Myth, The
Hong Kong 2005
Directed by Stanley Tong.


Jackie Chan turns in another globe-trotting adventure helmed by long time collaborator Stanley Tong. This time, Jackie is the living reincarnation of Qin General Meng Tian, now working as an honest and adventurous archeologist. His old friend William (Tony Leung Ka Fai) talks him into some tomb robbing in search of the power to fly, or at the very least, levitate, getting them both into some international hot water. While fighting off villains in China and India in the present, Jackie keeps flashing back to life as General Meng Tiana, and how he saved, and fell in love with, a Korean princess (Hee-seon Kim) destined to become a concubine to Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi.

Despite all the action in the present and the past, THE MYTH unfortunately plods along, never building a great deal of momentum, never revealing enough of the supporting characters and situations to much care whether they live or die, win or lose.

I won't go in to the history of the Qin empire, or the biography of Meng Tian, or the scholar Xu Fu and his quest for an immortality pill, as I've already discussed these topics at length here. THE MYTH feels a bit derivative of other pictures - the reincarnation romance plays like a light version of Dream Lovers, and the immortality pill that the Qin Emperor sought is imagined in A Terracotta Warrior. (And forget the Qin Dynasty for a moment -- the whole soldier saves the Princess thing seems lifted from the Korean film MUSA (Kim Sung-Su, 2001).) But the screenwriters did mine one part of the RECORDS OF THE GRAND HISTORIAN that I haven't seen in film before: a certain episode involving a meteorite. In THE MYTH, they discover a meteorite with strange powers, and Jackie finds historical text that describes it. And what do you know, it's in there. Here is the relevant passage:

Thirty-sixth year (of the reign of the First Emperor, 211): A meteor fell on Dong Province, turning into a stone when it reached the ground. One of the black-headed people inscribed on the stone: "The First Emperor will die and his land be divided." When the First Emperor heard of this, he sent the imperial secretary to investigate, but no one would confess the deed. In the end the emperor had all the persons living in the vicinity of the stone seized and put to death, and had the stone burned and pulverized.

Of course, THE MYTH takes great liberties with the story of Meng Tian, but it is nevertheless enjoyable to find screenwriters drawing inspiration from the original texts. The writing for Jackie's character in the present day is much more problematic in fact than his ancient General role. He is supposed to be an archeologist, yet robs a tomb in India and brings the relic discovered to China. There, he gives it to a museum and then delivers a speech about how antiquities belong in museums where they can be appreciated by the people, and not stolen by other countries and held abroad for supposed "safe-keeping." Obviously a slam on western institutions such as the British Museum, but wait -- didn't he just do exactly that? The writers seem to think that because he stole an ancient artifiact of Chinese origin, it is fair game. But later in the movie, he moves to an even more draconian position, declaring of an ancient tomb, that "It is part of History and must remain buried." The hell? I don't mind characters spouting this kind of populist rubbish, but he is supposed to be an archeologist. He should know better.

The ancient battle scenes do not play to Jackie's strengths as a fighter, but some of the modern ones do. The part of the story set in India is far and away the most entertaining part of the entire movie. Jackie Chan and Tony Leung make a great tomb raiding team and are very funny together. Later Jackie gets into an elaborate fight with Indian police and ends up on a glue-covered conveyor belt, which calls for the kind of fun fight choreography Jackie Chan movies are known for, and there, he does not disappoint. He is aided here by the gorgeous Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat, and her absence from the rest of the movie is disappointing indeed.

Like almost all Jackie Chan movies, THE MYTH is a mixed bag. Lots of good bits, lots of boring bits, lots of bits that I'm just plain indifferent to. Still, it has many redeeming facets, and fans of Jackie Chan's other recent films should find some enjoyment here as well.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on September 14, 2007.


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