As a film critic, I get to see plenty of bad films but every once in a while, you get a film that is hypnotic in its awfulness. Which means it’s so bad that you can’t look away. Kung Fu Yoga is that film.
Kung Fu Yoga is the first film made under the India-China co-production treaty. And I have to admit, it must have sounded good on paper. Take one of the biggest action stars in the world – Jackie Chan – who was also conferred an honorary Oscar last year. Throw in some nubile Indian beauties, exotic Indian locations, a half baked plot about the lost treasure of Magadha and exactly two and a half lines about yoga – and you have a mashup that sells in two markets. The film ends with the cast dancing vigorously – moves choreographed by Farah Khan – on the steps of an ancient temple. By which time, some of the film reviewers in the show I was in, were laughing out loud. A sort of cinematic delirium had set in.
Director Stanley Tong, who has also written the story, is big on simplicity and stereotypes. This isn’t a nuanced take on either culture. It’s designed as a fun roller coaster ride. But even cartoons need coherence. There were moments in the film when I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Kung Fu Yoga begins with a motion capture sequence in 647 A.D. We are in the Kingdom of Magadha where a rogue general is battling the forces of its Princess. Chan plays the Tang dynasty envoy who is helping the princess. We then cut to present day where Chan is China’s greatest archaeologist Jack, the same character he played in Tong’s last film The Myth. An Indian professor, played by a simpering Disha Patani, comes to Jack for help and they are off on an adventure to find the treasure. Tong strains to create a souped-up, multicultural Indiana Jones adventure but he seems to have forgotten to actually write it. Kung Fu Yoga feels like a film that was made up on the spot. The action lurches from China to Tibet to Dubai to Rajasthan. Much fuss is made about a 212 carat diamond. And at one point, Chan ends up in a car chase with a lion in the backseat.
At 62, Chan still has the charisma and the moves. His agility and good humor help to lift the leaden script. Sonu Sood gets to stand around in snazzy jackets and snarl but his half-hearted villainy has no bite. Kung Fu Yoga is peppered with random odd moments – at one point, the Indian professor is expounding China’s One Belt, One Road policy. In another scene, a line about Buddhism is bleeped out.
And where’s the yoga you ask? Well, in one scene, the characters use a ‘fetal breath-holding technique’ to escape.
That should give you some idea of what I’ve been through. I’m going with one star.