‘Chinese Zodiac’ Turns Chan’s Swan Song Into a Lame Duck
Jackie Chan is one of the biggest names in cinema, a star whose reputation has since become synonymous with a very specific brand of comically enhanced martial art flicks designed for populist fun, and he’s back with new film “Chinese Zodiac.”
Whether you love or hate Chan’s movies, even the most ardent of detractors — of which there seems to be very few, perhaps closet racists with a penchant for accented jokes — can’t say the guy doesn’t go out of his way trying to please his fans.
Even at a cinematically “old” 58 years, Chan still sees his way through to doing zany, often life-threatening choreography that would make action stars half his age beg for stand-ins. No other star can entice a theater full of movie fans to sit through a stream of his outtakes and bloopers during the credits than Chan. Heck, five minutes of those reels, and fans will forget the horrible 90 minutes they experienced moments earlier.
All of this focus on the “brand”, of course, means too many of his filmed scripts are simple Chan-vehicles; commercial endeavors that rely on its star for every inkling of intrigue and charm. When it works, Chan’s films are acceptable mindless entertainment, but when it doesn’t, it becomes an utterly painful experience.
Chan films can range from quality action-comedies with a strong edge (his “Police Story” series is still the best thing he’s done), to mainstream arenas for his clowning and kicking (most of his early-to-mid ’90s output), to complete nonsensical cinema (the majority of his post-millennia cinematography).
With “CZ12,” Chan intends to go out with a bang. Billed as his last major action film, Chan might have benefitted from waiting for a few better scripts to come along before throwing in the towel. The film easily resides among the worst of Chan’s output, including that one where he plays a crime-fighting child-rearer.
Directed by Chan, “Chinese Zodiac” has him playing the self-referencing J.C., the leader of a heist team specializing in old artifacts and nice looking antiques. There is not much room for J.C.’s conscience in doing his job, but a tempting opportunity to recover 12 zodiac head statues, which were stolen from Beijing’s old summer palace, might change that.
It’s ripe for some crazy, Indiana Jones kung fu and Chan silliness, but the film has the feel of a tired star no longer excited but what he does. And so “Chinese Zodiac” feels weary, with stunts and fights indistinguishable from each other and gags that simply feel unfitting by a man of Chan’s age and stature. The ultra-silliness of the writing borders on the absurd, feeling lazy and aimless.
J.C.’s team is filled with characters that act like reality TV castaways. As his previous directorial credit “1911” showed, Chan has trouble making individual factors connect emotionally.
There are, of course, those few moments when you remember why Chan is his own genre. A final sequence featuring skydiving action and another with a “skate suit” is thrilling, especially if you consider Chan is doing it all by himself. But they also serve as reminders of how better Chan films manage to deliver action and comedy.
The visual effects have gotten better — barring the massive budget “Rush Hour” series — but they accentuate the rest of the drab film.
The film was shot in Australia, France, Latvia, Vanuatu and Beijing. But the production team might as well have just used a green screen.
That some of the various languages in the film isn’t even subtitled attests to how careless the filmmakers were in making this one.
Nobody wants the nice guy to end his legacy on a crooked note. Here’s hoping Chan decides to march on until he finds something better with which to slam the door shut.
Directed by Jackie Chan
Starring Jackie Chan, Kwon Sang-woo, Liao Fan, Yao Xing Tong
English, Mandarin with Indonesian subtitles