Railroad Tigers [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Well Go USA
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (14th August 2017).
The Film

A humble railway porter named Ma Yung (Jackie Chang) is in actuality the leader of a secret covert group of rebels known as "The Railroad Tigers"; he along with a ragtag group of freedom fighting operatives use their in depth knowledge of the railway systems to ambush the Japanese soldiers and to steal supplies for the starving Chinese villagers. Sort of a low tech “Mission Impossible” (1996), this group of patriotic misfits fight for justice, but instead of firearms they utilize whatever is at hand, including shovels, hammers, and loose railway tracks. This film utilizes as a backdrop the Japanese invasion of the East Chinese providences in the early 1940’s to show the struggle that the Chinese underwent while opposing their enemies. A period piece of filmmaking, the film takes place during December, 1941, and incorporates the use of a historic locomotive as a major set piece. The group is not concerned with risking life and limb with these missions, but that all changes when a fleeing Chinese soldier stumbles upon the house of Auntie Qin (Xu Fan) where Ma Yung is staying and asks to be hid from the pursuing Japanese army. The soldier Daguo (Darren Wang) is wounded and after outsmarting the enemy, he asks the troupe to blow up a bridge in order to halt the Japanese onslaught and put an end to an important supply route. Along the way they will encounter numerous Japanese antagonists, including a sadistic army officer Yamaguchi, (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), an Ilsa like female military police inspector (Zhang Lanxin), and various other characters of assorted ilk.
“Now that I am older, I understand we have to accept who we are.” Jackie Chang.

Anyone familiar with film history will be acquainted with Buster Keaton’s masterpiece "The General" (1926) which uses a moving locomotive as its central filming location; this film is also Jackie Chang’s favorite film. Now regarded as a classic piece of filmmaking history, Keaton did many of his own dangerous stunts, including leaping from the engine to the tender to a box car, and ultimately Keaton suffered a broken neck from one of the many stunts performed. The apparent danger of working atop a moving train certainly wasn’t a hindrance to Chan and company, as we witness the opening shots of the film, a daring robbery of a crowded train. This scene sets the narrative pace of the film, and we are introduced to over fifteen characters through a use of a freeze frame device while a title card informs us of the character’s name, their occupation, and a catchphrase. I found this a deterrent to practical character development and consider it a lazy manner of storytelling, but inevitably we see that Ding Sheng is more concerned with delivering a visual spectacle than telling a comprehensive story, and that he simply jams as many characters into the action in order to create a “ensemble piece” for the many actors featured.

The film breaks down the action into three set pieces, and a title card explains what is transpiring, such as “To retrieve explosives.” This is an action comedy and as such do not expect to see Jackie Chang perform any martial arts fighting scenes; the man is at least 62 years old; I believe that he is done executing that style of film anymore. This film focuses on the comedic type of interaction that is rooted in a slapstick manner, plus with such a large cast, Chan does not need to carry the entire film. He certainly is the central character and is given the majority of screen time, but there are others in the film that do not get the background development that Chan does, and consequently the audience does not care as much for these characters. The villains in the film are, of course, Japanese and are played as both ruthless and generally not as intelligent as the Railway Tigers are. Ikeuchi is played with extra zeal by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi and his officer is often seen as referring to the patriots as Hicks; it is clear that he is underestimating his adversaries and ultimately that is what leads to his downfall.

There was a large amount of blue screen work done on the film, in fact, over 2400 VFX effects. The majority of the time when we see the Tigers outside the moving train those shots were done on a non-moving part of the locomotive. There is also an abundance of wire work done by Chan and company, including an interesting sequence in the warehouse that features Chan and his actual son, Jaycee Chan, using ropes to elevate and descend in an extended scene. Father and son are also featured in a humorous interrogation scene that is played strictly for laughs as the two argue over which one of them is the better is looking one. The film is packed with action sequences involving the moving train, various military vehicles giving chase, and ultimately two tanks that end up in a duel while being transported aboard the train. In a way it is odd seeing realistic death scenes by firearms in a Jackie Chang film and at times the musical soundtrack was in disagreement with the visual element of the storyline. The Chinese patriots do a lot of neck breaking in the film, and it is casually shrugged off. In one odd scene, a disobedient soldier is ordered to commit Seppuku and instead cuts himself on the sword’s blade. “It hurts” he yells in a moment that is supposed to be filled with comedy. Later, this same soldier, ends up impaled on a piece of equipment, and again he utters the fateful line. If this is director’s Sheng’s sense of humor, I believe that I will stick with The Three Stooges. At that is indeed one of the problems of this film, the humorous scenes are wedged in amongst the chaos of the action scenes, and simply falls flat. It is as if the director is concerned that he is not comfortable with what works in the comedy genre, and consequently the physical comedy comes fast and furious, with none of the grace that made Keaton a true comic genius. Another problem is that since so many characters have been thrown at us, we really don’t have a true sense of identity to distinguish one from the other. At the later point of the film, I simply stop trying to keep it all straight, and just shut my brain off and let the film roll on to its inevitable conclusion.

