‘Kung Fu Yoga’ is An Overdose of Cultural Stereotypes

The Jackie Chan-starrer is formulaic and predictable, and tries a little too hard to be funny.


A still from Kung Fu Yoga.

The latest Jackie Chan-starrer, Kung Fu Yoga, an action comedy, like most movies, begins with a customary disclaimer whose first line reads, “This film is produced for entertainment.” That is the film’s first joke. Because this 102-minute film is anything – a litany of lame jokes, a case against sleeping pills, a testament to human stupidity – but entertainment it is not.

Right from its first few scenes, where everyone in China is talking in English (really?), Kung Fu Yoga is a series of misfires, wearing inauthenticity on its sleeves like a badge of honour. In fact, so little thought has gone behind this film that it can be deconstructed just by its title.

First, Kung Fu – what images come to mind (think quickly, think without nuance): China, martial arts, Jackie Chan? Good. Now, Yoga: India, Indians, exotica? Bang on. Now combine the two and you get – no surprises here – Kung Fu Yoga.

Centered on a Chinese archaeologist, Jack (Chan), who is trying to locate a lost treasure in India, Kung Fu Yoga’s story is so formulaic and predictable that you feel bad for anyone trying to make money out of this movie. Sure, not all stories are inherently engaging, but it’s a filmmaker’s job to make them watchable and interesting: by skillfully varying the tone, by structuring it smartly, by popping up surprises. Kung Fu Yoga does none.

In fact, this snoozefest masquerading as a film is an exercise in tedium. When it’s not being monotonous, it’s trying to be funny. Trying – it must be said – a little too hard.

Just a glimpse of what passes of as humour in this movie: a character wiping her running nose on the sleeve of another, people slipping from tree branches, Chan getting trapped with a lion in the car and asking the beast, “Do you understand English?” This film made me nostalgic, because we used to crack better jokes in high school. Moreover, violence disguised as comedy, and comedy disguised as violence – a trope as old as it’s yawn inducing – just doesn’t work in this film. Kung Fu Yoga’s physical comedy too looks forced and, in many scenes, plain embarrassing.

Then there’s Sonu Sood, in the role of an avaricious angry man, who says such lines as, “Some call it destiny. I call it make it happen”; “I follow the law of nature. Only the strong survives”; “In here, I’m the government.” When he’s told to not wear shoes inside the temple, he almost ends up killing the priest. Maybe Sood’s character doesn’t need a treasure; maybe he just needs a therapy session. It’s a terrible part, made even more terrible by the actor’s constipated, annoyed look.

But, easily, the most annoying bit about this film is what it considers passes for India. Besides China and Dubai, a major part of the film is set in India, and it’s in this portion that Kung Fu Yoga reveals its laziness and insularity.

For instance, since Sood plays a man belonging to an Indian royal family, he is introduced via a scene where he’s riding a camel in a desert, with a bird perched on the back of his hand. Because, obviously, what says India more than a brown man on a camel in a desert?

One scene, in particular, where Sood’s underlings are chasing Chan and his colleagues, is laughably bad. To milk its ‘Indian-ness’, director Stanley Tong sets it in a local market, which looks less like a place and more an exhibition of orientalism. Here, we’ve snakes, snake charmers, magicians, men in turbans, a sage levitating in air, gulaal.

Tong and his crew, from the film, look like the kind of people who come to India, pay for a “slum tour”, go back to their countries, patting themselves on the back, claiming to have understood an entire country. Or the kinds who failed cultural studies class in college. Either way, Kung Fu Yoga is not a film; it’s a tourist guide. And you wonder why it exists.

  • Rohini

    For a REAL review of this film.. it is hackneyed but a sort of lazy, not-trying-too-hard hackneyed. To use a colloquial term – it’s total time-pass kadle-kai. Watch it if you have nothing else to do – because you perhaps loved Chan in his heyday, whatever. Just don’t NOT watch it because of this hoity-toity ‘intellectual’ review.

    Some things that struck me about the film:

    1. India is picturised beautifully. The author says “Tong and his crew, from the film, look like the kind of people who come to India, pay for a “slum tour”, – A COMPLETE LIE. There is not a single scene of poverty porn as is the norm in Hollywood movies. In fact, India is picturised beautifully, showing fantastic medieval architecture. In KungFu Yoga Indians are archeologists, have PhDs, and speak in their natural Indian accents, not fake American ones. They are also princesses (yes, corny, remember?). Indian actors have substantial roles, not ones where they are hidden behind large beards and appear for all of 5 minutes (recall Naseer?).

    2. Each and every actor in the film speaks in his or her natural Indian accent, as do the Chinese folks – in their own accents. NO fake American. That WAS VERY refreshing. And we even have some real comedy where the Indian rope trick and the levitating sadhu and snake charmers are parodied for our viewing pleasure – and done in such a tongue-in-cheek manner that you enjoy it – rather than cringe at the way Hollywood does it
    3. All actors are given adequate screen space. Chan does not appear in every frame.
    4. The Kung-fu is nice…
    5. The messages in the movie are well worth it – that it is knowledge that is ‘true’ wealth and that archeological finds are meant to be enjoyed by the whole world and are not meant for individual greed. (the British museum would do well to look and learn and return the various global artefacts and archeological treasures that they own now because of individual greed – when they were stolen from the original sites in Greece, Egypt etc)

    Some more rebuttals on the author’s statements:

    1. “Right from its first few scenes, where everyone in China is talking in English (really?), ” – It’s a film DUBBED in English for audiences who want to watch in English, Einstein!

    2. “Chan getting trapped with a lion in the car and asking the beast, “Do you understand English?”” – First, it’s MEANT to be corny, AIB jokes, Aditi Jokes. Second, if you understood the significance of driving off with a Dubai Sheikh’s SUV, only to find a lion nuzzling you…you WOULD find it funny. The CONTEXT matters. Sheikhs have lions and tigers as pets. And just as you would drive around with your dog in the back, they could do so with their lion..or tiger. Did you miss the scene where the poor Sheikh is finally reunited with his ‘kidnapped’ lion?

    3. ” he almost ends up killing the priest” – NO, he doesn’t, don’t exaggerate. He merely shoves him down with a punch and moves on…as all good villains stay in character. He is not expected to meekly listen to the priest..he’s the villain. Though he has a change of heart at the very end and ‘becomes good’ and dances and sings with one and all. 🙂 I told you – it’s corny ..MEANT to be corny.
    4. “Because, obviously, what says India more than a brown man on a camel in a desert?” – ..Er. EINSTEN….the whole thing is set in Rajasthan. In case you didn’t recognize the palace – that’s the Amer Fort in Jaipur AND the temple is one of the Dilwara Rajasthan..AND if you still don’t get it…er..Rajasthan has the Thar DESERT? So, he rides a camel in the desert..get it?

    5. “Either way, Kung Fu Yoga is not a film; it’s a tourist guide” – A very nice tourists guide, if you ask me. Most are boring, THis one has…ACTION!

    🙂 CHiLL….take a chill pill, buddy. Its a corny film but it still deserves a more honest review than yours.

    • Das

      Your post is far more objective, factual and “intellectual” than the reviewer. Love the way you rebut him point by point.