The Myth [神話] (2005)
AKA Jackie Chan’s The Myth

Starring Jackie Chan, Kim Hee-Sun, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Yu Rong-Guang, Sun Zhou, Maggie Lau Sze-Wai, Mallika Sherawat, Ken Lo, Patrick Tam Yiu-Man, Shao Bing, Ken Wong Hop-Hey, Jin Song, Yuen Tak, Hayama Hiro, Chan Sek, Park Hyun-Jin, Yao Wei-Xing, Choi Min-Soo, Ram Gopal Bajaj, Sudanshu Pandde

Directed by Stanley Tong

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.

One day in 2005 or 2006, I happened upon a Chinese DVD (without English subs) of The Myth in my library. Based on the cover art, I assumed that The Myth was a straight historical drama. Intrigued, I took it home to see if it had any fights. I scanned through the film quickly, didn’t see any, and then wrote the movie off until now. Imagine my surprise when I actually sat down to watch the film and I discovered that there is a wealth of action contained within it! And it’s really fun, entertaining, Jackie-style Jackie Chan action! Whoa!

The Myth begins during the Qin Dynasty, as General Meng Yi (Jackie Chan) receives a Korean princess, Ok-Soo (Kim Hee-Sun), who is to marry the ailing Qin emperor. During the handover, a Korean warrior attempts to kidnap Ok-Soo, but Meng Yi ain’t havin’ none of that. They clash in epic fashion, but Meng and OK-Soo become separated from the troops when they fall into a river fall below. As they hit the water, we are whisked to the future, as the respected archaeologist Jack Chan (Jackie Chan) awakes from a dream. This isn’t his first dream of the princess and a Qin Dynasty version of himself, and this troubles him greatly. As luck would have it, his next assignment — helping his friend William (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) uncover the secret of a levitating mystic in India — will shed a lot of light on these dreams. Who woulda thought it? It’s like a movie or something!

The story flips back and forth between the modern Jackie and his Qin Dynasty counterpart, slowly unfolding the tale at a sublime, satisfying pace. Most of the film doesn’t even have a villain; it’s all focused on uncovering the mystery and telling the story. The Myth captured my imagination right from the opening moments, and as the film progressed I only became more enthralled. But like the duality of Jackie’s lead characters, the film can also be broken into two halves. The first is classic Jackie Chan adventure of the highest order — it reminded me a lot of the Armour of God films — but the second half moves full-on into fantasy. I enjoyed it quite a bit — it’s actually an interesting blend of science, fantasy and history — but it’s easy to see many viewers unable to follow this leap to something so far from reality.

Along with the fantasy territory, The Myth features a fair amount of wirework in the choreography. I know that most Jackie fans don’t like him to use wires, but for this film they are necessary for the fantasy section to work properly. They also show up here and there in the other action scenes, but this is pretty much standard for Jackie in this period, and I think it is a great way for him to keep his choreography fresh and exciting. After so many years of relying almost entirely on his body and its abilities, the wirework represents a next step that sets this period apart from his earlier work. Some would say this is a bad thing, but since Jackie was always looking to deliver new and different styles of action, I see it as an evolution. Besides, he was in his 50s at this point, so you can’t really fault him for using a wire to do a flip here and there.

Regardless of the wires, the choreography is varied, unique and full of wonderful action, with the fight in the sticky, rat-trap paper factory as the big highlight. That scene only barely resembles a traditional fight because as it goes on the combatants find themselves sticking to the rat-trap paper as it rolls down the conveyor line. The sequence contains a wealth of inventive thinking and really delivers a fun, charming action scene that’s more about the lack of movement than the usual flurry. Jackie also works some weapon work into the other fights, specifically utilizing the sword to great effect in a dual battle that flips between Jack and Meng Yi. I’m always hopeful that Jackie might revisit the wuxia genre, since he never really went back to it after the Lo Wei days, but this wonderful sword fight may be the closest thing we ever get. Although, if his current, hectic pace is any indication, he may get around to it one of these days.

The US release runs something like 25 minutes shorter than the Hong Kong release, and I can’t imagine that making the film play better. It works perfectly in its original state, without much of anything that could be lost without affecting the narrative. So if you’re gonna check it out, I recommend seeing the original version (which is probably most accessible via CineAsia’s Region Free UK Blu-ray).

I can see this one possibly splitting the fan base, but I had an absolute hoot watching The Myth. It defied all of my expectations and delivered what is easily one of Jackie’s best films from the 2000s, and possibly my favorite so far.

Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan is Benny Chan’s Rob-B-Hood! See ya then!