Chinese Zodiac Review: The film has plenty of enjoyable action

The film is a slight reboot of Jackie Chans character Asian Hawk. His character J.C. (because…lets face it, he is JUST playing Jackie Chan in all these movies) and his team of treasure hunters are on a  mission to retrieve  12 ancient bronze heads of the animals from the Chinese zodiac. Along the way they team up with a young woman who has a passion for the preservation of Chinese artifacts and a french woman who’s family history might hold the key to helping them find the bronze heads.

Now…while I made the plot sound pretty clear, let me tell you something. It REALLY wasn’t when I was watching this flick. The film moves at such a brisk pace, that it rarely slows down enough for you to catch who the characters are, their motivation. And why some of the plot elements doing in the first place.

There’s this whole bit of business concerning the treasure hunters making replicas of the bronze heads. But it’s so hastily explained WHY they need to do this that it took a while to figure out the WHY’s. The story of the film is also trying to shove too much National Chinese pride into the plot. Will JC just simply sell the Bronze heads to get rich, or will he protect them to ensure Chinese history? While these are not  bad ideas to explore, the execution is so off that none of these themes gel at all. They lay there feeling like bullet points, not a story. I’m not sure if this is how it feels in the original cut. But knowing that Jackie took 20 minutes out of the film for the American audiences it might be the cause of the confusion.

Jackie Chan has a trio of young treasure hunters as his support team. Played by Kwon Sang-woo, Liao Fan (Lieu Pham) and Zhang Lan Xin. And film has a sort of Marx Brothers-meets-Mission: Impossible vibe for the group. It’s a pretty neat idea because this team is very capable of handling themselves in a fight. I believe that part of the reason that Jackie makes these characters is to help split the action duties.

Jackie is pushing into his 60’s, and he must have created them so that all the fight scenes aren’t on him. It’s a good idea but the problem is that Jackie didn’t do a very good job of clearly defining them. Hell, I barely learned their NAMES till the last 30 minutes of the film! The cast does have a great rapport with Jackie and each other. And they do a good job in the fight scenes.

One of the problems with the later Jackie Chan films is that Jackie feels the need to over stuff his supporting cast.  His team of treasure  hunters are fine. But included in this adventure is a young history student/activist named Coco played by Yao Xing Tong and a rich debutante named Katherine played by French actress Laura Weissbecker. I’m not quiet sure why Jackie likes to have screaming women who are helpless in his movies (See his flicks Mr. Nice Guy and Operation: Condor for examples.)  Maybe that’s why Zhang Lan Xin’s character is such a strong female who can fight back to balance out the two screaming helpless women. But it doesn’t make up the unnecessary need to have these characters in the film.

But like I said earlier in the review, you know why you came to see this. And I warned you, didn’t I? But, if all you want is easy  Jackie Chan fluff, then this film is it.

When the film works at being that, it’s that all the way through. Jackie himself is still charming and enjoyable, and he still finds ways to be physically funny and clever on screen. I’m really glad that this time out, Jackie didn’t try to shove unneeded drama for him to play in this. He’s just keeping it light.

While the film has plenty of enjoyable action. It doesn’t kick it into classic Jackie Chan (Thanh Long) style gear til the finale, and in this chunk. It’s glorious Jackie Chan style action. Keeping in mind that he’s not as fast as he  used to be, seeing him do new stunts. New fight choreography, and new uses of props as weapons was still a treat. Especially since I realized that he hasn’t made a fun action comedy like this since 2006.  With Jackie directing this one (his first solo directing credit since 1991!! Which was Operation: Condor!) he knows the best way to shoot his fight scenes. Plenty of wide shots, and no crazy camera movements. This is classic action directing 101, a class that more filmmakers need to take.

If you’re a fan of the man’s career. Do stay through the credits as the film gives a very heartfelt thank you as you watch classic clips of almost all his movies celebrating his work over 100 movies!

Chinese Zodiac (12 Con Giap) is far from the best thing he’s done. But I had a good time with this one. I was getting nostalgic and I was missing seeing THIS Jackie Chan on screen. I was pretty bummed to realized that the version that I saw ended up being the dubbed re-edited version, but I guess it’s fitting since those were the versions I saw in theaters when I was a kid. It looks like I have to go and track the Chinese cut of this on DVD to see it unedited. That’s ok, I’m used to doing that anyway for these films, and it part of the fun of being an obsessive Asian Action movie fan like me.

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