Who knew that Indians and the Chinese could get along so well, or that their combination could produce such embarrassing results? Kung Fu Yoga has everything to do with Kung Fu, a 60-something veteran martial artist who isn't the Jackie Chan we know, cultural stereotypes, fictitious Indo-Chinese history and mythos, and misunderstood Indian dance forms, but zilch to do with yoga (except for the myths surrounding it). The joint venture is akin to Dumpling-Sambhar or Roti-Wanton Soup; you can blindly believe that it will taste terrible.
Indeed, when you enter the theatre, you expect an artful choreography. But what you get instead is the dragon and the tiger having a misadventure to produce a sad, formless chimera. Many love the offbeat hero Jackie Chan, but in Kung Fu Yoga, aside Sonu Sood, the fighter-artiste, who a few years ago shined in Karate Kid
, looks only like a shadow of his former self, and is completely out of place. And despite that, he is the saving grace for this movie, which tells you how awful it is.
So the Chinese borrow the tales of the Magadha empire (which, as per experts, existed in the sub-continent around 600 BC) and give it their own flavour, according to which there was a great battle between the empire and a Chinese dynasty. But with help from the other side of the Himalayas, the people of Magadha win, and attempt to cross the border with a fleet of people, spices, natural resources and wealth in order to establish their kingdom. But they die in the freezing cold and the killer weather of the Sino-Indian border. However, they leave behind an enchanted relic that is said to bring power to its wielder.
Years later, an archaeology professor and Kung Fu expert named Jack (Jackie Chan) puts together a team of Indian and Chinese researchers and treasure hunters including the acrobatic Jones Lee (Aarif Rahman), the Samwise Gamgee-like Zhang Yixing (Xiaoguang), the flexible and swift Miya Muqi (Noumin), an ever-smiling Ashmita (Disha Patani) and the invisible Kyra (Amyra Dastur), who set out on an expedition to rediscover the lost kingdom and bring back its glory to India. But there are other forces including Rajasthani prince Randall (Sonu Sood) who have their eyes set on tapping the powers of the artefacts, totems and talismans of yore for themselves.
At first the movie attempts to pull off an Indiana Jones-lite, but ends up maundering and derailing and disorienting you (thanks to the choppy editing). If that isn't enough, the dubbed dialogues of the Chinese actors are out of sync with their body language. And after a point, the audiences, despite Chan's hilarious gimmicks, stop comprehending the situation.
But the makers do not claim logic as Kung Fu Yoga's forte. The movie goes from the frozen Tibetan deserts to a filthy-rich Dubai (where Jack, in a genuinely funny sequence, gets to drive a car aside someone's spoilt pet lion) to a Rajasthan that is still stuck with snake charmers, flying sadhus and elephants. Thankfully, we spotted one Indian wearing jeans and holding a smartphone. But we guess he would retire to squatting in the open if the director wishes to pigeonhole Indians further.
There are also long harrowing scenes with impressive Kung Fu moves yet annoying noises (especially in the dubbed versions). And there are more lions, funny hyenas that can't have their last laugh (but are given enough to eat - good for them), boring expositions about India's fictitious or unverified past, frenemy tensions between Jack and Randall (they fight for a few minutes, stop, shake hands, talk about Indian history, and then fight again), patronizing the Indian audiences about their culture, and finally an atrocious dance number that made several people in the hall react like they just watched a sex scene with their parents beside them.
The terrible aesthetics (Wing-Hung Wong), the pretentious music (Nathan Wang, Komail-Shivaan), sloppy emoting by Patani, Sood and a few other Chinese cast members except Jackie Chan, unverified stereotypes about India, oodles of mumbo jumbo, and the unjustified title of the film, are a new low for the otherwise booming Mandarin film industry that gave us several meaningful hits in recent times.
Kung Fu Yoga still deserves some praise for being one of the first few attempts at mending India-China relations through art. Paying any money for it is taking it too far, though.