If you took equal parts Bollywood musical, martial arts film, hero tale, screwball comedy, love story, and then upped the crazy blender to 10x what you would get would look an awful lot like Chandi Chowk to China.
The first Hindi film ever to be shot in China includes bright musical numbers, battle scenes, wire work, a hero training montage, mistaken twins, and an excess of buffoonery.
Akshay Kumar stars as Sidhu, a vegetable chopper from Chandi Chowk, India, who is mistaken for the second coming of a great Chinese warrior. Along with his unscrupulous friend Chopstick (Ranvir Shorey) Sidhu makes the travel to China not realizing the responsibility of his new fame. Also included is the tale of a former cop (Roger Yaun) and his displaced twin daughters Sakhi, an Indian television personality, and Meow Meow, Hojo’s personal assassin (both played by the lovely Deepika Padukone).
The film is a mess, but it’s kind of a fun out of control mess where you get the feeling those in front of the camera share the audience’s bewilderment. Impossible to take seriously, nearly endless in length, and with some humor even Bullwinkle J. Moose would find lame, there’s many an issue with this one.
There’s a point about 100 minutes in when the hero, completely unprepared for the situation (i.e. Three Amigos) comes face-to-face with our villain Hojo (Chia Hui Liu, compelte with Oddjob’s hat) who kicks Sidhu’s ass from one end of China to the other in what I expected to be the big climactic battle. I started to wonder if the film was going to end badly for Sidhu and not give me the sappy happy ending I expected. I shouldn’t have worried. The film continues for another hour, or so, focusing on Sidhu’s journey to become a hero.
Part of the problem is Sidhu is a goof, at least until he shaves his Luigi mustache (and then looks disturbingly similar to Broken Lizard’s Jay Chandrasekhar) and bulks up. The attempt here is to turn the fool into the hero (ala The Court Jester), but by the time Sidhu finally begins his transformation to warrior it’s almost impossible to take him seriously (which is too bad because the kick ass Sidhu is fun to watch).
Kumar’s Sidhu is a goof and everyone else is either cast as a scared villager or villain. Only Padukone, who does a remarkable job for a first-time actress in creating two distinct characters, and Yuan as the troubled father with missing memories and kick ass skills, are given much to do.
That’s not to say there’s not some fun to be had. The action scenes are passable (though for a film about kung fu it’s a long wait before it delivers). Kumar, when he’s not hamming it up Shatner-style, is passable, especially after his transformation into a student and warrior where he comes off like a young Jackie Chan (without the impressive stunts). And the big musical numbers are also well choreographed and performed, and a couple are even catchy little tunes.
I’ll give the film this, as screwed-up as it is (and that’s quite a bit) it’s at least memorable (in both good and bad ways). I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it, but for those of you out there who enjoy occasionally trying something completely different at the theater this might be up your alley.
Chandi Chowk to China – 2.5 Stars (out of 5)