On the surface 2012’s Chinese Zodiac is a winner. In this pseudo-sequel to Armor of God Jackie returns to the globe hopping, insane stunt laden movies we all know and love. The movie sounds like a welcome return to form in theory. But in practice… Well let’s just have a look.
Chan, now going by JC, is a world traveling relic hunter with his gang of grave robbers (Zhang Lanxin, Liao Fan, and Kwon Sang-Woo). Working through middleman Jonathan (Jonathan Lee) the crew steals ancient artifacts for corrupt antiquities dealer Lawrence Morgan (Oliver Platt). With the help of relics activist Coco (Yao Xingtong) he goes on his biggest quest to date; trying to find the 12 bronze heads looted from the China in the 1860’s. Following clues the unlikely crew goes across the globe trying to keep the treasures out of the wrong hands.
Admittedly here was a bit of trepidation going in to this movie. Despite loving Jackie Chan movies his recent output hasn’t been as good as it has been in the past. Throw in some pretty harsh reviews (33% on Rotten Tomatoes) and the worry feels a bit justified. I’m relieved to say that Chinese Zodiac delivered. At least it delivered more than I expected it to. The plot was wafer thin but that is hardly anything new to Jackie Chan movies. The plot is nothing more than a way to give Jackie different set pieces and it is perfectly fine as that.
It’s hard to believe but Chan was just shy of 60 at the time of filming. Given he isn’t as spry as he used to be and there is some very obvious green screen. But his action design is as good as it’s ever been. Any physical limitations he has are quickly forgotten with set pieces that are masterfully pulled off. Despite some obvious CG and body doubling we get all the staples of a good Jackie movie. From the needlessly complicated stunts to a giant, sprawling chase it is all there to some degree. While it may not be as dangerous I still found myself going “Yeah I would never attempt that.” It isn’t Chan in these scenes though. Zhang Lanxin, a Taekwondo champion, has one of the better fight scenes against stuntwoman Caitlin Dechelle. I don’t want to do the whole “She’s the next big thing!” gimmick but I would be totally fine with Zhang Lanxin being a Michelle Yeoh-style action movie star.
It’s a good thing the action is on point because the rest leaves a bit to be desired. Now I’m not talking about the plot which I mentioned before. In all honesty it’s not any worse than the other Armour of God movies. No what sticks out like a sore thumb is some of the most blatant and overbearing pro-China rhetoric you’ve ever heard. I get that in recent years Jackie has come out with a very pro-China stance and I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine with are speeches about the Opium War and the looting of antiquities that bring what is essentially a family action movie to a screeching halt. If Jackie weren’t so charismatic this could have been a movie killer.
When all is said and done Chinese Zodiac doesn’t hold a candle to the other Armour of God movies, or any of his classic movies for that matter. But is it as bad as Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe? Absolutely not. If you can look past some obvious CG and heavy handed ideology you will have a fun action movie and the closest we’ll ever get to the classic Jackie movie. Also apparently Kenny G has a cameo. How insane is that?