Chinese Zodiac (2012) / Action-Adventure
aka CZ12
aka Armour of God 3

MPAA rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for violence
Length: 120 min.

Cast: Jackie Chan, Xingtong Yao, Laura Weissbecker, Zhang Lanxin, Alaa Safi, Oliver Platt, Caitlin Dechelle, Kwon Sang-woo, Liao Fan
Cameo: Kenny G, Chu Qi, Daniel Wu, Bolin Chen
Director: Jackie Chan
Screenplay: Frankie Chan, Jackie Chan, Edward Tang, Stanley Tong
Review published January 1, 2013

Chinese Zodiac CZ12In what the world renown star has claimed will be his last action film (I guess Expendables 3 doesn't count?), Jackie Chan returns to make the third film in the popular Armour of God series, (known in the US and a few other places as the Operation Condor series), to results that waver between mixed and dismal.  The series is a blend of Indiana Jones (the treasure hunt adventure), James Bond  (stunts), and Jackie Chan's unique blend of fighting and comedic mugging.  For this new one, one might also toss in a little Mission Impossible as well, for the new team-based mission and the technologically advanced gadgets and gizmos.  If you haven't seen them, you don't need to, as the three films have little to do with one another other than the basic structure mixing adventurous treasure hunts with grandiose stunts.

The premise of the film is that the world's leading treasure hunter, JC (Chan, Kung Fu Panda), is hired by an avaricious collector of priceless antiquities (Platt, X-Men First Class) in order to collect members of the twelve bronze busts of various symbols of the Chinese zodiac that had once been housed in the Summer Palace near Beijing and stolen during the Opium Wars.  The plan is to fetch as much as can be garnered from the world auction market, though a movement is afoot to stop the poaching of revered national treasures that had been stolen during wars and raids.  In addition to his own team, JC pairs up with Coco (Xingtong, Amor), a proud Chinese woman seeking to return the great lost ancient works back to China, and a French duchess named Katherine (Weissbecker, Arena), whose ancestors played a part in the initial pilfering of the Summer Palace some centuries back.

The setting begins in China, then does a bit of globe hopping, primarily to France, leading to encounters on a remote island filled with modern-day pirates, and finally culminating in a climax above an active volcano shot in Vanuatu.  It's also a multilingual effort, in an obvious attempt to cater the film more readily to the world market that enjoys Chan's films.

Although most of the movie is played for fun, there is an underlying message about the sale of national relics among art dealers, and quite a few characters deliver speeches regarding the need for these artifacts to be returned to their rightful places in their home countries.  Indiana Jones said it more succinctly in The Last Crusade when he uttered the immortal lines, "It belongs in a museum!".  It's a shame this film could not be as terse, as the perpetual speeches regarding the pride of the the host country for their treasures (here, China) gets to be quite repetitive and does push the story into feeling more like a Public Service Announcement for national artifact preservation than a full-fledged, rip-roaring adventure.

Chan's name is all over the credits here, and his contributions would even be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for most appearances in a film's credits (reportedly, Chan took 15 separate roles in the making of the film, including actor, director, writer, producer, etc.  He even composed the score, provided the art direction, the lighting...seems like everything but the catering.  Er, wait --  He coordinated that too.  It's both impressive and kind of a shame, really, as the real problems with the film happen to be the lack of tightness in the direction, the generic music, and overall vibe of cheesy TV travelogue production values.

Also, toss stunt coordinator into the mix, as Jackie choreographed a good deal of the rather remarkable stunts and fight scenes, and (mostly) did many of them himself.  It's quite a marvel to see he's barely lost a step considering he's just a couple of years shy of 60 years old at the time of Chinese Zodiac's filming.  It may not impress quite as much as Chan in his prime, but he is still inventive enough to seek new contraptions, including rolling down a swervy grade in a 31-wheel roller suit escaping from Russian soldiers, a paragliding escape from a topiary maze filled with charging Dobermans, and a skydiving battle followed by a rolling tumble down a mountain in a suit filled with air bags.

As fun as these moments are, the best stunts are still the simplest, such as watching Chan fight a fellow treasure hunter (Safi, A Prophet) with the challenge of not leaving the sectional couch they are both sitting on.  Or just watching Jackie leap over fences, gates and across ledges galore.   Speaking of Jackie's stunt work, this too has garnered him another Guinness World Record for this film, for most stunts performed by a  living actor.  Nevertheless, some may be put off by the amount of CG enhancement on the stunts, which does detract from the awe we once used to feel in the best of Chan's older films.

Unfortunately, these scenes come a bit too few and far between for what ends up being a fairly bloated 2-hour movie.  As the dialogue is barely risible to comic book quality, the acting wince-inducing (the only quality seasoned actor of the bunch is Oliver Platt, who doesn't even arrive until about 3/4 of the way in), a preachy plot that's more than a few levels beneath uninteresting, and the slapstick humor probably not entertaining to most viewers over 10 years old, there's just not enough entertainment in between the highlights to justify the time and money one might spend on it.

It's nice to see Jackie Chan pull out all stops if this is indeed his swan song from the action movie industry, though it is a shame that it couldn't have been in a film that is better overall.  Longtime Jackie Chan fans may be OK with it, but it's hard to recommend the film to anyone outside of this group.  I suppose it is lucky for the makers of the film that the number of those is still in the millions around the world. 

As with most of Chan's films, stick around through the closing credits to watch the botched stunts and amusing outtakes.
Qwipster's rating:

©2013 Vince Leo