High school slacker Zhang Yishan (Zhang Yishan) daydreams about his idol, movie star Jackie Chan to escape a reality of schoolyard bullies and worsening grades. When Zhang learns Jackie is shooting a movie in Beijing, he journeys to the city but winds up at the wrong monastery where he meets feisty kung fu girl Lixia (Yuan Ting), who moonlights as a movie extra. After misadventures on a movie set, Zhang resumes his search, but is robbed by a young street gang. Street peddler Sister Rong (Yan Bing-Yan) offers to help, but instead leads Zhang to the gang and their brutal, Fagin type leader Brother Hong (Wu Jun), who holds him for ransom. A kung fu kicking lady cop (Jiang Hong-Bo) cracks the kidnapping and takes Zhang under her wing, but the pair come under threat when Hong escapes prison. Just when Zhang’s quest seems at a dead end, his grandmother (Tian Hua) engineers a meeting with Jackie himself.
Remember kids, study hard and respect your elders and maybe one day you could meet your favourite movie star. That is the message underpinning this lightweight but likeable Chinese children’s film wherein Jackie Chan imparts words of wisdom to a young lad caught in a dilemma cannily similar to those characters in his early classics Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978) and Drunken Master (1978). Looking for Jackie, which was re-titled Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid overseas to cash-in on the success of The Karate Kid remake, is heavily episodic and somewhat heavy-handed in urging Chinese children to obey their elders and learn more about their own culture. Nevertheless its intentions are sincere and the impulsive misbehaviour of young Zhang helps us understand the point being made. He mistakenly thinks kung fu is only about beating people up and proving yourself a big man, until an array of sagely (and interestingly, all female) characters set him straight. Zhang finally proves he has grown up by rushing an injured friend to hospital and ignoring his seemingly only chance to meet Jackie Chan. However, the film skirts ridiculousness when bullies later claim they picked on Zhang because his grades were bad and they wanted to teach him a lesson.
Typically for a Chinese film the tone is somewhat schizophrenic, segueing from lively slapstick kung fu fighting to scenes of harrowing domestic abuse. It may well be the only film to incorporate a comedy parrot, a few too many Benny Hill style fast-motion chase sequences, and a subplot wherein a drunken, deranged criminal almost bludgeons his kids to death. Still, the film does not characterise the kidnappers as two-dimensional villains and musters sympathy for their plight, particularly Sister Rong who latches onto Zhang because he resembles her dead kid brother. The episodic plot keeps casting interesting characters aside, such as Jiang Hong-Bo’s strangely nameless policewoman and young Yuan Ting, both of whom steal scenes displaying marvellous comedic and kung fu skills, but Zhang Yishan proves an engaging lead and you want to see him meet his idol. The film raises then abruptly drops questions about the difference between movie stars and real life heroism as characters repeatedly tell Zhang a star like Jackie Chan would never give a hoot about some unknown kid. Of course Jackie turns out to be a stand-up guy and only confirms what other grownups have been telling Zhang all along. Stay in school, kids.