Wu Yue

Xiao Dongmei


Production Studio:

Theatrical: Polybona Films & JCE Movies Ltd.

Video: Well Go (U.S.)


Video:

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD-25

Feature Size: 19 GB

Total Bit Rate: Modest (about 15-25 Mbps)

Runtime: 95 minutes

Chapters: 20

Region: A


Audio:

Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0

English Dolby Digital 2.0


Subtitles:

Feature & Bonus: English


Extras:

• Behind the Scenes (14:00 min.)

• Jackie Chan Music Video: Lyrics by Ding Sheg & Xiao Ke, Music by Xiao Ke (3:10)

• Trailers in HD: Legend of the Fist, Ip Man 2, Shaolin, Little Big Soldier

• DVD copy


Presentation:

Blu-ray Combo Pack w/locking case

Release Date: August 23, 2011



Introduction

WellGo USA continues its forage into recent popular Chinese films with their first Jackie Chan movie.  Like Red Cliff, Legend of the Fist and the Ip Man films before it, the Blu-ray of Little Big Soldier had a prior existence through Asian video sources, the major differences for the U.S. version being an English dub.  Differences in image and audio are less consequential in the present release, as are the selection of bonus features.  A comparison of image follows later in the review.  It will be good news that this is the same cut as Hong Kong’s CN Entertainment released in the spring of last year.


     


The Movie: 7

Jackie Chan, being the iconic figure that he is both here and in Asia, we hardly need to detail his career here except to note that his foray into period dramas is recent (xxxx and xxxx).  Little Big Soldier is the first period piece that can safely be considered a comedy, even while it tries to be serious about its anti-war position.  Perhaps “tries” gives the wrong impression, for Little Big Soldier is always clear when its sentiments ally with peace rather than brutality, love rather than misery.  The difficulty for me is that some of its comic elements work against them -- most notably in regards the final confrontation between the Lou Fan gang and the remaining soldiers.


Despite the nominal presence of Ding Sheng (with only one feature film to his credit previously) as director, Little Big Soldier is clearly a Jackie Chan Film.  He produced it, he co-wrote it, he directed the action scenes, of which there are a few.  And it is hard not to notice that the bulk of the Behind the Scenes material places Chan front and center, only eventually giving the nod to Ding.  Perhaps more important, Little Big Soldier is to a surprising extent Wang Leehom’s movie.


     


Jackie Chan is so much himself in this film that he feels at times like a cipher, allowing our attention to be fixed on Leehom Wang, as he is known here in the States.  Wang, now 35, is a born and bred American (Rochester, New York), whose family immigrated here from Taiwan, and prior to that, from Mainland China after 1945 - a family on the cutting edge of change, and Leehom is leading the charge.  Trained as musician, with several serious schools to his credit, he has made a name for himself in pop music, already a winner four times over of Taiwan’s version of the Grammies.  He has since moved into motion pictures and was featured in Ang Lee’s 2008 “Lust, Caution” across from Tony Leung, Joan Chen and Tang Wei before landing the number two spot in Little Big Soldier.  Right after that he directed and starred in the romantic comedy “Love in Disguise” which became the highest grossing Chinese film ever for a first time director.  The man is absurdly popular.


     


This is not to say that Jackie Chan fails to impress.  Far from it.  He plays one of two survivors of the legendary Phoenix Hill Massacre way back in the fourth century B.C. a hundred years or so before the King of Qin united all of China and thus became its first emperor.  Before then China’s various kingdoms were in a chronic state of internecine war.  While Qin sat on the sidelines Wei and Liang were going at it to the death.  Wei’s forces were ambushed but both sides were annihilated in their eagerness to please their patriotic gods. 


Chan is the eponymous “Little Soldier,” Leehom Wang is the Big Soldier, here referred to as “General.”  Chan, like so many of his compatriots was drafted into service, but he was also given the “survive at all costs” proscription by his father, who had offered enough sons to the war effort.  Chan is the furthest thing from a dedicated soldier as witnessed by our first glimpse of him with a fake arrow in his chest whilst all around him are not playing dead.  Wang is a dedicated soldier, couldn’t be more so.  Trouble is: he’s wounded, and in that state he is handily “captured” by Chan who decides to take him back to his country’s capital to collect the reward of just enough land to grow just enough food.


    


As expected, Little Big Soldier is a familiar road movie, where an odd couple comes to respect the other’s position - or, at least, understand and appreciate it.  Along the way, in addition to meeting up with the odd lone woman (Lin Peng) who gets the better of both of them, assorted refugees, a band of warlike gypsies commanded by yet another woman (Xiao Dongmei) and, most importantly, a detachment of Wei soldiers commanded by a Wei prince (Steve Yoo) who seem hell bent on Wang’s death.  And it’s not because his forces lost the battle.  Hmmm.


