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Ocean Heaven / 1911


Jackie Chan and Jet Li keep their feet on the ground.

Rod Lott February 17th, 2012

It sucks getting old.

oceanheaven

Namely, your body starts to fail you. No longer are you as quick, nimble and flexible as in your prime. What’s an action hero to do? If you’re Jackie Chan and Jet Li — age 57 and 48, respectively — you start turning more and more to dramas. Coincidentally (or not), both martial-arts superstars have one new to Blu-ray and DVD from Well Go USA Entertainment.

For the “Expendable” Li, that’s “Ocean Heaven,” which casts him as Sam Wong (Wang in its original Chinese form), a widowed aquarium worker who cares for their only child, the 22-year-old Dafu (a wholly believable Lunmei Kwai, “The Stool Pigeon”), who is autistic. The cautious young man’s well-being, however, is up in the air when Sam learns he has late-stage liver cancer.

While trying desperately, unsuccessfully to find someone or some place to look after Dafu once the disease does its final damage in mere months, Sam strives to teach the mute boy everyday tasks, as simple as cracking an egg.
 
When Dafu and his dad first appeared onscreen, I assumed the worst, as the youth was shown clutching a seashell to his ear as they walked outdoors. After all, Asian filmmakers never have shied away from manipulative melodrama, so I braced myself for the Far East equivalent of a made-for-Lifetime movie, just with beautiful cinematography.

I never quite got that. Oh, “Ocean Heaven” veers close to those tear-jerking waters, but pulls back its toe so it can’t fall in. (But, yes, I did get misty-eyed at the end.) Credit the relative restraint of sophomore writer/director Xiao Lu Xue, of course, but give even more credit to Li, who gains viewers’ total compassion without having to work for it.

Here with graying temples and spectacles, the actor is just too likable — heck, that holds true even in the rare film in which he plays the villain, like “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.” That said, it’s simply a great performance.



The same cannot be said for “1911” and Chan, who also directs the historical epic about the Chinese revolution of its titular year that transformed the country from dynasty rule to republic. I’m sure this may taste better to history buffs — world history, in particular — but, geez, this is a dull watch, and this comes from a die-hard Chan fan. You should be warned that, despite his cover art and his name above the title, it’s a real stretch to call him the star. 

On one hand, it’s good to know that America is not the only country who can overdo the patriotic rah-rah. On the other hand, although the film is two hours, it felt like much more.

As with many entries in the subgenre of fact-based war films, “1911” is rich with period imagery. It looks fantastic, and Chan proves himself yet again to be a great director of action and activity.

What this effort lacks, however, is — if you’ll pardon the pun — engagement. I was bored silly by this dry depiction of a serious subject.

As you were. —Rod Lott

 
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