Jackie Chan has billed Chinese Zodiac as his last big action film. With his recent announcement that he will be joining the Expendable franchise, this comes as good news as this one doesn’t exactly end his reign with a bang. As a mercenary tomb raider looking for ancient Chinese sculptures Chan’s age is starting to show. CZ12 is like a tribute of the veteran star’s own old skool Hong Kong action classics. Unoriginal plot, cheap foreign actors, extremely poor English dialogues, plenty of illogical scenes, villains are overly incompetent but highly entertaining fast-paced action and slapstick humor. So if you are expecting the ’80s and ’90s style of Jackie Chan’s movie-era, you’ll be left disappointed by his half-hearted attempt to recapture his old glory.
The cast, in the meantime, is a mixed bag. Jackie Chan at his usual old self. At 58 years of age, he still has a knack to perform death-defying stunts and some of his winning charms we always expect from his movie. Despite blessing with a big-budget tag, CZ12 still suffers from poor special effects. Music score is totally forgettable, while the cinematography is adequate at best. Jackie’s direction is terribly haphazard and tonally inconsistent. It’s certainly a big mistake he tries too hard to be everything mashes up altogether. In the past where Jackie used to direct his own production, he is mostly in total control and the movie often turns up to be an unforgettable cinematic experience. That much-needed vibe is half-baked in CZ12. You can blame the fact that Jackie shouldn’t have wearing too many hats at one time.
If Chan were half the patriot he claims he is, he’d put his considerable resources as a producer into finding the next Jackie Chan; Jet Li is only slightly younger, leaving Donnie Yen as Hong Kong’s sole marital star. If this does turn out to be Chan’s last picture it’s easy to see why. Not even the closing credit out takes are fun anymore. Instead of keeping the Indiana Jones influences from the previous installment (Armour of God II: Operation of Condor), this film crosses over the styles of a few heist and spy movies like Once A Thief, Mission Impossible and Ocean’s 11 and incorporates them all with Jackie Chan’s stunts, always impressive action choreography and horrible script. Liao Fan is almost non-existent here. But relatively newcomer Zhang Lanxin, China’s former tae-kwon-do champion-cum-model, is an engaging presence. At an imposing 5 feet 9 inches tall, not only she is eye-catching to look at but also proves to be an impressive fighter that would make other veteran Chinese female action stars like Michelle Yeoh proud of her physically-demanding performance.
The title refers to the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. Specifically, there are 12 bronze busts which were looted from the Old Summer Palace when it was ransacked in 1860 and some are now being auctioned off. Kwon Sang-woo is wasted in a typical second-banana role, while Platt is lightweight as the film’s heavy. Striving for global appeal, Chan also ends up with a multilingual mess as actors juggle Cantonese, Putonghua, English and French – often in a single scene. As a supposedly “last big action movie” for Jackie Chan, CZ12 is far from what he claimed the most, even though it’s still a fairly entertaining effort. So much for the high expectation.