It took 21 years to get another sequel in Jackie Chan’s “Armour of God” franchise. Chan has also gone on record as saying that “Chinese Zodiac” will be his last big action film. So this is as close as we’ll ever get to Chan going all out like he used to in the films you’ve grown to love like “Police Story” and “Drunken Master.” The Hong Kong action star is pushing 60, so it’s certainly understandable. At the same time, you can’t help but wish that “Chinese Zodiac” wasn’t so mediocre.
Asian Hawk (Jackie Chan), or JC as he’s referred to this time around, is pulled from his vacation to retrieve 12 bronze animal heads based on the Chinese Zodiac. The heads increase in value every time they’re put to auction, so a fraudulent industrialist named Lawrence Morgan (Oliver Platt) hires JC to retrieve the remaining heads at $1 million a head with a $10 million bonus if the rare dragon’s head is discovered.
The film opens with the downhill rollerblade sequence. It’s an ingenious little device that would make for an easy escape, but this is where the film’s issues kick in. You notice the wire work as soon as JC barely averts being squashed between two cars. Movements are often unnaturally fluid while doing incredible maneuvers like doing a back flip while sliding down a pole may seem like a cool concept, but is obviously not executed in the traditional sense. Even Chan’s trademark of sliding in between small spaces seems to require the assistance of wires. The notion of giving fans what they want one last time is admirable, but Jackie Chan may have waited too long to deliver. Chan’s avoidance of serious action in “Little Big Soldier” was at least entertaining while “New Police Story” at least used wires in a way that wasn’t so obvious.
The little things start to bug you in “Chinese Zodiac.” JC is a thief. He’s trying to be as quiet as possible while sneaking around and stealing precious and priceless artifacts. So why is he stomping around? Are his shoes really that noisy? He can’t have lead feet with all of that agility he has. Why Jackie Chan insists on portraying women in such an irritating fashion is bewildering. Coco (Xingtong Yao) and Catherine (Laura Weissbecker) are as annoying as Ada (Carol Cheng) and Elsa (Eva Cobo) in “Operation Condor.” Their constant bickering, stubborn attitudes, and absolute helplessness will drive you mad. At least Bonnie (Zhang Lanxin) is portrayed as a strong woman who can fight and make herself useful, but her broken marriage side-plot is completely pointless.
“Armour of God” featured a Grand Wizard and the Armour of God. “Operation Condor” had Nazis and 240 tons of gold. Yet for some reason, throwing in pirates in “Chinese Zodiac” feels overboard. Maybe it’s the ridiculous humor that ruins it. The comedy seems overly juvenile and even more slapstick than you’re used to for the majority of the film. Chan pretends to be a dog, the women bicker about who was wrong hundreds of years ago, and there are continuous jabs at language barriers (purple). None of it is very funny as most of the humor feels very forced.
The last half hour or so is where things pick up. JC’s encounter with Vulture (Alaa Safi) on the couch is where “Chinese Zodiac” actually gets good. Sure, you’re suddenly introduced to several characters that don’t really matter during what is essentially the finale of the film, but who cares? This is the Jackie Chan you paid to come and see. The fights from here on out feature the crazy action choreography you’ve come to love Chan for along with humor that’s in the same vein. The photos that are taken during an action sequence along with JC’s reaction to them are particularly entertaining. It’s as if “Chinese Zodiac” was wearing gloves and protective padding up until the finale where it suddenly strips down to the basics and gets serious. The free-fall scuffle is also exhilarating. It does seem like they fall forever, but is otherwise done very well with a really satisfying conclusion.
“Chinese Zodiac” isn’t nearly as good as it’s hyped up to be. The film takes its sweet time getting to the goods and forces you to sit through grown men and women acting like children (this is an actual line from the film) and silly humor that fails to hit its mark. However, it does eventually pay off as the finale is exactly what you’d expect from a Jackie Chan action film. The film is a bit of a mess when you stop to think about it (Oliver Platt is built up to be the villain of the film, but only has two scenes), but still gets the job done in a roundabout kind of way. “Chinese Zodiac” is incredibly frustrating at times and is mostly disappointing overall, but throws in just enough of what Jackie Chan used to be like in his prime to be somewhat satisfying.
“Chinese Zodiac” currently doesn’t have a US release date, but is available on VCD, 2D Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, and all-region DVD.
Image sources: chinesemov.com, beyondhollywood.com, mykollywood.com, lionheartv.net