"Chandni Chowk to China" is more important for what it represents than what it is. Warner Bros.' first mass-marketed Bollywood film was shot in India, China and Thailand; is being released nearly simultaneously around the world; stars Akshay Kumar, who's being marketed as India's Jackie Chan; and ends with a plug for a sequel, "Chandni Chowk to Africa."
Globalization, thy name is Chandni Chowk.
But "Chandni" is remarkable, too, although it may prove flummoxing and, at just over 2 1/2 hours, taxing for most American audiences. Beginning with painfully broad, slapstick comedy, it soon morphs into a dizzying mix of martial-arts mayhem, music-video dance sequences, soapy evil-twin intrigue, weepy romance, three languages, and a Hindu-meets-Buddhism, East-meets-East-meets-West culture clash that is so energetic and cheesy that it's hard not to be charmed by it.
"Chandni Chowk," named after an area of outdoor vendors in old Delhi, stars Kumar as Sidhu, a down-on-his-luck vegetable cutter in a street stall who's mistaken for the reincarnation of a mighty, ancient Chinese warrior. Villagers from a small Chinese town living under the boot-heel of the evil industrialist Hojo (Gordon Liu, "Kill Bill") implore Sidhu to come and save them. But Sidhu has about as much kung-fu skill as a newborn. Something approaching hilarity ensues.
"Chandni Chowk" isn't going to appeal to those not already entertained by Bollywood and kung-fu movie cliches. But it could turn the charismatic Kumar into a global star, making for Warner Bros. the prescribed happy ending even sweeter.