The final scene of the film is the dramatic conclusion as the train speeds toward its target; the bridge that the Tigers intend to demolish. Three of the original group are left on the train, and there is no going back; they must sacrifice their lives to achieve the desired results. This scene plays out in an outlandish fashion with plenty of CGI to go around; various parts of the train have been destroyed, and the train is now haphazardly spread across the bridge. All that remains is for Chan’s character to have a last-ditch battle with the evil Yamaguchi, and the two battle until Chan’s goal of tossing a lit package of explosives into the dangling boxcar full of explosives below is achieved. As the fiery explosions toss the patriots high into the air, we are shown each man, his face featuring a beatific smile. They have all died for a greater cause than themselves, and as such are martyrs for the cause. The film that started with a child’s exploration of the locomotive in a museum, with the story told in a prolonged flashback sequence, now returns to the present day, and Hong Kong action star Andy Lau is the father. Director Sheng probably believed that this scene should send the movie going audience home happy, or at least dazed from this literal train wreck of a film.

Video

Presented in widescreen 2.40:1 mastered in HD 1080p using AVC MPEG-4 compression. Outdoor scenes are bright, and when long shots are used of the train, the picture looks dynamic. There are plenty of close-ups and the flesh tones are balanced and realistic. Director of photography Ding Yu’s camera work is very inventive, and there are plenty of crane shots utilized throughout the film. The downside is that the overly used blue screen work resulted in some slightly sloppy CGI.

Audio

Five audio tracks are included in Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround, Mandarin DTS-X Headphone 5.1 surround, Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, and English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Lao Zai’s soundtrack is a plus for accompanying the action scenes, and the syncopation of the locomotive. The sound landscape is well utilized as bullets, explosions, and other sound effects are divided between the front speakers and the rear. The bass is pounding in the climax of the film, and the sound fills the room. Optional subtitles are included in English only.

Extras

There are plenty of bonus materials are included with the film, including five behind-the-scenes featurettes, plus some promotional materials, below is a closer look at these supplements.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

"Director’s Featurette" is a featurette (2:52), a short segment of the cast and crew talking about how great it was to work with the director and star Jackie Chang.

"The Dangers of Shooting" featurette (2:37), is a brief look at the all too inherent dangers of filming on location in December while it was snowing and the temperatures dropped to twenty below.

"The Making of" featurette (21:00), a longer more structured film that featured extensive conversation with the cast and the director. Everyone praised Jackie Chang for his humor and his light approach to filming. Director Sheng spoke about how this film was based on true events, and that even a smaller effort can have a large impact during wartime.

"VFX" featurette (3:50), 2400 VFX shots were utilized during the making of the film, and this piece interviews the director and several special effects people that worked on the film. The attention to detail is evident where the art department spent 3 months’ time working on Zaozhuang Station to transform it to a time correct location.

"The Characters" featurette (2:53), a puff piece that gives you a brief synopsis of each actor and their character, they should have found a way to incorporate this into the film.

Theatrical trailer (1:15), a highlight reel of action and controlled chaos.

International trailer (1:05), the same as above but shorter.

Bonus trailers for:

- "Kung Fu Yoga"
- "Operation Mei Kong"
- "Cold War II"

DISC TWO: DVD

This is a DVD copy version of the film.

Packaging

Packaged in a 2-disc keep case, first pressings are housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

Diehard Chan fans will not want to miss their favorite action hero in this historical presentation that struggles hard but ultimately comes up empty handed. Fans of railroads will also be thrilled by the big train used as the main set piece.

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: B-

 


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