Chandni Chowk to China – Review

Akshay Kumar in FROM CHANDNI CHOWK TO CHINA

Akshay Kumar in FROM CHANDNI CHOWK TO CHINA

Okay, so let me see if I understand the principles that govern a Bollywood film like CHANDNI CHOWK TO CHINA. On-screen kissing is offensive, but action star Akshay Kumar’s mugging, eye-bulging, splay-limbed performance as a hapless vegetable cutter turned kick-ass, reincarnated Chinese warrior is perfectly okay. It’s also good if the shift from the broadest of slapstick to the most mawkish of sentimentality happens so fast that it gives the audience the bends. And if, during the dramatic moments, you want to flash back to lessons previously imparted to the hero, you’d better make sure the audience gets it by repeating the sequence again, and again, and again.

How’d I do? Am I close?

Gordon Liu and Deepika Padukone

Gordon Liu and Deepika Padukone

Kumar plays Sidhu, a self-pitying schlub working in the Delhi market of Chandni Chowk who’s approached by a group a Chinese (who discover their reborn savior by the simple expedient of walking up to him and declaring, “You’re the one!”) intent on freeing their village from the grip of a ruthless crime lord (Gordon Liu). Once in China, we also get to meet twin sisters — one good, one evil, both played by Deepika Padukone — and their father (Roger Yuan), formerly a dedicated police officer, now an amnesiac hermit living in the shadow of the Great Wall. There’ll be tearful reunions, moral epiphanies, noble sacrifices, extended training sequences, tons of dance numbers, some fun martial arts (choreographed by KILL BILL’s Ku Huen Chiu), a lot of gorgeous cinematography (by relatively young d.p. Himman Dhamija), and a musical tour of a Chinese tech lab that manufactures such plot-convenient devices as an electronic translator necklace and an all-in-one umbrella/parachute/bullet-proof shield (which admittedly leads to one of the more charming romantic interludes).

You can’t really hate CHANDNI CHOWK TO CHINA. There’s too much stuff going on; sooner or later director Nikhil Advani will offer up something guaranteed to make you go, “Oh yeah, that’s cool.” (Added plus: once Sidhu begins to rise to his responsibilities, Kumar’s performance becomes more restrained and appealing.) But too much stuff is still too much stuff — it appears Warners has cut fourteen minutes of the film for U.S. release, but that still leaves two hours and twenty minutes of ultra-high energy, please-every-sector entertainment, and man, can that get wearing.

Subtlety!

Subtlety!

I can see the appeal of the Bollywood approach: It’s the eager puppy of filmmaking, with no shortage of enthusiasm and an infinite capacity to ingratiate. But eventually, even the most adorable of antics can lose its charm — once fatigue sets in, one begins to appreciate the appeal of five minutes sitting still in a nice, quiet room. If you want to check out the genre, this film is as good (and probably better) a starting point as any. And if, in the course of watching, you feel a strong urge to step out of the theater for a breather, go ahead. The action will still be turned up to eleven once you return, and your stamina will thank you for giving it the recharge needed to handle the rest of the spectacle.

CHANDNI CHOWK TO CHINA (Warner Bros, 2009; 140 mins. In Hindi) Directed by Nikhil Advani. Cast: Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Gordon Liu.

About the Author

Dan Persons

DAN PERSONS is a New York-based writer who first got bit by the Cinefantastique bug when he encountered the 1979 double issue devoted to the sci-fi classic FORBIDDEN PLANET. He contributed for many years to the magazine, first as a correspondent, then as an editor.

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