The legendary Jackie Chan says “au revoir” to his trademark action style of cinema with this somewhat fun yet somewhat disappointing action caper. In other words, it is a very mixed bag that many may either love or hate.
JC (Chan) is the leader of a team of mercenaries who are in search of the 12 statues that represent the Chinese Zodiac. The relics have come from 1800’s China and one who is interested in antiques dealer Lawrence Morgan (Oliver Platt), who hired JC and his team for the mission. For each head, they will receive one million euros and if they find the long-lost Dragon head, they will receive an extra zero in their paycheck.
On their excursion to find the heads, JC, Simon (Kwon Sang-Woo), Bonnie (Zhang Lanxin), and David (Liao Fan), head for France. There, they meet young Coco (Yao Xingtong), a college student studying ancient and lost relics. She has no clue of their mission and they also meet French rich girl Catherine (Laura Weissbecker), whose great grandfather was involved in an excursion possibly related to the statues.
The entire team begins to do whatever it takes to find the statue heads. They experience major trouble along the way,. This includes a band of multinational pirates, lowly henchmen, and for JC, an arch-nemesis in Vulture (Alaa Safi), a fellow mercenary whose methods of retrieving relics are somewhat the opposite of JC and his team. Will JC and his team be able to retrieve the stolen heads or will their world come crashing down?
Twenty years in the making, Hong Kong legend Jackie Chan has finally decided to hang it up in terms of his trademark action style. At the age of fifty-eight, Chan knew the time would come when he felt it was time to give it one last ride and this is it. Known to many as the official third installment of the ARMOUR OF GOD series (although JC is never acknowledged as the Asian Hawk), this film definitely has its share of flaws, mostly in the visual effects department.
To help with this finale, Chan enlisted some old friends to assist with the screenplay. Enter Stanley Tong, Frankie Chan, and Edward Tang, all whom had worked with Chan on some of his best films. The only problem here is that at times, the script takes a turn that doesn’t really bode well and seems like more of an excuse to put in perhaps an action scene. In this case, JC and his team decide to help French ally Catherine find her great grandfather’s ship, which is located in the bottom of a chasm in the forest. However, the action scene is quite fun because we have the return to Ken Low as a Thai-speaking pirate while Korean pop star turned actor Yoo Seung-Jun plays the pirate leader and the likes of JC Stunt Team member Alan Ng and French-born Thai action star Kazu Patrick Tang playing pirates. Enter a good ol’ JC reference here. Just think of the character of “Iron Head” in DRUNKEN MASTER (1978).
Jackie truly outdoes himself here, taking a literally record breaking fifteen credits of the film, including lighting and cinematography! The supporting cast bodes pretty well here, notably Korean actor Kwong Sang-Woo and Zhang Lanxin, who play butt-kicking couple Simon and Bonnie. Kwon gets to take on various stuntmen and pirates while Zhang Lanxin shows some impressive kicking skills, notably against American martial artist and actress Caitlin Dechelle, the second XMA stylist to appear in a Chinese film (Jake Strickland took first honors for the Chan-produced HOUSE OF FURY (2005)).
Oliver Platt and Vincent Sze give some decent performances as antiques dealer and forger Lawrence Morgan and his son, Michael. While many would have loved to see Sze, a martial artist himself, fight in the film, he takes a back seat and manages to speak French, Mandarin, and English in the film. Platt seems to ham it up at times in his role as Morgan. Taekwondo stylist Alaa Safi also does well as JC’s arch rival Vulture, which brings us to the action element of the film.
Chan and his prolific stunt team did a pretty decent job with the action. Yes, there is some wirework and visual effects involved. While the VFX makes some of the action look horrible, such as the opening rollerblade chase scene, which combined Chan’s stuntwork and some dreadful VFX, and a terrible JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (2008) rip-off scene of people riding a big log full of gold, the highlight comes in two scenes.
The first is a long fight scene which starts with Chan taking on Safi in what I like to call the “furniture fight”. Think of two challengers having to keep at least a finger or foot on the furniture surrounding them while they duke it out. This is quite an enjoyable fight sequence that shows the true style of Chan. This culminates with a cross-cutting of Chan taking on Vulture and Michael’s goons with Bonnie taking on Vulture’s girl Katie. Dechelle shows some impressive acrobatic like moves while Zhang shows a nice tae kwon do bullet kick in the mix. The film’s culmination and perhaps Chan’s true farewell in doing his own stunts comes in a very sick looking fall in which part of the fall references the very near-fatal stunt that nearly killed him on the set of ARMOUR OF GOD.
The bottom line is you will either love or hate CHINESE ZODIAC. My personal opinion is that it was a mixed bag that despite some very bad VFX and the overall turn of the plot really proving unnecessary, the long fight scene towards the end and the very cringe-worthy fall really shows that Chan has finally realized when it was time to close the book on his trademark action style. Worth a rental and judge for yourself.