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Around the World with Jackie Chan

Leona Frommelt (jam)December 23, 2004

The film does carry the same name as the Jules Verne classic "Around the World in 80 Days," but the similarities pretty much end there. That might be because Asian action star Jackie Chan has the starring role.

Around the world again, this time with karate kicks aplentyImage: Universum Film

These days, satellites orbit the planet in a few hours and airplanes cross continents in about the same time. But before the dawn of the jet age, circumnavigating the globe in less than three months was an amazing feat.

Jules Verne's novel tells the story of Phileas Fogg, an eccentric inventor considered something of a nut by the scientific community. In his exasperating attempt to win recognition and respect from London's Royal Academy, Fogg makes a bet that seems unwinnable: He says he'll go around the world in 80 days.

Together with his servant Passpartout, Fogg sets out on his world tour, which takes him over land, water and through the air to exotic locations and unknown cultures. At least that's how the original has it.

Family fun

Verne's story hit the screen for the first time back in 1956 with an all-star cast and spectacular sets. Still, that action comedy by American director Frank Coraci was not as boisterous as it was just plain silly.

Szenenbild aus in 80 Tagen um die Welt, Jackie Chan
Jackie ChanImage: Universum Film

In this movie, which opens in Germany on Thursday, the story has been changed somewhat. Instead of Fogg being the center of attention, it's servant Passpartout, played by Asian action film superstar Jackie Chan, who gets most of the camera time.

In the movie, Chan is a Chinese hero who is trying to recover a jade Buddha that has been stolen from his home village. He and Fogg have to fight off Asian martial arts experts at nearly every stop, since the statue is in high demand. Kung fu icon Chan fends them all off and his breakneck fight and slapstick scenes deliver both rapid-fire thrills and laughs.

More foolish however is the appearance of former muscle man, current California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as the lovesick Sultan Hapi. At least the wig he wears throughout the film is not to be outdone.

Kinostart: In 80 Tagen um die Welt, Szenefoto, Jackie Chan und Phileas Fogg
Image: dpa

Viewers of the 1956 film might get a little nostalgic when they think of the big stars that sparkled in that version. Besides David Niven as Fogg, Marlene Dietrich, Shirley MacLaine, Buster Keaton, Peter Lorre, Frank Sinatra among others gave the movie a heaping dose of star power. Despite the brief cameos in today's version of John Cleese, Macy Gray, Owen and Luke Wilson and Kathy Bates, the shine is considerably less brilliant.

Hollywood goes to Germany

At least the locations look good. Many of the scenes were filmed in Thailand, but the cameras came to Germany to work their magic as well. The border town of Görlitz, almost completely untouched by the Second World War, served as one backdrop. The historic center of the town was remade into 19th century Paris.

Filmmakers also transformed parts of Berlin into Victorian London, using digital technology to put Big Ben in the picture.

Szenebild in 80 Tagen um die Welt
Image: Universum Film

While Verne's novel and the 1956 film could be viewed as a rather light-hearted critique of British society and the Empire, a search for critical aspects in the 2004 world tour would be in vain.

This big-budget film, with a price tag of $100 million, puts the emphasis on fun and adventure, and is meant to appeal especially to kids. It's not clear if the movie will become a family favourite in Germany. In the USA, the reception to this new Fogg trip was only lukewarm.