When a threesome of thieves, Thongs, Octopus and Landlord (respectively, Jackie Chan, Louis Koo and Michael Hui), are in dire need of a big job, they undertake the task of kidnapping a small baby for a triad boss. Things get complicated and the gang are forced to protect the child at all costs when large amounts of money and various parties become involved in the proceedings.
Rob-B-Hood, the once planned return of legendary Peking Opera School brothers and co-stars, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao (which would have been their first all-together appearance since 1988’s Dragons Forever and would have seen them playing the trio of burglars we now have, albeit cast differently, in the finished film) sadly did not come to fruition as initially intended by Chan himself. The third collaboration between the star and director Benny Chan (following 1999’s Who Am I? and New Police Story from 2004) sadly only reunites two thirds of the proposed cast list with Yuen Biao being relegated to a supporting role as Inspector Steve Mok, a police officer on the trail of the band of thieves. Louis Koo and Michael Hui (a legend in his own right) round out the cast as Chan’s partners in crime; not forgetting Matthew Medvedev as the young baby caught up in all the action.
Straight away, fans expecting a return-to-form or a dramatic efficiency showcased in previous Chan vehicles such as Shinjuku Incident (2009) will be sadly disappointed with what the film has to offer. Whilst the narrative is simple and understandable, the speed in which it rolls forward verges on the ridiculous. Musical montages are slammed out in the blink-of-an-eye with characters introduced and strung into the narrative in microseconds containing little in the way of an attempt to convey any realistic growth or interaction between players. Along with layers of ham fisted melodrama, tasteless and heavy-handed music cues popping up and certain shots being randomly and frequently sped up, it all adds up to an editing style reminiscent of some faux-drama reality TV-show.
We also have on the negative side a criminally underused Michael Hui (who comes off unlikeable and unfunny, two traits the Hong Kong thespian has never showcased in all his acting life) and copious amounts of CGI, which aside from replacing our infant star in dangerous scenes (which is understandable), takes away authenticity from the stunts performed by Chan. An ongoing battle of “did he actually do that or was it enhanced with a computer” will no doubt be played in the viewers’ minds, as some scenes are very noticeable with their use of technical aid. Although on paper, we have some of the best ideas for stunts Chan has come up with in a while, they’re frustratingly not performed with the valour or credibility of his older work.
What we do have in Rob-B-Hood though is humour and in this category, co-star Louis Koo most definitely delivers the goods and outshines his elders with charm and charisma, pulling off the physical humour and verbal gags well. At its core, the film is quite cute and sweet and the vast majority of the humour comes from two men, both very unsuitable to be fathers, adapting to a lifestyle which neither know and them trying to care for, and in the long run, love and protect an innocent child. The rest of the cast is very forgettable, aside from a bald-headed turn from former JC Stunt Team member Ken Lo and the times on screen where Yuen Biao does pop up to relive a small amount of the chemistry him and Chan once shared. These scenes, although brief and really no big-hitters in the action or comedy stakes, in themselves will have fans wishing the film had indeed turned out the way it was once envisioned.
For the casual movie going public, the film is light, silly and childish fun. Alas, on the other hand, there is a line which Yuen Biao’s character, standing next to his co-star and ‘big brother’ Jackie Chan, utters at one point in the film: “Then let’s reminisce”. For fans of the legendary three brothers, they may be spending the duration of Rob-B-Hood doing just that.
Tom Kent-Williams is a writer, reviewer and co-host at the Podcast On Fire Network currently residing in Birmingham, England. He has been in love with Asian cinema since seeing Akira for the first time and has a slight man-crush on Chow Yun-fat. Hong Kong cinema floats his boat big time, along with synthpop, classic gaming and cups of tea in large mugs.