Chan, who is now at an age that he more resembles The Little Tramp than a Wild and Crazy Guy, invests all his charm and the occasional slapstick swish of stick and sword into his character.  He sings, he dances, he gets drunk, he pokes at Wang’s open wound - a lot.  Wang, for his part, is Mr. Cool, but it’s a cool that has been taken down several pegs by virtue of his being all trussed up by such as Chan - repeatedly, despite his various escapes.


The movie works well as an entertaining comedy with good character development.  My main complaints are two: that the low humor gets in the way of the serious moments - as they sometimes happen simultaneously, and that the encounter with Lin Peng, simply oozing with potential, doesn’t go anywhere.


     


Image : 8/9

Well Go’s Blu-ray of the first Ip Man movie struck me as deliberately desaturated (see my review) especially as compared to the Hong Kong Universe edition.  But here, they have gone in the other direction, but only slightly.  A side-by-side comparison reveals a deliberately filtered and desaturated image on the Hong Kong Blu-ray, while the WellGo seems to have opted for a more “natural” color saturation - at times more than others.  I think most western audiences might even prefer it, whether or not it was originally intended.  Beyond this, the image is good, but not as highly resolved as say, their own edition of Ip Man 2.  (Check out U.S. and H.K. image comparisons at the end of this review.)


Curiously, both the HK and Well Go Blu-rays are satisfied with only a modest bit rate enough to fill a single layered disc.  I think it shows in a somewhat polished finish.  Transfer artifacts are at a minimum. By the way, the jerkiness you will likely observe for several seconds as the animation gives way to live action footage while the credits are finishing up appears on the Hong Kong disc as well, indicating the Well Go and CN-E are working form the same source elements.  It strikes me as an error, for if intentional, it serves no clear purpose.


     


Audio, Dub & Music : 7/4/7

While HK Blu-rays often sport a 7.1 mix, the CN-Entertainment for Little Big Soldier did not.  WellGo did make a change, however, to the more popular (stateside) DTS-HD MA instead of the CN-E Dolby TrueHD.  For many this becomes a slam dunk in favor of the DTS.  My view is a little different.  First the difference in playback level of these two mixes is so great that a reliable side/by/side comparison is impractical.  Setting my system at OPPO-100 @ 75 dB SPL, the difference is something like 20 dB! between the two mixes!  What I found was that Well Go’s DTS supports their rendering of the video - in a word: enhanced, but not overblown or unsuitable.  But the Dolby True strikes me as having the edge in subtlety.


The uncredited English dub starts of well enough with a voiceover that does not strain to a mimic Chinese accent, but soon devolves into a self-conscious delivery for Chan’s character.  For some reason passing understanding the actor who is voicing Wang’s character actually sounds older than Chan.  These dubs are generally pretty awful  This one isn’t, but don’t expect to be taken in by the delivery.


Well Go went for three DTS-HD MA tracks: the original Cantonese language (and default), one in Mandarin, and a serviceable English dub.  The lip sync for the Cantonese is close, though it’s pretty clear that most of it is looped.  Effects are well managed, clear and dynamically presented, but the generic, off-the-shelf music score is overused and distracting at times.  The subtitling is neat, reasonably unobtrusive and in good idiomatic English - pretty much the same as used in HK Blu-ray, with a sign or two translated as a bonus.


     


Extras : 3

All of the Bonus Features, as was the case with the HK Blu-ray, are included on the one disc.  They are pretty much identical except that in place of WellGo’s music video is a photo gallery on the HK BD that automatically advances over the song.  The latter, in my opinion, is much to be preferred.  Also, there are a few very nice WellGo trailers in HD that understandably do not appear on the HK disc.  Most curious (to my relatively untechnical mind anyway) is that my OPPO BDP-95 interprets the standard def bonus items on the HK disc as anamorphic, while my MakeMKV software says not. The Well Go SD items are all non-anamorphic.


While there is plenty enough time allotted to the Behind-the-Scenes and Interview segments, all of which are subtitled as they were for the HK Blu-ray, I found these to be random in the first instance and too self-approving in the second.  There’s very little of substance here.


     


Recommendation : 7

Little Big Soldier is an entertaining comedy in the 48 Hrs/Midnight Run mold - not nearly as bloody as the former funny nor as well thought out as the latter.  But it’s sure to please in its way.  Unlike the American films just mentions, Little Big Soldier yearns to be more than a buddy/road picture.  Alas, it is only intermittently successful in this.  Chan is delightful. Wang is gorgeous, even when covered in caked blood and a suit of armor.  The supporting cast is fine when given half a chance.  Well Go’s Blu-ray has more “body” to the image and sound - even if this were not exactly the filmmaker’s intentions.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

August 11, 2011


Screencap comparisons (Hong Kong above, Well Go below):


     

     


     

     


     

     


     

     


     

     


     

     


     

     


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