A martial arts-Bollywood hybrid seems so promising on paper. Both films are wildly popular, feature intricate footwork and are inherently cinematic. So why is Chandni Chowk to China, the explosively colorful love child borne of a forced marriage between the two, such a bore?
Part of the blame can easily be laid at the feet of a hefty running time. Clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, the film is too long for such a flimsy plot. Sidhu (Akshay Kumar), a cook in Delhi, is somehow mistaken for the reincarnation of Chinese war hero and tricked into heading to China to kill the evil Hojo (Gordon Liu).
Screenwriter Shridhar Raghavan fills out this slender story with twists and turns that can be seen from an hour away, leaving very little to look forward to for the rest of the 90-minute running time. Among his subplots are a factory that must surely create James Bond’s nifty gadgets, a shopping network model and her search for a long-lost father and twin sister, and enough cases of mistaken identity to induce a migraine. But his most egregious error is including a subtitle that tells the audience three months have passed, tricking us into thinking that Sidhu’s inevitably lengthy training montage will be skipped. Alas, those three months must have been too boring even for inclusion in this film, because absolutely nothing in the story has changed by the time we pick up the plot’s thread.
Surely, though, the plot of a Bollywood kung-fu comedy is beside the point. Unfortunately, so are the musical numbers. In a film that involves so much intricate fight choreography, a full-blown song-and-dance number suddenly erupting from nowhere is a jarring experience, particularly since it happens so infrequently. Every time someone breaks into song, it requires a few seconds of concentration before the memory of the film as a Bollywood production resurfaces—even with Bollywood’s biggest celebrity in the lead role.
Kumar’s stardom serves to prove that Americans aren’t the only ones with poor taste in whom they choose to bestow celebrity upon. Mugging his way shamelessly throughout, Kumar comes across as the Indian Adam Sandler, a man baby who thinks the fastest way to snag a laugh is to find increasingly exaggerated ways of sobbing like a child who has suddenly had candy snatched from his fist. He’s also done no favors by Raghavan’s script, which presents Sidhu as aggressively stupid until the film’s final moments.
Luckily, we’re also presented with new discovery Deepika Padukone in dual roles as good girl Sakhi and her long-lost twin sister Meow Meow, who could give Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill Volume 1 a run for her money. Alternately sweet and sour, Padukone is so surprisingly good that she almost makes the audience believe that Sakhimight fall for Sidhu. Also conjuring up images of Kill Bill is Gordon Liu (Pei Mei in Volume 2) as the murderous Hojo, clad in a lethal black bowler hat. Unfortunately, Chandni Chowk to China never captures our imagination the way those twin Tarantino films did, mostly thanks to a lead character who’s too dumb to root for, much less believe in. Maybe Deepika Padukone should have starred instead.
Chandni Chowk to China
Directed by Nikhil Advani
Running Time: 154 min.
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