'Chandni Chowk': Across Asia, Lightheartedly

Akshay Kumar i i

Kung Fu King: Sidhu (Akshay Kumar) practices his moves in Chandni Chowk to China. Sheena Sippy/Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Sheena Sippy/Warner Bros. Pictures
Akshay Kumar

Kung Fu King: Sidhu (Akshay Kumar) practices his moves in Chandni Chowk to China.

Sheena Sippy/Warner Bros. Pictures

Chandni Chowk to China

  • Director: Nikhil Advani
  • Genre: Action farce
  • Running Time: 168 minutes

Not Rated: Cartoonish violence, playful vamping

Deepika Padukone i i

Sweet And Sour: Deepika Padukone plays two sides of a bad penny as twin sisters Sakhi and Meow Meow. Sheena Sippy/Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Sheena Sippy/Warner Bros. Pictures
Deepika Padukone

Sweet And Sour: Deepika Padukone plays two sides of a bad penny as twin sisters Sakhi and Meow Meow.

Sheena Sippy/Warner Bros. Pictures

A humble vegetable chopper slices an archvillain down to size in Chandni Chowk to China, a pan-Asian action farce. Utterly derivative but highly entertaining, the movie is in large part a Hindi-language homage to Hong Kong's Stephen Chow, the director-star of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.

And in a few ways, Chandni Chowk is unprecedented: It's Bollywood's first kung fu comedy, and it's getting the widest American release ever for an Indian movie, opening in more than 50 U.S. cities.

Otherwise, however, Chandni Chowk is standard Bollywood fare, stuffed with plot, characters and musical numbers. Director Nikhil Advani hops from genre to genre, encompassing slapstick, action, parody, melodrama, romance, song-and-dance and self-help platitudes.

The movie shares one other quality with the typical Bollywood flick: It doesn't know when to stop. Running nearly three hours, Chandni Chowk may exhaust viewers who are unfamiliar with mainstream Indian cinema's more-more-more aesthetic.

The action begins in feudal times, as a lone hero battles to the death atop the Great Wall of China. (Chandni Chowk is hardly subtle in its use of locations.) Centuries later, some Chinese peasants become convinced that their champion has been reincarnated and will protect them against the oppressive Hojo (Gordon Liu).

Cut to Chandni Chowk, a teeming low-rent section of Delhi, where bumptious Sidhu (Akshay Kumar) carves potatoes in an open-air food stall. He is that reborn hero, or so two Chinese visitors inform him.

And so Sidhu enthusiastically travels to Shanghai, unaware why he's been summoned: Thanks to the language barrier — and a conniving friend — the naive chopper has no idea that he's supposed to kill Hojo, a martial-arts expert with an army of murderous goons.

Among Hojo's troops is Meow Meow, a slinky Indo-Chinese beauty. She is, unknowingly, the twin of Sakhi, the Indian spokesmodel for a Chinese-made device that turns klutzes into chorines. (Cue a satirical dance number.)

The sisters, both played by Deepika Padukone, are eminently stereotypical.

Sakhi is earthy and manipulative, a cross between hip-thrusting old-time temptress and spoiled economic-boom brat; Meow Meow is mysterious and somewhat sinister, a latter-day dragon lady in bangs, black leather and poisoned lipstick.

The twins will change, of course, as will Sidhu; after a few setbacks, the Indian visitor expands his expertise from curry to kung fu. If his training sequences recall Uma Thurman's in Kill Bill, that's no coincidence; Chandni Chowk's final dance number includes a frisky tribute to Quentin Tarantino's revenge opus.

The movie also bows to Jackie Chan's "drunken master," Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower and the James Bond franchise. (Hojo has an Odd Job hat, while Sakhi acquires nifty gadgets from her own personal Q.)

But Chandni Chowk's principal model is Stephen Chow's comedic style, which combines chop-sockey and CGI to yield genre burlesques with the snap, crash and pop of a Road Runner cartoon.

Curiously for a Bollywood movie, Chandni Chowk can boast only a lackluster Indo-pop score, and its dance numbers seem abbreviated and perfunctory.

That's just as well, though. Even fans who enjoy every aspect of this hit-or-miss romp will probably not wish it were a minute longer.

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