Movie Review: Chandni Chowk to China
The Charlotte Observer
What are the odds there could be two movies eight months apart – both hilarious, both cartoonish – about out-of-shape vegetable cutters who are the adopted sons of restaurant owners, are told they're reincarnations of warriors, train at the hands of skeptical martial arts masters and defend a village in China from a murderous overlord?
The animated “Kung Fu Panda” made $215 million in America alone. The live-action “Chandni Chowk to China” probably won't make a tenth of that. But under their very different skins, their DNA is similar. Yet “Panda” is a model of lucidity by comparison. “Chandni Chowk” mixes Bollywood musical numbers, Chinese martial arts madness and a plot so far-fetched that twin sisters separated at birth are the least of its incredible convolutions.
By now, if you've flicked your eyes back to my star rating, you may have decided my head must still be spinning from the combination of breakdancing, roundhouse kicks, potato worship (a spud resembles the face of the Hindu god Ganesh) and a derby that decapitates victims with an iron rim, a device stolen from “Goldfinger.” (Director Nikhil Advani and writers Rajat Orora and Shridhar Ragavan have swiped from a dozen movies, notably the equally chaotic “Kung Fu Hustle.”)
But “Chandni Chowk” is the kind of madness to which you surrender unconditionally or not at all. You'll find the trans-Asian journey from the market street in Delhi to the tyrannized village in China bewitching or bewildering, with little room in between.
Akshay Kumar plays Sidhu. He's told his destiny is to save the village from Hojo (Gordon Liu), who enslaves its people to mine diamonds.
Sidhu longs for Miss TSM (Deepika Padukone), a TV personality who represents a company that makes bulletproof umbrellas and simultaneous translation machines. (Both come in handy.) He follows her to China, not realizing evil twin sister Meow Meow works for Hojo. Luckily, their dad – a police officer named Chiang (Roger Yuan) – survived his fall from the Great Wall 20 years before, though it affected his brain…
This confection is the first Bollywood film to get a wide U.S. release from a major studio, Warner Brothers. I puzzle at its bravery, but I salute it.