Jackie Chan collaborates once more with director Benny Chan (“Who Am I?”, “New Police Story” and “Shaolin”), and briefly reunites with his Peking Opera brother Yuen Biao, in this smash hit action comedy about a madcap pair of thieves who end up kidnapping a baby! Also starring Louis Koo and Michael Hui. Known as “Robin-B-Hood” and “Project BB” in some territories.
Jackie Chan returns to the action-comedy genre, but this time with a twist. His character “Thongs” is a compulsive gambler and professional thief!
One of Hong Kong’s most popular and highest-earning actors, Louis Koo plays “Octopus”, Thongs’ partner-in-crime, who likes to spend his ill-gotten gains on an expensive lifestyle to impress the girls, even though he has a pregnant wife. Koo has forged an impressive career in an eclectic collection of roles ranging from Johnny To’s “Election” and “Drug War”, through to thrillers such as “Connected”, “Overheard” and “The White Storm”, the “All’s Well That Ends Well” comedy series, and of course, supporting roles in the martial arts films “Flash Point” and “SPL 2: A Time for Consequences“.
Comedian and Jackie Chan’s co-star from “The Cannonball Run” Michael Hui is “The Landlord”. He has mentored Thongs and Octopus for over twenty years. Instead of spending his share of the loot, the Landlord instead stashes it in a safe in his home. Reuniting with Jackie Chan for their first proper onscreen appearance together since 1988’s “Dragons Forever” is Yuen Biao as “Inspector Steve Mok”, a policeman investigating the baby’s disappearance.
Former child star and Cantopop singer in the seventies and eighties, Teresa Carpio plays “The Landlady”, The Landlord’s wife. Driven mad by the death of her only son many years earlier, the Landlady carries a doll of a baby boy with her at all times. Mainland Chinese actress Gao Yuanyuan plays “Melody”, a student nurse who teaches Thongs and Octopus how to take care of the baby.
Another veteran of “Gen-X Cops” and “New Police Story” is Terence Yin as “Max”, the unhinged former boyfriend of the baby’s mother who claims the boy is his. Dramatic actor Chen Baoguo stars as Max’s father and Triad boss “Godfather”. Having lost his only son Max, he will stop at nothing to capture the baby. Regular Jackie Chan co-star Ken Lo plays Triad henchman “Baldie” and Hiro Hayama, who also appeared in “New Police Story”, is his fellow minion, “Tokyo Joe”. Popular Cantopop star Charlene Choi plays the wife of Octopus.
In guest cameo roles are next generation stars Daniel Wu and Nicholas Tse as a gay couple working as armoured car drivers!
Thongs is a compulsive, and not very successful, gambler. Octopus is a hopeless womaniser. As a pair of technically-gifted burglars they work together for Landlord, who is trying to amass enough money to retire, whilst Thongs and Octopus fund their respective lifestyles with their share of the loot.
When they are discovered robbing a hospital of expensive medication, Thongs and Octopus inadvertently cross paths with the psychopathic Max, the son of a Triad boss. Max is obsessed with his ex-girlfriend, and believing he is the father of her newborn baby snatches the child. In a tragic turn, Max and the baby plummet from an escalator, but Thongs manages to save the baby.
A few months later, Thongs has mounting debts due to his gambling and has been disowned by his family. Octopus can’t keep up with the expense of his flashy lifestyle and spending on demanding girlfriends and also discovers that his wife is pregnant. In the meantime, all their loot is stolen from Landlord’s safe. Desperate to restore their finances, they accept a multi-million dollar offer to kidnap the baby for Max’s grief-stricken Triad father…
The action kicks off with our two anti-heroes, Thongs and Octopus, stealing expensive medication from a hospital. Having raised the suspicions of the security guards, an athletic chase through the hospital ensues. There are plenty of comic moments, with Jackie Chan acrobatically hiding in an already occupied toilet cubicle, and still managing to indulge his gambling habit! Louis Koo is less acrobatic but equally as funny when he pretends to be a mourning relative of a complete stranger.
Jackie Chan can never use a staircase properly in his films, and performs an impressive slide down a long, curved banister. After Max, the psychotic ex-boyfriend snatches the baby, Jackie saves the infant with a characteristic leap over the escalators, much like in his original “Police Story” film.
Following a montage illustrating Thongs’ gambling habit and Octopus’ philandering, Thongs fights a group of surly loan sharks. He hops over an opponent on the stairs, whilst still delivering his wide-shot, single take, rhythmical fight choreography. Having ended up hanging from a balcony, in classic Jackie Chan style, he scales the side of a tall building. Using vertigo inducing camerawork, Jackie jumps from one wall-mounted air conditioning unit to another, down 10 floors or so, only to bump into his old friend Yuen Biao! Jackie’s next scrap with the debt collectors is a brief inventive fight with a pole, in which he ends up crucifying one of the thugs through his shirt sleeves.
The kidnapping sequence uses a mix of Jackie’s love of gadgets, such as a collapsible step ladder or the LED lights our three leads use, and circus-like skills as they scale the walls, using each other to climb, flip and roll. There’s a nice little touch during their escape when Louis Koo and Michael Hui swap seats in the front of their minivan. Jackie Chan films are nothing if not always inventive.
