Sporadic moments of comedy do little to thaw this tepid action film.
“Don’t scam him just because he’s from the Ming dynasty, got it?”
There are plenty of movies about historical people who find themselves in the present day and have trouble getting by. There’s Les Visiteurs, Kate and Leopold … uh, does Enchanted count? And because I can’t think of any more, Just Visiting. Each of those films shares a few common elements: the misunderstandings, the misuse of modern technology, the scene where the time traveller’s immune system can’t compete with ours and so he dies of a common cold. The usual.
So it was interesting to see where the remake of the 1989 movie by Clarence Fok would go with it. The premise centres on He Ying (Donnie Yen), a Ming Dynasty officer who is sent to take back a mystical time-travelling device to the Emperor. However, he and rivals Sao (Wang Baoqiang) and Niehu (Yu Kang) are frozen in ice and, after being discovered, placed in cryogenic sleep. During an accident in transit, they escape. He Ying befriends May (Eva Huang) and he begins to learn about the modern world, and how much it has changed, from her. Meanwhile, the two others join the Indian mafia, and plot their revenge against Ying.
Iceman is the result when you have a pretty decent idea, but aren’t entirely sure what to do with it. The story kind of goes all over the place and while it isn’t really difficult to keep up, it’s a bit tricky to really care. There are subplots which don’t do a lot to alleviate the overall movie, and serve largely to just slow it down, and most of the characters are just kind of boring, and tough to really care about. Donnie Yen, to be fair, works hard to make Ying a likeable guy, and as a result he’s likely to be the only character whose fate actually matters to the audience.
As in the films mentioned above, this movie does have all the same fish out of water jokes you’ve come to expect, such as Ying mistaking a toilet for an indoor well of water. Those moments are played decently, actually, and it’s refreshing to see Ying embrace new technology openly. He takes a few seconds to demonstrate he’s never seen an iPad before, but actually learns how to use one and starts to adapt quite well to the modern world without it being too much of an issue. Those moments are fun, and nice … but maybe a bit too much so.
See, Iceman appeared to have gone through a difficult production, and it really shows. The film doesn’t flow very well at all, with moments of comedy broken up by over-the-top action or scenes of weirdly brutal violence. It never knows if it’s a fantasy, a comedy, an action film or some hybrid of all of them. Not that that would be an issue, but it looks like Iceman suffered from a case of too many cooks. And it’s a shame because separately, a lot of scenes are really cool. Together, not so much. A goofy moment followed immediately by a kinda-good wuxia battle featuring mega-sized weapons and bullet-deflecting chains is just a bit too disjointed for me.
As it is, Iceman is a mess which feels unfinished (especially in those final scenes) and contains a plethora of terrible English-language acting. A few of the actors are charming, but it’s not enough to save what could have been a really cool film. There’s something about that final fight on the bridge that appealed to me, if only it was done a lot better. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but frankly, there are better films out there.
Verdict: All over the place in its tone and story, Iceman probably should have stayed frozen.
Overall entertainment: 6/10
Also known as: The Iceman Cometh
Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Hindi
Director: Law Wing-cheung
Writers: Mark Wu, Lam Fung, Shum Shek-yin
Donnie Yen – He Ying
Wang Baoqiang – Sao
Yu Kang – Niehu
Eva Huang – May
Simon Yam – Cheung
Lam Suet – Tang
Wong Man-wai – May’s mother
Zhang Shaohua – He Ying’s mother
Gregory Wong – Officer Szeto
Jaqueline Chong – Jacqueline