In a fair and just world, Donnie Yen would be a name spoken in the west with the same reverence as Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, especially with recent blockbusters like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and xXx: The Return of Xander Cage showing how his mixture of laidback charisma and lightning-fast fight choreography can translate to a western audience. Still, it seems that he’s never quite been given his due in the West. Still, one can’t help but wonder if this, a sequel to a 2014 action comedy remake of a 1989 martial arts film based on Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh could be the thing to break him through? Frankly, if Highlander: Endgame didn’t, I don’t know what will but stranger things have happened.
I want to acknowledge the elephant in the room, I have not seen the original Iceman but somehow watching this, I’m not sure if that matters at all, especially as the first ten minutes of the film I must assume are a summary of that first film as they seem to be taken from a completely different one entirely. So Iceman: The Time Traveller concerns Yen as He Ying, a Ming dynasty warrior who is labelled a traitor and wakes up 400 years later with three of his friends who are trying to use their time travel device to take over China in the past. I think. The plot isn’t exactly clear. Also, none of it answers the two major questions anyone should have coming out of this, why is everyone dubbed but still into Chinese and why are there so many evil Japanese people in the film?
Ultimately, what saves this film is the fight choreography. The plot itself is somewhat nonsensical, the characters are thoroughly underwritten and considering the original is according to the internet, an action comedy, it’s actually really quite bleak, the only real levity being the frequently just off dubbing and exaggerated wire work. But then every so often, Yen just chereographs a blinder of a fight scene and all the bad parts of the film fall away and it becomes a joyously nonsensical romp. But these moments are disappointingly few and far between with so much of its 87 minute running time being given to literally anything other than the one thing we want from it.
On the subject of that running time, it’s fascinating that for such a brief film, it not only spends one ninth of it establishing what happened in the first film but that the rest of it is quite so shapeless that you almost lose track of time with the first hour feeling like it covers about ten minutes and the final half hour seeming more like two. And yet, I can’t see how this could be actively changed my opinion on it if I knew what was happening. It’s a film so shapeless that I can’t understand what I was meant to take away from it beyond being glad of the fight scenes to relieve it of the rest of whatever was happening.
Ultimately, I can’t see this improving Donnie Yen’s standings but I think it’s just forgettable enough that it won’t hurt them either and I’m guessing he should be glad of that. Now, if you don’t mind, I might just go watch all the IP Man film to get the taste of this out of my mouth.
Dir: Wai Man Yip
Scr: Fung Lam, Mark Wu
Cast: Donnie Yen, Baoqiang Wang, Shengyi Huang, Kang Yu, Simon Yam, Yasuaki Kurata, Shuying Jiang, Hans Marrero, Hee Ching Paw
Prd: Jianxin Huang, Albert Wing Ho-Lee, Christopher Lap-Kee Sun, Donnie Yen
Run time: 87 mins