I've seen most of Chan's ouvre and, as I was watching this enjoyable little film, I kept thinking to myself, "Wow, a JC film that feels modern." Of course Chan has other films that "feel modern", like some of his recent American fare, but even those play for wide audiences and are conventional. "Little Big Soldier" feels more like a major Hong Kong release that appeals to regular joes and an artier crowd; think "Hero" or "The House of Flying Daggers" only far less dramatic and with far less fanfare. The story, while fairly conventional, employs some storytelling touches that are more prevalent in modern films (the surprise situations that come about only because the main character is dreaming; the red-herrings that set you up to believe the story is about to go one way or will head one way only to go the other; the seemingly upside-down ending). The shooting locales and the visuals (while rarely expansive) are all stunning and expertly filmed. All of these things elevate "Little Big Soldier" and make it more than it probably ought to be. The movie is about Jackie Chan's seemingly deserting soldier who is not about being a soldier at all but about being a survivor. This is actually quite deceptive because Chan's soldier, while unorthodox, is a man of his army through-and-through but he is imbued with a mind of his own and a trickster spirit. The movie focuses heavily on Chan's character who ends up catching the general from the opposing army and he takes him, despite much trial and tribulation, back to his city. This movie is supposedly set at a time in China's history when there were several ruling (and warring) dynasties. It is about one man's take on life and how he passes this along to another, but both soldiers have some things to learn from each other.
There is a lot to like in the movie. It goes down easy and is non-abrasive. Chan, still capable of putting on some fun action scenes, plays someone closer to his age and who is a bit weary so the action suits his character; he is not the Chan of old who is fighting Benny Urquidez or a slew of diamond-obsessed mobsters and thug-punk street gangs at a breakneck, frenetic pace. Chan also does what he has talked about doing for a long time: he acts. There are a couple of scenes that showcase Chan's acting chops and his character's warm pathos. I think that this is my favorite Chan film of the last 5 years (not counting "The Forbidden Kingdom" but having the dream of Chan and Li together after so many years...that just isn't fair to compare by). Chan fans and non-fans alike can easily enjoy this movie. The younger audience probably will too.