Jackie Chan in his latest film Chinese Zodiac, sliding in the much-talked buggy rolling suit.(ANN)
If Tom Cruise was awarded with the Stunt of the Year in 2011 thanks to his hair-raising stunt on the world’s highest skyscraper in Dubai as he filmed Mission Impossible IV, then his title would be succeeded by Asian action legend Jackie Chan in 2012 with death-defying stunts in his latest film Chinese Zodiac.
Indeed, Chan has gone to new heights in terms of stunt, but this is not compelling enough for the Chinese Zodiac to top the must-see films in the competitive Christmas and New Year season.
Having spent seven years on the script and one year filming, Chan has done everything within his reach to pen the final chapter of his major action film career and Chinese Zodiac has more than enough reasons to stand out among his stunt performance.
The film entrances the audience with the action hero wearing a buggy rolling suit, in which he can slide his way forward either by standing up or lying down, from the parking lot, highway, steep slope, sharp curves to the bottom of a running vehicle, mocking all the chasing guards.
The audience hold their breath when he parachutes over an erupting volcano, trying to rescue the bronze animal head from dropping in and finally landing while bumping all the way along the rocks-and-ashes-carpeted mountain slope. The life-saving suit equipped with airbags does not spare the character from a wrecked body.
By the time he takes off the helmet, audience cannot even bear to look into his eyes full of broken blood vessels. A seemingly tragic heroic climax is staged, but it is like a flash in the pan. Everybody knows this is a classic action comedy.
Chan’s relentless efforts do not stop here. The action hero has taken up 15 roles in the whole movie-making process from director, producer to actor to fight choreographer, among others. He was recently presented with two Guinness World Record certificates for “Most Credits in One Movie” and “Most Stunts by a Living Actor”. It comes as no surprise when he said he slept only two to three hours a day during the shoot. People may doubt if he ever sleeps.
He travelled with the crew to eight different shooting locations, from Beijing to Paris, Taiwan and Latvia. He boasts an international cast, including South Korean actor Kwon Sang-woo and French actress Laura Weissbecker. Even his wife, Joan Lin, best actress at the 1979 Golden Horse, who has shied away from the limelight for decades, appears at the end of the film as a guest performer.
It is one message, a clear and strong one, that Chan wants it to be the best among his work, and he wants it so desperately that he rushes to serve a stunt feast, while somehow he overlooks his decade-long pursuit for character transition from action to real acting.
The film begins well with a stunning stunt scene, but the story wears thin as it proceeds to overwhelm with more stunts. Perhaps JC, the leading thief-turns-hero character, needs a moment of Chan, the Chinese character for meditation, instead of busily running and fighting all the time. The real Chan deserves a meditating moment, too, to think about what kind of message he is trying to deliver and what kind of post-Chinese Zodiac career he wants to pursue.
Of course, the message is clear. The film, based on a true story about China’s cultural relics being auctioned overseas, calls for respect for the culture of every country and most importantly the return of China’s looted cultural relics.
Therefore, it is a comedy supposed to embody a serious topic, prompt audience to laugh and meanwhile provoke people into thinking. However, the way the message is delivered does not even command one-tenth of the efforts that have been made for the stunts. Even the scenes of the auction and protests outside the hall, which should have directly stimulated a sense of righteous indignation, fail to strike resonance from the audience, not to mention the roughly made thief-hero transformation.
Still, it is a tolerable production for the Christmas and New Year season, and it lives up to the expectation for an action comedy. People enjoy a good laugh and a mother can bring her little child and spend two hours in the theatre without worrying about any gory violence. The fight scenes are presented in a dramatically entertaining way.
But Chinese Zodiac simply does not have the magic to renew the career climax of the kung fu star, and many years from now, people might still name his previous work such as the Police Story series as Chan’s best work.