Jackie Chan’s latest film, Chinese Zodiac (aka CZ12) opened late last year in Hong Kong and other Asian territories and is continuing to roll out around the world. As of now, though, the film does not have any distribution deals set for the United States, Canada or Great Britain.
Last year, there was a brief stir that Jackie Chan’s then-upcoming film Chinese Zodiac would not only be a return to his Asian Hawk adventurer character from Armor Of God (1986) and Operation Condor (1991), but also would be his last film featuring him performing his trademark stunt and action sequences. The story was almost immediately walked back, leaving fans to wonder if this would indeed be the final time they get to see Chan in action or not. But if this movie does serve as a capstone to Chan’s action career, it is a fitting one. He has made some exciting action films and he’s mad some cringe-worthy clunkers. Chinese Zodiac is a bit of both.
Professional treasure seeker Asian Hawk (Chan, though called JC by some characters) is recruited by billionaire Lawrence Morgan (Oliver Platt, in a performance as honest as he would give for a serious indie drama) to track down a number of bronze heads that were said to adorn the 12 zodiac animals statues at the Old Summer Palace but which were stolen by foreigners in the 1800s. Along with his assistants, Hawk/JC manages to track the heads down to a collector in Paris, which leads to clues as to the location of further heads on a tropical island that happens to be overrun with pirates. Hawk/JC and company finally head back to Morgan where they discover a secret about him that leads to a final showdown.
The film opens with a rather fun and inventive sequence in which we join Hawk/JC in the midst of performing some sort of heist on a nationality-unidentified military base, making his getaway with the assistance of a suit covered with wheels, in effect turning him into a giant skateboard. Trust me when I say that although it is a bit goofy, it is not as goofy as that description makes it sound. Chan likes to give audiences things they’ve never seen before and this definitely qualifies. A few moments of the stunt work are obviously CG, but as Chan is now 60, I don’t think that there is anyone who can really fault him for that.
However, Chan’s name appears 15 times in the credits, a new world’s record according to the Guinness people, and as such, deserves both the praise and the criticisms for the film’s successes and flaws.
As one of four credited writers on the screenplay, Chan gives his character a trio of young assistants who seem to be there more to share the load when it comes to action sequences (see the Parisian houseboat sequence) than they do in contributing in any real way to the narrative. Two of them are given a subplot centered on their crumbling romantic relationship, but it is so under-cooked it fails to generate any interest.
The pirate entire island sequence feels like Chan’s tribute/homage/thinly veiled rip-off (take your pick) of the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, right down to one pirate looking suspiciously like a certain Mr. Depp and a music cue that feels about as distant from Klaus Badelt’s score for Disney’s theme park attraction-turned-blockbuster movie franchise as Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby” does from Queen’s “Under Pressure.”
Chinese Zodiac does pick up in its second half as Jackie and company arrive at the villain’s facility where high quality antique forgeries are mass manufactured. A fight with rival treasure hunter Vulture (Alaa Safi), in which both participants must remaining touching at least a portion of a rainbow-colored couch, showcases not only Chan’s ability to imaginatively choreograph a fight within certain restrictions but also his own dexterity by actually pulling it off. A climactic fight in mid-air between Chan and a number of skydivers is also fairly thrilling while the sequence’s end, with him rolling down the side of a volcano, feels like a call back to a similar stunt in Armor Of God.
But for all the clunky stuff that clogs up the first half of the movie, you never get the feeling that Chan is phoning it in or not trying hard to please his audience. But I can see where this can take a lot of energy and how after doing this or the better part of three decades he might want to call it a day. It’s unfortunate though, that it couldn’t be on more of a high note.