Kung Fu Yoga (2017)

In Kung Fu Yoga, the greatest treasure isn’t gold and jewels. It’s seeing Jackie Chan, playing an archaeologist named—uh—Jackie Chan, do a Bollywood dance number in a movie that pays homage to Indiana Jones. If seeing this legendary 62-year-old Hong Kong action star dancing around in Indian clothes with a big goofy grin on his face doesn’t make you smile, you and I are made of different stuff.

That being said, you have to sit through over an hour and a half of astonishingly wooden acting on the part of Jackie’s co-stars, plus far too many scenes with awkward CGI animals, to earn that final dance scene.

Released during the Chinese New Year period, the movie more than earned back its budget despite poor reviews. Ticket sales were weak in India, but strong, or strong enough, in China. Jackie Chan traveled to Singapore to promote the movie, and it did well here compared to others.

I hope Jackie Chan had fun making the movie (in spite of endangering himself during filming for the umpteenth time). I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need money, so he must be making movies because he wants to—or to promote his country’s political goals.

The fight scenes are okay, but the English/Mandarin script and the plot are disappointing. I can’t really recommend it. I can summarize it for you, though.

Keep reading for a catalog of all the unnecessary CGI animals as well as a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Catalog of CGI Animals in Kung Fu Yoga

Just because you can use CGI doesn’t mean you should. When in doubt, stick to backdrops, buildings, and explosions. That’s not what Kung Fu Yoga did. Here are all the CGI animals I noticed in the movie. They are all too noticeable!

  • the elephants in the prologue
  • the robot fish
  • the wolves in the Himalayas
  • the lion in the car in Dubai
  • not the camels—those were real
  • maybe not the lions in the private zoo
  • the hyenas in the private zoo
  • the snakes in the Indian marketplace
  • the snake in the underground temple

My Beat Sheet for Kung Fu Yoga

You know what? Forget it. This movie doesn’t really have a coherent plot structure. It’s just a series of set pieces.

The movie opens with a confusing CGI battle involving elephants. Professor Chan is showing the clip to teach a handful of bored students about a legendary battle between the Indian kingdom of Magadha and Tang dynasty China. The movie is about trying to find the lost treasure of Wang Xuance, a Chinese hero who was lost in the aftermath of the battle.

Collect the Whole Set
Before the adventure can really get underway, we have to meet all the characters.

  • modest Professor Chan (who’s either “the best archaeologist in China” or “just one of them”, who developed some kind of digitization technique for discovering the original colors of archaeological artifacts)
  • his two research assistants (a young man named Xiaoguang and a young woman named Nuomin)
  • an Indian princess named Ashmita who pretends to be a professor to get Professor Chan’s help
  • her sister Kyra
  • Professor Chan’s debonair, treasure-hunting nephew, Jones (that’s his first name)
  • a rich Indian villain named Randall who hunts with his own bird of prey in the desert and has a private zoo containing lions and hyenas because he believes in the survival of the fittest

There are several weak romantic subplots. Professor Chan shows off his rusty kung fu skills for Ashmita. Jones is taken with Ashmita’s sister. Xiaoguang and Nuomin seem to have some kind of love/hate relationship.

Tibet: Finding the Diamond
Using a map provided by Ashmita, Team Jackie uses drones to find a frozen river where Wang Xuance probably got trapped in an avalanche. Jones uses his robot fish (part prop, part CGI) to confirm the presence of an ice cave, and Jackie asks a friend to come and drill a hole in the ice with a fancy laser drill. Jackie and Jones playfully fight each other as CGI wolves look on.

Team Jackie goes down through the ice and discovers the remains of Wang Xuance and his soldiers, along with a trove of gold and other artifacts. Team Randall shows up and a fight ensues. Ashmita tries to salvage a huge pink gem from a headrest that gets knocked around throughout the fight, but Jones grabs it, escapes to the surface and disappears. Randall takes the gold (I think) and leaves Team Jackie to freeze to death. (Evil Overlord mistake! He should have slit their throats.) Ashmita and Jackie use an ancient yoga breathing technique and some other technique, respectively, to hold their breath and swim out of the ice cave. (The swimming scene is pretty, but that kind of thing makes me disproportionately anxious.)

Dubai: Buying the Diamond
After recovering from his ice bath, Jackie learns that the diamond Jones stole is being sold in Dubai, so he goes there with his assistants and a well-connected friend to bid on it. He witnesses a camel race. At the auction, he bids against Ashmita and Randall and wins, but then Randall’s goons steal it back in a fight. Jackie chases them in a Jeep with a lion named—uh—Jackie. (Some articles I’ve read say it’s a real lion, but if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.) In the end, Jones reclaims the diamond for Jackie, but then Ashmita rides by on a motorbike and snatches it away again.

India: Using the Diamond
Team Jackie goes to India and discovers that Ashmita isn’t a professor, she’s a princess. She needs Jackie to help her figure out how the diamond will unlock the treasure of her Magadha ancestors. Together they deliver a leaden lump of exposition about Indian constellations. Team Randall, wanting the treasure just as badly, attacks Team Jackie in a marketplace full of stereotypical Indian performers (rope trick, snake charmer, levitating guru). Randall threatens Ashmita and Jackie by threatening to let his CGI hyenas eat Jones and Kyra. (Xiaoguang rescues them in a fight scene that is fake, boring, and implausible. The hyenas are like storm troopers; despite their obvious advantages, they can’t seem to kill the good guys.)

Team Jackie shines a light on the diamond in a temple, thus revealing a way down to a secret temple below. There’s a bit of nonsense about a pit and some vines and a CGI snake, but eventually everyone winds up at a golden Shiva temple facing a golden Shiva statue, complete with picturesque waterfall. Randall is disappointed when it transpires that the chests in the temple contain only folding, stick-like books—the priceless treasure of the Magadha Empire is knowledge. He wants to melt down the golden Shiva statue. A fight ensues. Indians in orange robes arrive on the scene, and the villain seems to implicitly concede that the temple and its treasure and its golden statue belong to everyone.

Cue the song and dance!

See Also

The Myth (2005)
This is the first film featuring Jackie Chan as archaeologist Jackie Chan.

Chandni Chowk to China (2009)
This is another China/India mashup that flopped, but it has its moments.