Fistful Of Film Fury

Benny Chan’s ‘Robin-B-Hood: Serviceable in Action, Lackluster in Comedy

Thongs (Jackie Chan) and Octopus (Louis Koo) are thieves working under the auspices of their long-standing mentor Landlord (Michael Hui), who also happens to be the actual landlord of the apartment complex they dwell in. Their most recent assignment takes them to a hospital to snatch a bounty of costly drugs to be sold on the black market, but they aren’t the only souls trying to steal something: a crazed man nearly gets away with a newborn baby. Shunned for his former lover, the unstable fellow perishes in a dramatic fall from a high floor with the baby coming an inch from losing its life as well were it not for Thongs’ heroics. Shortly thereafter Thongs, Octopus, and Landlord find themselves dragged into another heist operation, one that can help them all mend their severe money concerns. Lo and behold, this new mission involves stealing the same baby they saved at the hospital and delivering him to a triad gang lord. Neither Thongs nor Octopus knows much about newborns, but they’ll have to learn now!

Benny Chan’s Robin-B-Hood takes a cue right of the playbook of jokes about how men haven’t the faintest clue how to take loving care of babies, which itself was used as the premise for the Leonard Nimoy directed comedy Three Men and a Baby from 1987. In fact, many of the beats and jokes of that famous film are replicated by Benny Chan and his cast for the purposes of this movie. With that in mind, one could almost make the argument that Robin-B-Hood is a Honk Kong remake of the aforementioned American picture, only with a bit more action spread throughout and alterations made to the lifestyles of the central figures. Jackie Chan and Louis Koo do not, however, offer the same brand of charm as do Tom Selick, Ted Danson and Steve Guttengerg. The Honk Kong style of zany comedy is in full force, which can prove a potent tool when handled with craft. While Robin-B-Hood doesn’t fall into the Stephen Chow wheelhouse of slapstick humour, Benny Chan’s picture is a surprisingly bland, uninventive film that struggles to produce more than a few chuckles and thrills.

Before lambasting the brand of humour found in this film it should be acknowledged that the comedy is a deceptively subjective type of movie to watch and enjoy…or watch and dislike. What one person finds uproarious is enough to put another individual to sleep. Certainly, the Hong Kong cinema scene has successfully exported a number of comedies over the years that struck a chord with audiences elsewhere around the globe. Despite the brief snide remark aimed at Stephen Chow, the fact remains that Kung Fu Hustle was one of the most positively received and successful films the year it came out, making it abundantly clear there exists an audience for this sort of film. Even when viewed under that light, Robin-B-Hood is not nearly up to the standards such films are capable of attaining. Juggling disparate tones is a feat only the best filmmakers can accomplish, and something Benny Chan and his team are not capable of doing in this particular example. If the idea of seeing either Jackie Chan or Louis Ko (both extremely likable performers by and large) being on the receiving end of a diaper packed with excrement in the face just after either one has had a very dramatic and serious conversation with a family member is one’s idea of a great film, then Chan’s endeavor will please during its two-hour-long running time. If those two ideas sound like they shouldn’t go together, then one would best stay far away.

There are large stretches during which it simply does not appear as though the cast and crew know exactly what movie they want to share with the viewer. Crippling gambling habits, father-son issues, abortion, bachelors learning to take care of a newborn, triad gangsters, three or four jokes involving a baby’s stool, so much is crammed into the film it’s no wonder it feels discombobulated and, even worse, that it overstays its welcome. It lacks discipline, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that, during one of the interviews in the special features section of the Canadian blu-ray release, director Benny Chan makes it quite clear that the script was expediently written.

Thankfully there exist some nuggets of gold, both with regards to the comedy and the action, that may help appease certain viewers and carry them over until the next highlight. By 2006 Jackie Chan was no longer as sprightly a fellow as in his Drunken Master days, but he manages to whip up some impressive, comically inclined action stunts. For as long as he has been an international star the actor has demonstrated outstanding inventiveness and physical prowess with choreography that took full advantage of the props and geography of film sets. Robin-B-Hood, while occasionally and unfortunately concealing some of the actor’s physical limitations via shoddy editing techniques, does sport a few neat battles and chases, chief among them a rousing and hilarious attack by the triads against Thongs and Octopus in their apartment in which bunk beds and sliding doors play a large role. Another exhilarating scene involves Jackie Chan avoiding a speeding cart on a roller coaster track whilst hanging on to the coveted infant.

What someone takes away from the film will greatly depend on their familiarity with Jackie Chan pictures and the general Hong Kong blend of action and comedy. For the newcomers, Robin-B-Hood might fit the bill as an interesting discovery, a gateway film to a world of jaw-dropping action flicks involving hypnotizing choreography. However, most seasoned viewers will quickly recognize that there are funnier, better written, more original films out to seek, not to mention far superior Jackie Chan vehicles. Don’t be fooled by the cute baby.

-Edgar Chaput

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