(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)
Indiana Jones fought the Nazis. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jones is in a race with the Nazis to get to the eponymous Ark – something that would make them all too invincible. The Nazi used to make propaganda films guided by its propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, by now caricatured in several films of all slants. Why this history and Hollywood lesson? Mostly because I was looking for an arc to write about the latest Jackie Chan film, Kung Fu Yoga. Chan plays an Indiana Jones like archaeology professor who – because he is played by Chan – goes hunting for treasures and relics, and fights the bad guys along the way. There is even a direct reference to Indiana Jones at one point. But that isn’t the issue with this film by Stanley Tong, who has collaborated with Chan in several films, notably the all time great candidate like Police Story 3 and an entertaining Rumble in the Bronx.
The problems though lie elsewhere. Now we have white supremacists in the government of the United States and men in power unabashedly harking back to the days and beliefs of the Nazis. In this climate, Tong has actually made a half propaganda film. These aren’t necessarily related. But the state of the world, the Indiana Jones references and the propaganda part of Kung Fu Yoga gives one a jolt when the expectations were purely of popcorn entertainment and Chan’s beloved action comedy. And this makes you look past the terrible story, rank bad acting and lip sync, snooze-fest of action sequences towards a…well, a terrible film.
Ashmita (Disha Patani as a researcher from India) seeks Chan’s help in unearthing lost treasures of the Magadha kingdom and while being introduced says their association will be in line with the One Belt, One Road policy – something that is still up in the air as far as India’s embrace of it is concerned. In any case, what is it doing in the movie?! The other aspect is yoga. Nobody actually performs yoga but characters accomplish something crazy using their bodies and give credit to yoga. Chan and his gang (Patani, Amyra Dastur, Aarif Rahman) along with their nemesis Randall (Sonu Sood) gallivant from Tibet to Dubai to Rajasthan – with snake charmers and Indian rope tricks no less – in search of the treasure and its lost key. As they fight wolves, lions and hyenas, we fight fatigue. It is interesting to note that this film was launched during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in mid 2015, as part of the three film deal signed between India and China in 2014 to bring their film industries closer. Unsurprisingly Kung Fu Yoga sings paeans of everything ancient and Indian – wisdom, medicine, vaastu shastra and of course, yoga. I don’t blame the lion for violently retching after the ride it takes with Chan around the streets of Dubai.