Hilarity ensues when the Landlady pays an unexpected visit to the apartment of Thongs and Octopus, as they try to hide baby. The nipple scene and washing machine conclusion are outrageously funny.
A montage of comic scenes dealing with everyday baby issues such as nappies, buggies, feeding bottles etc. follows, but all dealt with in Jackie’s unique way. Thongs even goes gambling with the baby in a papoose!
When Ken Lo and his gang of thugs confront the pair at a day care centre, they fight on a trampoline. It’s arguably the most disappointing of the action scenes in this film, involving mostly jumping and using lots of wire work.
The action infinitely improves in a situation comedy set piece when the debt collectors, Yuen Biao, Octopus’s wife, Ken Lo and his henchman, all arrive at the apartment. Thongs distracts the ensemble, while Octopus tries to hide the baby. It inevitably turns into a scrap with the various factions all competing to achieve their own agendas. It’s nice to see that Yuen Biao can still throw a decent kick and has lost none of his timing when he tries to cuff Jackie.
The scene progresses into more traditional stunts when the baby in his buggy ends up hooked onto the back of an armoured truck, driven by Nicholas Tse and Daniel Wu as the comedy gay couple. Louis Koo performs some of the stuntwork himself, clinging onto the bonnet of a speeding car. Jackie demonstrates his incredible timing and risk-taking, as he hangs out of a car window, lifting his torso at the very last second, as another vehicle smashes into the side. The stunt replays in slow motion so you can really appreciate just how close he was to being crushed in the impact.
A fairground complete with Ferris wheel and roller coaster provide great props for Jackie and his stunt team to play with. Louis Koo looks like he’s genuinely terrified as he scales the Ferris wheel. Meanwhile, Jackie displays his split second timing as he leaps from track to track to avoid the looping roller coaster cars.
Inside the villain’s lair we are treated to an extended fight scene. Jackie has lots of props to leap over and there are plenty of glass panes to be smashed. In terms of fighting moves, Jackie fires off a lot of kicks, more so than in a lot of his films of that era and since. As always, Jackie likes to incorporate everything in his surroundings into his fight choreography. Props used as weapons include a synthesiser keyboard, a drum kit, a quad bike, an electric fan and a freshly loaded nappy! Much of the choreography and comedy here hark back to his films of the late 80’s and early 90’s.
As the end credits roll, the outtakes reveal some painful and also very funny mishaps. My favourite one involves Yuen Biao fluffing his lines after Jackie had just jumped down the side of an apartment building in one shot!
I sometimes feel this is a bit of a lost classic from Jackie’s films of the 21st century, especially to western audiences. The core of the plot is basically “Three Men and a Baby” done Jackie Chan-style. Paradoxically however, there are also some pretty dark themes running alongside the comedy.
Jackie displays some deep emotions in his conflict with his father after the family disown Thongs because of his lifestyle. Louis Koo’s antics and attitude as Octopus towards women is totally outrageous. In a quite spiteful scene when his wife explains she is pregnant, Octopus tells her to get an abortion. The Landlady cuts quite a sorry figure as a confused wife who lost her only child. Darkest of all though is the motivation for the Triad Godfather to order the baby’s kidnap. Overcome with grief, he has his dead son’s corpse frozen and plans to “reunite” his alleged baby grandson with his father.
Benny Chan has shown in so many films that he is great when it comes to directing action and can handle comedy really well, but he is always so heavy-handed with drama. Jackie Chan and especially Louis Koo handle the serious moments well even so. The dramatic ending involving trying to save the life of the baby is extremely tense and emotional, thanks in no small part to the performance of the lead actors.
Where the film excels is in its cocktail of comedy, action and stunts. There really are some laugh-out-loud moments in this movie, irrespective of whether the audience is Chinese or not. The stunts and action are a occasionally derivative of Jackie’s older films, but that’s no bad thing when you consider their quality. In recent years Ken Lo has become a master of the bald-headed henchman role, whether it is played in all seriousness or for laughs. In this film he is an hilarious foil for Thongs and Octopus to spar with. And of course it is always a pleasure to see Yuen Biao pairing up onscreen with Jackie Chan!
Central to the success this film has in rising above any shortcomings it has is the chemistry and performances of Jackie Chan and Louis Koo. They make a great double act, and I for one would be happy to see the pair team up again either in a sequel or another comedy.
If you want a good old-fashioned bit of slapstick comedy with some nostalgic Jackie Chan action thrown in, Rob-B-Hood is well worth a watch!
- Over 100 auditions were held before the suitable baby was found to star in the film. Benny Chan chose Matthew Medvedev, a one-year-old infant of Chinese and Colombian descent. Medvedev, known as Baby Matthew, was literally recruited off the street when an assistant director spotted him with his parents on the MTR. Although his family was simply visiting Hong Kong, they agreed to stay and let Matthew appear in the film.
- Louis Koo was the baby’s favourite on set. Whenever the baby cried, Koo was always the first to cheer him up.
- Jackie Chan sings the theme song over the end credits.
- Jackie Chan had originally intended to co-star with both Yuen Biao and Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, reuniting the trio for the first time since 1988 film “Dragons Forever”. However, Hung declined due to a scheduling conflict.
- Director Benny Chan had previously worked with Jackie Chan on “Who Am I?” and “New Police Story”, and would later reunite with the star for “Shaolin“.