To Western audiences, Chandni Chowk to China will seem much like any Bollywood movie would seem: a rather astonishing mess. Like the cinematic equivalent of someone appearing on Mr. Blackwell's Ten Worst-Dressed list, the movie is a garish mix of conflicting styles and genres, cross-pollinating overproduced musical numbers, cheesy melodrama, and kung-fu. The film is too long by at least 30 minutes and drags noticeably during the second half but, in large part because of its "kitchen sink" approach, it offers its share of bizarrely entertaining moments, although one suspects that the average American movie-goer who has never before experienced the unique flavor of a Bollywood production won't know what to make of Chandni Chowk to China.
The movie opens in the Chandni Chowk neighborhood in the city of Old Dehli, where a cook named Sidhu (Akshay Kumar) is about to get the surprise of his life. It seems that a couple of visitors from China have determined that he is the re-incarnation of a long-dead Chinese hero. Abetted by a con artist named Chopstick (Ravnir Shorey), they coax Sidhu into leaving behind his dad (Mithun Chakraborty) and heading to China, where he can rid their village of master kung fu crime lord Hojo (Gordon Liu). Of course, there's a girl involved. She's Sakhi (Deepika Padukone), a TV pitch woman who is the object of Sidhu's dreams until she plays a nasty trick on him. He encounters her again in China but discovers, to his confusion, that there appears to be two of her. That's because her estranged-from-birth twin sister, Suzy, is working as Hojo's henchwoman.
Chandni Chowk to China is the first Bollywood kung-fu movie, which is a little surprising, since kung-fu fits so well into this sort of motion picture. It also features the first-ever fight scene actually filmed atop the Great Wall, which is a coup of sorts.
The film is divided into two sections. The first is more lighthearted, and places Sidhu into an Inspector Clouseau-type role where his clumsiness and ineptitude allow him to thwart the bad guys. There's a fun song-and-dance number that has him literally slipping on a banana peel. The second half is more somber, with Sidhu, now seeking revenge and redemption, training with an ex kung-fu master turned amnesiac homeless man (played by Roger Yuan) before going into the final battle with Hojo. This portion of the movie has a few too many detours on the way to the climax and begins to feel drawn-out.
Chandni Chowk to China stars Akshay Kumar, one of the hottest (if not the hottest) stars in Bollywood today. He has an imposing physical presence and seems equally at home with action and comedy (although, like many Bollywood actors, his approach to drama is akin to that of silent film stars). He makes Sidhu a likeable enough fellow, although there are times when the character comes across as resembling Borat. Deepika Padukone, a supermodel-turned-actress, is impossibly gorgeous, joining Aishwarya Rai and Freida Pinto as Indian beauties whose screen appearances provide them with worldwide notice. Veteran Hong Kong martial arts superstar Gordon Liu has enough of a role to make kung fu fans feel more at home.
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