"The Myth" messily reps Jackie Chan in epic mode as a contempo archaeologist drawn into a plot to plunder the treasure of the Qin Dynasty's first emperor. Helmer Stanley Tong's multi-period adventure flirts with considerable entertainment on one hand and near self-destruction on the other. Ancillary should flex muscles in most territories.

Resembling a story session where many ideas are brainstormed and few stick, “The Myth” messily reps Jackie Chan in epic mode as a contempo archaeologist drawn into a plot to plunder the treasure of the Qin Dynasty’s first emperor. As part of a movement in H.K. cinema to return to the ambitious movies of yore, helmer Stanley Tong’s multi-period adventure flirts with considerable entertainment on one hand and near self-destruction on the other. Whether Chan’s star power will pull in enough international biz is doubtful, though ancillary should flex muscles in most territories.

However far “The Myth” falls short of its desires to be a spectacular drama-comedy-swords spectacle, it ranks far above such previous botched Chan-Tong adventures as “Jackie Chan’s Police Strike” and “Rumble in the Bronx,” and marks one of Tong’s rare forays into period. At the same time, pic embodies the high-stakes risks inherent in switching between multiple genres, particularly considering the story’s central point is nearly lost in the process.

Chan first appears as emperor Qin Shihuang’s intrepid Gen. Meng Yi, facing off against a rebel force trying to grab back princess Ok Soo (Kim Hee Seon, in her Chinese debut), who’s slated to be married to the emperor. An over-extended and failed rescue wakes up Chan, who’s actually successful archaeologist Jack.

He roams around his astonishing, lavish ultra-mod H.K. pad, complete with a movable roof that reveals a golfing green. (Kudos to Oliver Wong’s splashy production design.)

Scientist pal William wants to find a gravity-defying gemstone that Qin sent to India, as well as Qin’s mythical mausoleum, said to contain the secret to eternal life. But the scheme amounts to an illegal raid on the Hindu complex where Qin’s gift lies.

While this goes against Jack’s ethics, his dreams of being Gen. Meng seem to be making mush of his judgment, so Jack goes along with the plan. As William extracts the gem, Jack ends up with a rare, potent Qin sword, and barely escapes a squad of temple guards.

Tong punctuates these antics with various action set-pieces, including a nifty and brief sword fight and a ridiculously overdone chase on the sticky treadmill in a glue factory.

Jack’s dreams continually intrude on the action, demonstrating that if he isn’t the reincarnation of Gen. Meng, then he’s surely watched his share of He Ping movies. Serving as her loyal guardian, Meng assists the princess as they venture farther and farther into the wilderness. Climax is unexpectedly bloody for a Chan pic.

Story’s back-and-forth grows tiresome, as one story strand is often cut short to catch-up with the other, and Tong seems unable to make the past flow emotionally or cinematically into the present.

For a world-famous vet archaeologist, Chan’s Jack is awfully gullible, not realizing until it’s nearly too late that he’s been hoodwinked by William into serving the evil purposes of patron Mr. Ku (Sun Zhou, ideally cast), who lusts to live forever.

Final set piece goes on forever, as Jack penetrates a cavern leading to the mythical mausoleum, where Qin’s soldiers stand in suspended, gravity-free animation before a giant temple. Slo-mo battle proves to be a mildly amusing contrast to typical high-speed chop-socky, but Tong isn’t able to stage the complex fighting for maximum effect.

This time out, Chan is unusually short of his natural cheeriness. Kim is truly alluring and worth fighting for, while a sequence featuring Bollywood star Mallika Sherawat feels tacked on.

Production falls several shades short of world-class, with cheap visual effects and much of the period-set lensing, which appears disconcertingly squeezed.

The Myth

Hong Kong-China

Production

An Emperor Motion Pictures Distribution release (in China) of a JCE Movies presentation in association with China Film Group Corp. of a Jackie Chan production. Produced by Willie Chan, Solon So, Barbie Tung. Executive producers, Jackie Chan, Albert Yeung, Willie Chan, Yang Bu Ting. Directed by Stanley Tong. Screenplay, Tong, Wang Hui Ling, Li Hai Shu.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Wong Wing Hang ; editor, Yau Chi Wai; music, Nathan Wang;  production designer, Oliver Wong; costume designer, Thomas Chong; sound (Dolby Digital), Kinson Tsang, Li Tao, Andrew Behetty; sound designer, Tsang; visual effects, DCDC; stunt directors, Jackie Chan, Albert Yeung, Willie Chan, Yang Bu Ting. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala), Sept. 16, 2005. Running time:  118 MIN.

With

Jack/Meng Yi - Jackie Chan Ok Soo - Kim Hee Seon William - Tony Leung Ka Fai Samantha - Mallika Sherawat Mr. Ku - Sun Zhou Nangong Yin - Shao Bin
With: Jin Song, Choi Min Soo, Tam Yiu Man. (Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Korean, Hindi dialogue)

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