Director: Jackie Chan
Producer: Jackie Chan, Stanley Tong, Barbie Tung
Cast: Jackie Chan, Kwon Sang-woo, Liao Fan, Yao Xing Tong, Zhang Lan Xin, Laura Weissbecker, Ken Lo, Oliver Platt, Shu Qi, Daniel Wu, Kazu Patrick Tang
Running Time: 123 min.
Shortly into the second act of Jackie Chan’s new film CZ12, one of the movie’s many hapless English-speaking characters tells Jackie and his team “You guys are amazing!” as they launch yet another one of their gadgets into the sky. Jackie shakes his head modestly, smiles and says, “No, technology is amazing.” This statement neatly sums up CZ12 as a whole, as an aging Jackie Chan increasingly relies on wirework and computer effects to perform the kind of stunts he could do in his sleep as a young man.
Can you blame him? The actor is a bonafide global icon who’s spent decades breaking bones and risking death to please his millions of fans over the world. The time for Jackie to pass the torch was probably back in 2005 with New Police Story, a graceful swansong for both the series and Jackie Chan the action star. And yet Jackie persists – while he claims CZ12 will likely be his last globetrotting blockbuster, he also says Rush Hour 4 is still in the cards.
You have to wonder what keeps Jackie going. If he’s anything like his character in CZ12,the answer might be money. The last we saw of Jackie’s character ‘Asian Condor,’ he was keeping gold out of the Nazis’ hands in 1991’s Armour of God II: Operation Condor. In the intervening years it appears Condor has, well, sold out. The treasure hunter will steal any work of art or relic for the highest bidder; as the film opens, he’s currently selling his services to a multinational corporation who want 12 ancient statues representing the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Condor agrees thanks to the promise of millions of Euros and, thus, the adventure begins. The Condor character has always been Jackie’s way of riffing on the Indiana Jones persona, but you don’t need to have seen very many movies to guess that Condor’s character arc in this film will involve his character waking up from being such a materialistic bastard.
Except that CZ12 isn’t too concerned with anything resembling a character arc. Condor and his team travel around the world, risking life and limb for these statues, but there are no personal stakes to the story since Condor is only after Euros and the screenplay treats human relationships as extraneous soap opera details to occupy the downtime in-between action setpieces. A slap to the face from a young archaeology student seems to awaken some shred of dignity in Condor and sets him on a path to fight against his former employers. The thing is, the viewer doesn’t really buy that Jackie’s character has had a change of heart; he’s just punching and kicking a different set of people now.
CZ12 is weighed down with a lot of historical babble about how foreign powers like the British and French ransacked the Chinese empire back in the early 20th century. Although Condor’s character explicitly states that we can’t judge the actions of our ancestors using our civilized modern ideology, it’s as though Jackie the filmmaker doesn’t agree with him. For one, all of the college age characters in this film walk around with a huge chip on their shoulder, like the Second Opium War was a current regional conflict being covered by CNN and not something that happened over 100 years ago.
The overall message is that Chinese artifacts should be returned to their rightful owners and preserved for their historical value; which is all well and good, but the multi-national focus means you practically need Rosetta Stone to follow the dialogue in this movie. You’ve got characters speaking Mandarin, French, English, and often switching between them on the fly. Unless you happen to be multi-lingual, the subtitle track is going to get a workout.
As with any Jackie Chan movie, fans know that the plot routinely takes a backseat to the fight scenes. For many, CZ12‘s biggest sin will be the fact that there isn’t much action. The stunts and combat that are here are pretty outstanding stuff, especially considering Jackie’s age. He still scampers around and exchanges fists and kicks with the best of him. However, the best action beats in CZ12 are crammed obnoxiously into the final thirty minutes. It’s a buffet of action by the time Jackie arrives at the bad guys’ secret hideout, but until then you might grow restless waiting for Jackie to throw a punch.
A trek through the jungle with Jackie and his cohorts takes up the entire second act of the movie but proves fruitless, descending into sub-Kingdom of the Crystal Skull antics. The sets look studio-constructed and the characters appear to be in zero danger, despite the presence of automatic gunfire and an angry swarm of bees. The most excitement to be had is the rollerblade chase that opens the film and the aforementioned closing surplus of action, including a great tussle between JC and a character named The Vulture (played by French/Moroccan Taekwondo expert Alaa Saif). And as most folks are probably aware of by now, the final setpiece involves Jackie skydiving above a live volcano. It’s a fun sequence, even if most of it was brought to life via green screen effects.
CZ12 is a rough exterior you have to peel back, past layer after layer of grating characters and sequences that fail to advance the plot, to get to the fulfilling part: a 30-minute spectacle that will remind you why you love Jackie Chan movies, yes, even the ones where Jackie can’t move quite as fast as he used to. CZ12 proves that, even at age 59, Jackie’s still got more fight in him than most. At the end of the day, the film is likely too much of a mess to appeal to anyone but his most die-hard fans, but for those fans it should be an enjoyable romp with enough flashes of greatness to recall the good old days.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7/10