Legend tells of a brave warrior, Li Sheng, who fought on the Great Wall of China but was overcome by his enemies. His story has been passed down through the ages, and gives hope to a small Chinese village who were rich in diamonds from the nearby mine, but now are exploited by the evil Hojo (Gordon Liu) who uses violence the villagers cannot stand up against to keep them working for him as slaves. They have hope that Li Sheng will be reincarnated, and believe that somewhere out there he is awaiting the moment to vanquish their foes. But could that warrior be Sidhu (Akshay Kumar) a lowly cook in India?
Well, probably not, but as this is yet another variation on Seven Samurai where the peasants call in outside help so they can get their own back on their oppressors, then at least they will have made the right choice in picking Sidhu. Actually this was closer to the more humorous versions of the old tale, films like Three Amigos or Galaxy Quest, as for the first hour at least star Akshay Kumar hams it up in broadly comedic setpieces. You might have thought such uncomplicated fun would have proved a big hit with the critics and public, but surprisingly the reaction was more against what they saw as pretty idiotic rather than indulging its lunacies.
Yet Chandni Chowk to China, while it may have been hackneyed to many viewers, was not really all that bad, indeed if you wanted breezily escapist entertainment then you could do a lot worse. Not only was it a rare co-production between India and the U.S.A., the Warner Bros. studio to be exact, but it was the first Bollywood film to be made in China, something that is hard to avoid noticing when they make such a great play of setting much of the action at The Great Wall of China (the narrator rolls out that old urban myth that it's the only man-made structure to be seen from space at the beginning), and that includes fight scenes.
To add to the Chinese qualities, the venerable Gordon Liu is the chief bad guy, complete with Oddjob from Goldfinger-style lethal bowler hat which he flings about to fell his victims, although most of the main cast is Indian. This includes model-turned-actress Deepika Padupone in a dual role as twins who naturally have been separated when they were babies. They were born of a Chinese father (Roger Yuan) and an Indian mother, but an incident on, you guessed it, The Great Wall, has dad taking memory-erasing tumble and Hojo adopting one of the infants. She grows up to be Suzy, aka Meow Meow, a skilled assassin, while her sister becomes model Miss TSM, aka Sakhi, a frontperson for an unlikely dance product.
But this is really Kumar's film, and he gets to run the gamut of emotions as Sidhu transforms from a goofball who gets ideas above his station when he believes the villagers that he is a reincarnation of the warrior, to the true hero it would be no surprise to see him become. Kumar gets to show off his martial arts skills as well as his comedy ones, and of course there has to be a training montage when the twins' father adopts him as his pupil once he has regained his senses. Really the story is not so much about Sidhu finding respect through the love of a good woman, or from the admiration of the villagers, but from a father figure who can guide him: he loses one along the way, only to gain another. No, it's not original as a whole, but look at it as an Indian variation on a Stephen Chow movie and you shouldn't have too much of a problem with Chandni Chowk to China.