Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Chandni Chowk to China, but really it's Thailand
Chandni Chowk to China is billed as the first Bollywood movie shot on location in China, but the majority of the film was actually made in Thailand.
Bangkok's skyline stands in for Shanghai's, and Suvarnabhumi International Airport is dressed up as the Chinese city's airport. A sign for Nok Air - a budget domestic airline in Thailand - gives it away. There are also Bangkok's characteristic jellybean-colored Toyota Corolla taxicabs, though care was taken to fit them with Chinese license plates.
Other scenes were shot on a set built in Ratchaburi Province.
According to a Bangkok Post story, which I blogged about last week, the production only filmed about 15 days in China, basically making use of the Great Wall, which plays a crucial backdrop in the film.
Most of the rest of the movie was made in Thailand.
"We started filming in China, and then realized how much easier it would be to make the movie in Thailand," actor Conan Stevens told me after the movie's screening on Saturday night in Bangkok.
But a highlight of the production, Stevens says, was getting to work with martial-arts coordinator Ku Huan-Chiu, who's had a hand in such films as Kill Bill, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Romeo Must Die and Lethal Weapon 4.
Stevens, a 7-foot-tall Australian stunt actor and wrestler, is based in Bangkok. In the film, he wears a white wig and eyebrows to play the role of Joey, the hulking albino right-hand man of the villain, Hojo, played by Hong Kong martial-arts film legend Gordon Liu. It's Stevens' most prominent role yet, this being a Hollywood (Warner Bros.) and Bollywood co-production -- and higher profile than supporting roles in such Thai films as Hanuman: The White Monkey Warrior, E-Tim Tay Nae and Somtum. Stevens is a blast to watch as he growls and stomps his way around, and actually punches a chunk out of what's supposed to be the Great Wall.
Playing on the same weekend it premiered in India and the U.S., Chandi Chowk to China was brought to Bangkok for a series of special screenings by BollywoodThai.com.
The movie stars Akshay Kumar as a humble cook on the streets of Delhi who is dissatisfied with his lot in life. Sidhu finds a potato that contains an icon of Lord Ganesh and takes it as a sign of better things to come. So, when a pair of Chinese villagers show up and say he's the reincarnation of an ancient Chinese warrior, he believes them (with encouragement of his shady friend the fortuneteller Chopstick, played by Ranvir Shorey).
More confusion ensues when Sidhu crosses paths with Sakhi (Deepika Padukone), the glamorous half-Indian, half-Chinese model and TV presenter of hi-tech Chinese crapgadgets. She is going to China to look for her long-lost twin sister, who it turns out is a breathtakingly fiesty diamond thief in the employ of the bowler-hatted villain Hojo.
The story gets even crazier with the long-lost amnesiac Chinese father of the twin girls (Roger Yuan) getting his memory back, and as a high-ranking cop and martial-arts master, he goes after Hojo and trains the bumbling Sihdu.
All the tropes of martial-arts films are adhered to, and so are those of Bollywood. So along with the kung-fu training sequence and heroic bloodshed, you also get song-and-dance numbers and romance that comes ever so close but not quite to a kiss.
Criticizing Chandni Chowk to China for being overly long is insane, because it's a Bollywood flick, and at around 2.5 hours isn't really that long at all - it's just more time for more slapstick, songs, dancing and crazy action.
At the box office, the film scored US$6.8 million, according to Variety, which notes that CC2C is the widest worldwide day-and-date release ever for a Bollywood movie.
Reviews are mixed. The Golden Rock points to reviews at Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Singapore's A Nutshell Review chimes in as well.
And The Storyboard Daily points to a couple CC2C items, including critics and audiences in India not digging the movie.
Nonetheless, a sequel is planned, though it's uncertain whether it will really be Chandni Chowk to Africa like the last joke in the movie, which had Thai dwarves in blackface, clicking their tongues. They were supposed to be Pygmies I suppose.