Festive fare for young and old

It is time for the annual Chinese New Year sweepstakes - the winner could walk away with millions of dollars, whether in the Toto draw or at the box office, where there are four festive titles in battle.

Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan is a regular fixture of the season. In action-comedy Kung Fu Yoga(PG13, 107 minutes, opens on Jan 27, 3/5 stars), his latest attempt to claim the holiday crown, he and director Stanley Tong pull out all the stops to appeal to just about everyone.

It highlights exotic and glamorous locations around the world, from the ice-and-snow landscape of Iceland to the over-the-top luxury on display in Dubai.

The diverse cast includes Bollywood beauties Disha Patani and Amyra Dastur, yoga goddess Mu Qimiya, dashing Aarif Rahman and singer-dancer Lay Zhang from South Korean boy band Exo.

Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Amyra Dastur and Mu Qimiya in Kung Fu Yoga. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

In order to tie all these disparate elements together, the story is something of a stretch.

Chan plays archaeology professor Jack, who is keen to track down the lost treasure of the Indian kingdom of Magadha.

However, the lengthy exposition of an ancient battle plays out like a none-too-involving computer game and the references to Indo-Sino friendship feel too much like pandering to a potentially large Indian audience.

Missing is the appeal of Chan as the scrappy underdog who triumphs against the odds - nowadays, he tends to be treated respectfully as the undisputed top dog.

But even a top dog will grimace and cower when he finds himself next to the king of beasts - a highlight of Kung Fu Yoga sees him stuck in a car during a high-octane chase scene with an actual, not CGI, lion. Chan is a hoot as he tries to gingerly placate the pi**ed-off cat.

A joyous Bollywood dance extravaganza aptly wraps up the proceedings. It might not be part of Chinese tradition, but it is celebratory.

The most ostensibly festive entry is The Fortune Handbook (PG, 99 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2/5 stars). Mark Lee plays a fortune god-in-training who meddles in the affairs of lazy Soh Hock (Christopher Lee) and his industrious brother-in-law Hao Xing (Li Nanxing).

Prosperity, the importance of family and bak kwa are key themes of this holiday season and they are all here in this work from director Kelvin Sng (Taxi! Taxi!, 2013), but the end result is far from savoury.

Bak kwa gets quite a bit of play because Christopher Lee is the ambassador for a certain brand - and so does green tea, which Vivian Lai even breaks from her character as Soh Hock's wife to promote.

Attempting to claim the holiday crown are Maxi Lim, Gadrick Chin, Ryan Lian and Wang Lei in Take 2. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

While product placements in a film might be a necessary evil, a film-maker knows his work is in trouble when his characters laugh more than the audience - hearing laughter on the screen is not the same thing as watching a funny film.

The most entertaining thing in the movie is Christopher Lee's performance as the vain, hairspray-toting Soh Hock, which at least feels a little fresh and different.

At first glance, the other local festive film, Take 2(PG13, 108 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars), seems to be a rather curious offering, given that ex-cons trying to move on is not exactly the most obvious Chinese New Year topic. But the theme of starting afresh does fit in with the notion of new beginnings.

It is a pity that debutant director Ivan Ho, who was scriptwriter for Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen (2015), cannot quite decide if he wants to do a drama or a comedy.

Ryan Lian (Long Long Time Ago, 2016) has potential as a brooding leading man in what could have been a moving story of how a jailbird father redeems himself in his estranged son's eyes.

But he is surrounded here by discordant notes, from Dennis Chew in a number of cross-dressing roles to Chen Tianwen as a crazily flamboyant nemesis to a bizarre soundtrack of European songs.

There is yet another contender for the Chinese New Year box- office crown and that is Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back, which opens on Saturday.

Lin Gengxin as the Monkey King in Journey To The West: The Demons Strike Back. PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

The final festive offering is from Hong Kong funnyman Stephen Chow, a proven box-office magnet here like Chan is.

The prints will be arriving just in time for its sneak previews on Friday and opening on Saturday, but the movie likely will not need good reviews to boost its takings.

Its predecessor, Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons (2013), was a hit even though Chow did not act in it - he co-wrote, produced and directed it.

He has even less involvement this time around - only a producing credit. Yet his name is still prominently featured in the trailer.

Now that is star power.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Festive fare for young and old'. Subscribe