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“Little Big Soldier,” Jackie Chan’s other newest movie.

“Little Big Soldier,” Jackie Chan’s other newest movie. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival.

You’d have to be ghoulish to want to see Jackie Chan, who’s now (a plenty spry) 56 years old, still trying anything like the hanging-off-helicopters, 100-foot-jump-without-a-net stunts that made him an unparalleled action star. But that raises a philosophical question: what’s a Chan movie without jaw-dropping Chan-style action sequences?

Of late, it’s been the “The Spy Next Door” and a handful of other studio films that have a whiff of mugging desperation, as if no one involved really believes audiences would want to see Chan in a role that doesn’t involve him dangling from the side of a speeding city bus. In between, there’ve been scattered Asian features that scarcely seen the light of a movie projector Stateside, if at all.

Chan’s achieved some recent multiplex redemption instructing Jaden Smith in the ways of kung fu and honorable living in “The Karate Kid,” but it’s his other new film, the China/Hong Kong coproduction “Little Big Soldier,” that showcases he’s absolutely capable of carrying a movie on the strength of his beaming, unpretentious charisma. (And, okay, occasional and more restrained feats of acrobatics.) Chan’s never going to be the most nuanced of actors, but he can be a immensely engaging leading man, capitalizing on that almost silent comedy-inspired charm he’s made his own.

06222010_littlebigsoldier2.jpgFor now, here in the U.S., you’ll only be able to find “Little Big Soldier” on the festival circuit. Specifically: at the New York Asian Film Festival, an annual celebration of East Asia’s finest genre films, blockbusters, indies, oddities and none of your more typical type of exported cinema, which programmer Grady Hendrix catchily sums up as “the occasional boring art film about lonely Chinese people eating mud and being exploited by the State.”

And “Little Big Soldier,” written by Chan and directed by Ding Sheng, certainly doesn’t aim to be an art film. It’s a poke in the ribs of ultraserious Chinese historical battle epics like “Red Cliff” and “The Warlords,” in which giant armies try to kill each other in meticulously choreographed, CGI-enhanced ways. Set in Warring States-era China, “Little Big Soldier” stars Chan as a Liang conscript who survives a giant battle (over by the start of the film) by playing dead.

Picking himself up and scavenging amongst the corpses, he comes across one other survivor — the general of the opposing Wei forces (Wang Lee-Hom), a prize prisoner for a low-level soldier. If he can manage to get his captive back home to Liang with him, Chan’s former farmer (who remains nameless) will be given a reward of land and, more importantly, exemption from service.

06222010_littlebigsoldier3.jpgWhile battles are being fought (sometimes literally) in the background, the little soldier and the big one embark on a road trip/buddy comedy with a kingdom hanging in the balance, dealing with hostile locals, angry fauna and your standard fey/sadistic conniving prince (Yoo Sung-jun). Wang’s general is disdainful and obsessed with an honorable death, while Chan’s soldier is happy to throw dignity away for survival: “As long as you’re alive, it’s marvelous,” he insists, even as they trudge through a land decimated by decades of war.

Do the two come to respect each other and reach an understanding? Sure. Does it get a little sentimental? You betcha. Is there a “Hero”-like salute toward the end to the necessity of the violent unification of the Chinese state? Yes, and it’s totally weird! But Chan’s truly enjoyable throughout, whether jabbing the general’s leg wound in order to win a fight, or carrying a gag about his skill at rock throwing to a giddy conclusion, or coming to the rescue on the back of a buffalo.

His character’s wistful, unassuming dream of owning his own farm, visualized by his joyously walking through a field of canola flowers, is slyly devastating, as is the film’s insistence that it’s a privilege to be “a little man.” That seems like condescension, given it’s those little men that end up strewn, forgotten, across the battlefields, but “Little Big Soldier” is less tolerant of the “big men,” who seem so eager to die, and whose conflicts and power struggles are sketched out as meaningless even to them. In that context, playing dead and running off to live another day seems like a pretty solid idea.

“Little Big Soldier” does not yet have US distribution. It screens July 1st and 3rd at the Walter Reade Theater in NY.

[Photos: “Little Big Soldier,” Bona Entertainment, 2010]

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.