Emperor Qin and Korean princesses have both become clichés in films bearing the unmistakable mark of spinning China-related buzz themes. We've seen Qin, allegedly first ruler to unite most of what today is known as China, in Hero and a bunch of other releases, and Korean lovelies have graced at least Musa and more recently Tsui Hark's Seven Swords. The former, perhaps, stands for thinly veiled references to China's nationalist comeback and unification, while the latter could be a form of hankering for a return to the days when the country held sway over supplicating tributary kingdoms with a thing for sending sultry concubines to an overbearing emperor. Naturally, this could be totally wrong, and in fact The Myth et al simply think they're catering to audiences of the day.
Whichever the case may be, this large-scale release works neither as an allegorical exercise nor a straight blockbuster. Instead of at the very least providing something moderately innovative to cling to, it rehashes everything from Crouching Tiger and Tomb Raider to the abysmal The Touch with Michelle Yeoh. The Myth follows several other Jackie Chan calamities where the addition of "the" to titles translated into sheer mediocrity: The Tuxedo and The Medallion were both disappointments, and we fear this current effort might eventually be sequeled by The BS. It dashes hopes our Chanster may have finally rediscovered his old path to riches, a sentiment brought to life following the successful New Police Story. Alas, such is not the case.
Jackie, formerly Mr. Hong Kong, presently Mr. Greater China, helped produce this project, working together with Stanley Tong in the directorial seat (Tong previously helmed a few Police Story movies). In The Myth, Emperor Qin is once again revered religiously and followed without question by zealous subordinates who make no mention of his reputation for brutal conquest and mindless warfare. At least Hero by Zhang Yimou was more even-handed, not to mention Chen Kaige's Emperor and the Assassin, where they openly depicted him as a butcher, albeit one ultimately loved by the people. It isn't clear which Qin emperor we're talking about in The Myth, though, since his exact name is never spoken nor do we get to see him, but the love-thy-government message comes across loud and clear.
Unlike the other movies mentioned, this current affair doesn't try to be a historical epic. In fact, it has nothing to do with grandiosity save for dabbing in some of the most teeth-grindingly ugly animation and CG effects ever. When the pixellated blood starts spurting, you'll cringe too. Things get off to a long-winded start in an overstretched scene showing General Meng Yi (Jackie) fighting to deliver fresh booty Princess Ok Soo (Kim Hee Seon) to the emperor, set against feeble attempts from her Korean compatriots to stop the nefarious exchange. There's way too much generic pomp and too little bonafide action in this segment, and it ends up as uninspired as Kim's career (she shone once in 2000's Bichunmoo, but not since). It's also immediately obvious JC wasn't into making the movie: he looks veritably switched off, with a kind of blank/tired face that persists throughout.
The ancient-setting plot, where general and offering become lovers, intertwines with the present day via strange dreams experienced by archaeologist Jack (JC again), who perceives himself to be Meng Yi in these visitations. Jack also lives on a super-posh barge in HK's Victoria Harbor for some odd reason. Don't ask. Eventually, colleague and friend William (Tony Leung Ka Fai) turns up, asking for Jack's help in pursuing a new lead regarding levitation techniques dating back to antiquity. Moralist Jack refuses, not wanting to engage in any more pillaging of national treasures, but after token coaxing, tags along as the pair head out to the mystical land of Dasar, a dead ringer for India by any other name. There they pick up the trail and the movie's sole saving grace, busty beauty Mallika Sherawat. Although her role amounts to pittance really, she's quite the looker and stands as our only fond memory from The Myth (to see more of her, check her out in her breakthrough Bollywood film, "Murder").
Later Jack and William make it to Xianyang, site of Qin's capital, where we naturally get force fed footage of Xian's tourist cash cow, the Terracotta Warriors (Bingmayong). Additionally, new characters arrive to inject a miniscule dose of interest to proceedings, thanks in part to Sun Zhou's menacing charm (he also appeared in Emperor and the Assassin as Prince of Yan). Sun plays greedy sponsor Mr. Koo (translated as "ancient" or "old", by the way), the film's only real bad guy. Intermittently, we get more flashbacks to the third century, as Meng Yi and Ok Soo engage in very little ado over nothing. There's some trite fighting, tepid romancing, and that's about it. Likely you'll find the modern bits vastly livelier, but even so, The Myth is only as effective as its parts, and those all fall short. A typical example is veteran actor Yu Rongguang, used herein as a rival general in Qin's massive military, a part so brief you barely notice him.
Brainless plots can be propped up by use of clever cinematography and snazzy effects, but The Myth has none of those, looking and feeling flat compared to other entries in the field, nor does it possess anything of significant interest. It isn't a pretty movie like several of its thematic predecessors, and certainly doesn't enjoy the same imbued-with-history gloss. As a home video rental in a few months you'd be alright watching it as an excuse to kick back and down some pizza, but if we're to continue supporting Jackie's advances the guy ought to do the decent thing and authorize movies worth the ticket.
Directed by Stanley Kong
Starring Jackie Chan, Kim Hee Seon, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Sun Zhou, Yu Rongguang
2005, Cantonese/Putonghua/English/Korean/Hindi, 118 minutes
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(Publicity shot of Mallika Sherawat at Toronto Film Festival)