In the hands of a small boy is an ancient Chinese medallion that holds the secret of immortality and supernatural strength, which is sought after by an artifacts smuggler (Julian Sands). While trying to recover the kidnapped boy, Hong Kong detective Eddie Yang (Jackie Chan) is killed, but inherits the medallion’s power and returns with new abilities. Together with his bumbling partner (Lee Evans) and girlfriend (Claire Forlani), Eddie fights to reclaim the boy and the medallion.

Although the premise of Jackie Chan fighting with supernatural powers sounded intriguing in development, his last special effects film, The Tuxedo, was a big disappointment and left expectations low for another round with CGI and wire-fu. To my surprise, The Medallion (formerly Highbinders) overcomes initially cringe-worthy humor and a conventional storyline to become a great family film, packed with fast-moving action, impressive effects, and chuckles-a-plenty.

Though there is room for improvement, this feature is a step in the right direction towards successful collaborations between Chinese and Hollywood filmmakers. The Medallion began in the hands of Hong Kong production company Emperor Media Group. The plot was written and refined as a collaborative effort by the likes of local producers Alfred Cheung (On the Run) and Bey Logan (Twins Effect, Gen-X Cops). Blockbuster director Gordon Chan, whose golden touch was laid upon monster classics Fist of Legend and King of Beggars, stepped in to helm. Jackie’s old school chum, master action director Sammo Hung took over choreography. Christy Chung and Anthony Wong, two talented actors who remain underrated in the West, nabbed supporting roles. For leading co-stars, the beautiful and talented British actress Claire Forlani (Meet Joe Black) was picked, as was British comedian Lee Evans after early rumors of Rowan Atkinson’s involvement faded. Cult favorite Julian Sands (Warlock, Boxing Helena), who incidentally voiced ‘Valmont’ on Fox’s successful animated series Jackie Chan Adventures, was tapped as the villain. The film was picked up by Columbia Tristar for worldwide distribution and slightly edited for Western audiences. The end result is a film that is clearly trying hard to please its audience. While there are a few misfires along the way, the film mostly doles out what most filmgoers crave and that’s easily-digestible good times.

At the onset, an illegal artifacts dealer named Snakehead (Julian Sands) stumbles upon the secret of a Chinese medallion capable of granting immortality and supernatural power. He kidnaps a child who possesses the artifact. One gripe at this point is a lack of reasoning for this kid being associated with the medallion in the first place and the film’s end leaves you with more questions then answers. But if you’re willing to dispense with details like these, it is more than possible to enjoy the film as a carnival ride with all of its ups and downs.

Getting back on track, a Hong Kong detective named Eddie Yang (Jackie Chan) joins Interpol agents, including his buddy Arthur Watson (Lee Evans) and his love interest Nicole (Claire Forlani) in tracking Snakehead’s operations to Ireland after a failed attempt to nab him for illegal smuggling in Hong Kong. A ship-born infiltration by Eddie and fellow agents goes bad following a hail of bullets and blows. The villains escape with the boy, but Eddie and company catch up with him later at a shipping yard. More action ensues, but the end result is far worse with Eddie losing his life while saving the boy. But behold the power of the medallion, for Eddie returns from the dead… naked, but with enhanced strength, speed, and invulnerability to weapons. This new development leads into a series of fanciful action scenes and one, very funny scene opposite Lee Evans. Having reunited with his awestruck partners, Eddie joins them in assaulting Snakehead’s castle hideout after the boy is kidnapped yet again. The climax of the film has Jackie and Julian locked in mortal combat, Mortal Kombat style with flashy wirework and effects.

Jackie settles into his role without offering anything especially outstanding. Though he has forever earned my respect, I have long since put away expectations for the man to perform his dangerous stunts and furiously fast fighting of old. The action relies on wires, effects, and doubles to make Jackie and his co-stars look good while fighting. For the supernatural scenes this is fine, but a few scenes prior to the transformation of Jackie are a bit exaggerated. While enjoyable, a chase scene on foot has Jackie and one of his co-stars doing some rather outrageous leaping. A fight on a ship begins the same way, but evolves into a cool series of takedowns by Jackie. Yes, takedowns. This doesn’t sound too exciting until you consider just what Jackie is known for, sparring. His old Hong Kong screen fights in films such as Drunken Master II (1994) and Armour of God (1987) are fierce and grueling marathons of rhythmically brilliant exchanges of machine gun punches and kicks. But to see Jackie dropping foes with an efficiency generally reserved for Jet Li’s grittier moments is a sight to behold. The only aspect of Jackie’s performance that disappoints is not his action, but his acting. His interaction with Forlani is much better in the outtakes than in the actual film.

Lee Evans starts out with a horrible one-liner and performs a few Peter Sellers-like gags that fall flat, the latter I blame on the direction and editing. But Evans is a funny guy when given the chance and proves so on more than one occasion. He also briefly gets in on the action midway through. Forlani dishes out the most kung fu moves apart from Jackie and performs well enough. Did I already mention that she’s a beauty? Another beauty is Christy Chung (Tai Chi II) who gets one noteworthy action scene where she humorously upstages her onscreen husband played by Evans. Anthony Wong, who wowed Hong Kong film fans with a brilliantly disturbed performance as a cannibal killer in The Untold Story (1993) is criminally underused (at least in the US release).

In the end, viewers will have to make a decision at some point during the film. On the one hand, The Medallion is trite with showy special effects, a thin plot, zero character depth or development, and only a smattering of ‘hard’ kung fu to please genre fans. On the other hand, you can clear your mind, disregard your expectations for something the film isn’t, and simply enjoy the show for what it does offer, enough engaging humor and action to forget your troubles.

REVIEW: Medallion, The (2003), 9.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating