It’s China in 1941 and the Imperial Japanese Army is on the move. A band of freedom fighters led by Ma Yuan (Jackie Chan) seek to hijack a train line that transports food supplies to the invaders, get away with the loot and feed the starving locals. Smooth sailing, right? Not if you know Chan’s work.
Director Ding Sheng (“Little Big Soldier,” “Police Story”) aims for American Western ambience, complete with a gun-slinging cast. Chan’s son Jaycee, fresh out of a much-publicized six-month prison term for drug charges, co-stars with dad. The two share some memorable scenes together — notably when being interrogated by Cmdr. Ken Yamaguchi (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), they start arguing about who is more handsome.
Now 63 years old, Chan isn’t exactly in full form here but the movie is mindful of the days when his action acrobatics held the world in thrall. The train heist scenes are carefully choreographed, no doubt to give Chan more leeway and CG boost, and the abundant use of explosives takes time away from real break-a-leg stunts. Sheng makes the right choices in setting the mood of the story, though. Rather than drench “Railroad Tigers” in tragic monotones, he goes all in on warm orange hues that give the overall feel of a distinctly European tinge. It’s not an obvious choice, but it works.
Ironically, “Railroad Tigers” feels most like a Chinese movie when the evil Yamaguchi is in the frame, throwing his oppressor weight around. But perhaps Sino-Japanese relations — at least in film — have come to a point where we can poke mild fun at history’s darkest chapters.