Time Travel Thursday: Iceman (2014)
Time Travel Tropes6
Script and fights2
Matthew Turner | On 05, Dec 2019
Director: Law Wing-cheong
Cast: Donnie Yen, Eva Huang, Simon Yam, Wang Baoqiang, Yu Kang, Lam Suet, Bonnie Wong, Lo Hoi-pang
Watch Iceman online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Wondering how to fill the time travel gap now that Travelers and Timeless have been cancelled? Then transport yourself no further than Time Travel Thursdays, our column devoted to time travel movies on Netflix. It’s on Thursdays.
A big budget remake of the 1989 kung-fu fantasy The Iceman Cometh, Law Wing-cheong’s action comedy stars Donnie Yen as He Ying, a Ming Dynasty guard who wakes up in 2013 Hong Kong after being frozen in time. It quickly turns out that he’s not alone and two other defrosted guards – Sao (Wang Baoqiang) and Nie Hu (Yu Kang) – are pursuing him, continuing their fight from 400 years previously. Along the way, He Ying receives help from nightclub hostess May (Eva Huang), but not before she’s fleeced him for extortionate amounts of money, after discovering he’s loaded with gold ingots.
For a time travel movie, Iceman starts very promisingly, with not one but two time travel methods in play: a Captain America-style freezing and an actual time machine, known as the Golden Wheel of Time, which He Ying was tasked with retrieving when he was accidentally frozen. However, Iceman gets disappointingly little mileage from its fish-out-of-water premise, opting instead for literal toilet humour (examples include He Ying thinking May’s toilet is a well and a SWAT team attack that involves an exploding loo and a shower of turds).
In fact, the film is oddly obsessed with gross-out gags, without having any idea of how to make them funny. He Ying is even introduced with one – the first thing he does when defrosting is to take a giant wee, which is an amusing idea in theory (i.e. he’s been holding it in for 400 years), but a later flashback reveals all the Ming Dynasty guards can pee like super-charged racehorses – it’s just a thing that they do.
Unfortunately, the film fails to satisfy on a number of levels. The script is painfully dull, keeping the adversaries apart as long as possible. In fact, the plot is barely coherent, to the point where it’s not even clear whether Sao and Nie Hu realise what’s happened to them (they’re more interested in discovering girlie mags and chicken curry anyway).
Even the action isn’t up to Yen’s usual standards – the fight scenes lack invention and are poorly staged. It doesn’t help that the film was shot in 3D, so the visual effects look extremely poor in places (it also explains why things shoot towards the camera all the time).
Sadly, the performances aren’t much better. Yen seems oddly subdued and there’s no chemistry between him and Huang, with their central romance failing to generate any sparks. Wang Baoqiang is an acclaimed comic actor in his native territory, but he doesn’t get any laughs here, unless you like lots and lots of shouting.
The production was apparently beset with troubles, which explains why the film was ultimately split into two parts – Iceman: The Time Traveler (also on Netflix UK) is its sequel. This, in turn, explains why there’s so much obvious filler, including several sequences of characters just walking or generally taking ages to get somewhere.
In the end, despite a promising plot – the similarly themed Les Visiteurs was a massive international hit, after all – Iceman is a crushing disappointment that’s likely to leave you cold.
Iceman (2014) is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.