(Writers Note: What I will be reviewing will be the North American Cut, which is the one that can be screen theatrically here in the states. This means the film was dubbed AND cut down by 20 minutes. It has been said that Jackie Chan was the one who supervised the cut, so we are to assume that this version of the flick is to his liking.)
Let me ask you something….are you a Jackie Chan fan?
Like…a REAL hardcore fan of the guy?
I mean, it isn’t just watching his Rush Hour flicks. It isn’t just watching whatever they released in America, the ones that they dubbed and edited down. You went out of your way to watch as many of his film as you can. You sought them out. You didn’t just see his comedies, you saw his action dramas as well. You got accustomed to the kind of movies he made when he was in Hong Kong, so when you went to sit down and watch one of his movies, you know EXACTLY what you paid to see.
If so, then CONGRATS! You will be ready for this new Jackie Chan flick. If not…well, this will be a pretty rough experience for you if plot/characterization is really really important for your enjoyment of a movie. Oh, and you have to be used to broad Asian style comedies.
So yes, what I’m trying to say is, this new Jackie Chan film will not be the one to convert you if you are not a fan, BUT if you do enjoy yourself a good old fashion Jackie Chan romp, then this will be right up your alley.
The film is a slight reboot of Jackie Chans character Asian Hawk ( who appeared in the film series Armour of God known here in the states as the Operation: Condor series.). 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 were done 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 has a trio of young treasure hunters as his support team, played by Kwon Sang-woo, Liao Fan 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 made 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! That being said, 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 (a trend that’s become apparent in some of his later Hong Kong films – movies that should have STAYED 100% comedies.), he’s just keeping it light.
While the film has plenty of enjoyable action, it doesn’t kick it into classic Jackie Chan 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!
CZ12 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.