Tanks on a Train
Taking place in 1941, Japan has already invaded most of Southeast Asia. Japanese soldiers guard the railroad between Tianjin and Nanjing in East China since it has become a primary source of transport for the military. A group of railroad workers led by Ma Yuan (Jackie Chan) use their knowledge of the railroad system to bushwhack the Japanese soldiers in order to ransack the locomotives for rations in order to feed and aid their Chinese brethren. Ma Yuan and his men utilize whatever they can in place of weapons such as hammers, pipes, and various other railroad tools they may find on their missions. Ma Yuan’s ragtag gang has been given the name “Railroad Tigers” and they’re finally about to take on that one big mission they’ve always craved even if they won’t return in one piece.
After Little Big Solider and Police Story: Lockdown, Railroad Tigers is the third collaboration between director Ding Sheng and actor Jackie Chan. This film is definitely more Little Big Soldier than Police Story since it’s Jackie Chan at his silliest. Railroad Tigers is overflowing with absurd comedy. Slapstick and physical comedy take precedence over character development and a coherent story. The action comedy throws what seems like two dozen characters at you in less than half an hour, so it seems impossible to keep track of everyone.
The film has a fairly cool art style that’s utilized every so often, but mostly resides in the opening credits. Along with the expected song sung by Jackie Chan in the background, the opening of the film is extremely stylized as every color of the rainbow rushes your eye sockets. The animation is cel shaded, which mostly means that computer generation has a flattened appearance in order to look like it was traditionally animated. Also attached during the end credits are the bloopers that have become associated with Jackie Chan pictures over the years. While his recent films can mostly be described as a jet propelled nosedive in quality in comparison to the films Chan made in his prime, the bloopers are just as fun today as they were twenty and thirty years ago.
There really isn’t much to the formula of Railroad Tigers. Ma Yuan is devoted to pulling off something big in his remaining years. He’s still in love with his deceased wife and wants to prove he can do something of this magnitude despite having a new love interest that he refuses to marry. They take on the mission of blowing up a railroad bridge after a brief encounter with a wounded soldier. They sacrifice their lives for the sole purpose of proving themselves, which seems like a waste in the long run.
Everything in between caters to being as silly as possible. Jackie Chan has always injected comedy into his action scenes, so there’s definitely a natural quality to some of these sequences. The humor even hits its mark sometimes and you’ll laugh out loud on occasion. The issue is that you have no attachment to any of these characters. They’re too busy eating pancakes, hanging out at noodle shops, and shoving gun barrels up each other’s anuses.
It’s unusual to see Jackie Chan in a film that revolves around so much violence. More in tone with Chan’s 2011 historical drama 1911 than any other film in his filmography, Railroad Tigers is loaded with gunfire, explosions, blood, and death. It’s awkward to see Chan firing a weapon with bloodied soldiers on the other end of it. He seems to acknowledge how uncomfortable this is for everyone involved with the clunky way he handles a rifle.
There’s some satisfying entertainment found within Railroad Tigers. The tank sequences on the train are a lot of fun and Jaycee Chan is surprisingly memorable as Rui Ge despite his limited amount of screen time, but the film is mostly all humor with no substance. Railroad Tigers is Jackie Chan’s Monument’s Men. There are elements of Robin Hood and the concept is basically a “what if” of Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, or The Three Stooges attempting to execute a heist on a train. Railroad Tigers is a popcorn entertainment type of film with a basic execution meant to enjoy while turning your brain off and indulging in the comedic ridiculousness that’s right in front of you rather than focusing on the intellectual qualities found in film that are completely absent from the storyline.