April 22, 2014


It’s hard to know how to take Jackie Chan these days. The iconic action star turned 60 earlier this month, and his mileage is definitely showing. Movies like Chinese Zodiac appear to take that into account, using a lot of tricks and distractions to hide the fact that he simply can’t perform the eye-popping stunts that helped make him a household name. Recent films have tried to break him out of that mold completely, and this one seems to recognize the futility of the endeavor. Unfortunately, it can’t find a viable alternative, so it gussies up a scenario that the younger Chan would have eaten for breakfast. This time, too many cracks are showing. Hit the jump for my full Chinese Zodiac Blu-ray review.

chinese-zodiac-blu-rayChinese Zodiac also betrays a curious anti-Western bias in its scenario, about 12 statues plundered by imperialist occupiers over a century ago and now held by sinister white men whom Jackie must pummel. (We have more than enough anti-Asian racism in our own movies, so I won’t squawk too loudly, but it still raises a few eyebrows.) He plays a freelance adventurer tasked with recovering the statues, an agreeable enough set-up that ostensibly lets him cut loose the way he always does. The best parts of Chinese Zodiac show flashes of his former brilliance with clever fight choreography that impresses us in and of itself without forcing the star to push his limits.

Indeed, Chinese Zodiac does best with its imaginative concepts, allowing Jackie to kinda sorta do his thing provided we don’t squint too hard. The opening sequence makes an excellent example: placing the star a strange bodysuit with wheels at all the joints that essentially turns him into a human skateboard. It’s a neat idea and it makes for plenty of interesting gags… as well as hiding the fact that another guy is in the outfit most of the time.

Other scenes struggle far harder than they should, as the plotline spins its wheels and the onscreen kinetics fall decidedly flat. The international cast does its best, but there’s no Michelle Yeoh or similar figure to help carry the stunt load. That leaves it all up to Jackie, and while his spirit is willing, his flesh is getting awfully weak. Things don’t go nearly as wrong as they might: the actor’s bottomless charm remains intact and the various tricks designed to hide his diminished physical skills hold up better than expected. Even so, it makes Chinese Zodiac feels like a sad afterthought more than a nostalgic thrill ride: doing its best but slipping too far down the quality scale for comfort.

chinese-zodiacIt also leaves one wondering where Chan should do next. He’s shown a willingness to try other kinds of roles, particularly with the underrated Karate Kid remake (as well as the thoroughly wretched 1911). But clearly this kind of mayhem is in his blood and he won’t readily give it up without a fight. Chinese Zodiac aptly demonstrates the folly of that path, while still providing enough dignity to let him bow out with a little grace. He should take the hint. Time waits for no man, even as unique a talent as Chan’s, and the more he can stay away from projects like this, the better his latter-day career will look.

The Blu-ray is about as sparse as they come. An indifferent transfer results in middling sound and image quality — not awful, but nothing to write home about — and extra features consist of just one behind-the-scenes doc. The result is a disc for Chan fans only. The rest would do better to pop in Rumble in the Bronx again.

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