As if we needed confirmation that Jackie Chan has been drinking Beijing’s Kool-Aid, the one-two punch of his recent remarks in the Hong Kong media and the ghastly and cynical CZ12 should put any queries to rest. Right before the film was released, Chan started shooting his mouth off about how Hongkongers complain too much and about how they’re just too quick to exercise their right to free speech and protest. He suggested the government look at putting some kind of leash on what can and cannot be demonstrated against, probably just to save everyone time. Needless to say, that didn’t go over very well with the public. Chan quickly threw down Classic Celebrity Excuse #1: “My comments were taken out of context,” (for the record the other two are “exhaustion” and “I’ll be entering rehab immediately.”) nonetheless, some damage might have been done. In the three weeks CZ12 has been out, it’s grossed just around US$1.4 million. In two weeks the middling Les Misérables has taken in $3 million. It’s doing better than The Guillotines, but Chan’s last major release, Kung Fu Panda 2, earned $5 million. They may not be able to vote, but Hongkongers find ways to speak anyway.
Admittedly there are some apples and oranges in that list and audiences may be steering clear for the simple reason the film is lazy and pedestrian. And it’s preachy. The opening segments of CZ12 deal with the righteousness of returning sovereign states the national treasures that have been looted from them. Historical reparations, cultural appropriation and co-operative global preservation? Fine topics, valid topics, but in a Jackie Chan film? Not so much. When we to a Chan flick, we enter into a contract agreeing to ridiculous action, goofy yet death-defying stunts and maybe a dumb joke or ten. The last think anyone wants is to be lectured about how awful the world is and how terribly (insert nation here) were treated. But at least that point of view gave it some personality, even one you don’t’ want to get stuck with at a party. When CZ12 finally gets off its high horse, it dwindles to simple ineptitude, and the combination makes the film a low point in Chan’s career — which includes Who Am I?
In his latest almost one-man opus Chan plays a PhD-free Indiana Jones type innovatively named JC (no, really) who jets around the globe with his crack team of thieves swiping priceless national artifacts for profit. Clearly then, these things aren’t priceless. Anyway, his latest gig involves finding the last remaining animal heads that represent the Chinese zodiac, stolen years before from the Beijing Summer Palace by foreign raiders. He’s working for MP Corporation mega-weasel Lawrence (Oliver Platt) who takes great pleasure in finding rare things preferably in pairs and then destroying one, ultimately raising the value of the last remaining item sky high. So JC and his crew (Bonnie, Simon and another dude whose name never comes up) head to Paris where he poses as a National Geographic (!) photographer covering the sale of a newly discovered zodiac head. The gang meets the screechy, sanctimonious and utterly functionless Coco (Yao Xingtong), an archaeologist who works with an activist group demanding repatriation of national artifacts When she comes into contact with one of JC’s possible marks — Catherine (Laura Weissbecker), a Frenchwoman whose grandfather sailed to China in the 19th century, ran aground, and somehow came back with a ton of shit — the sparks fly when Coco annoyingly berates Catherine for her grandfather’s theft. Repeatedly. Again, the issue isn’t who’s right or wrong, it’s simply one of why on earth it’s in this film. Suffice it to say, JC sees the error of his ways, finds his patriotic soul, and steals the heads for the good of the Chinese people.
If that story sounds dangerously nonsensical it’s because the film is dangerously nonsensical. The cynical part of CZ12 shows in its aggressive multi-nationalism; its locations and stars come from all around the world, maximising its marketability (except for the “it’s bad” part). Under normal circumstances, no one notices or cares how it got funded, as long as Chan delivers the martial arts goods. There is a distressingly low level of Chan acrobatics on display here: the best fight is between Bonnie (Zhang Lanxin) and her nemesis played by Caitlin Dechelle, and Chan has only one major set piece wherein a lot of the action is from a seated position. Chan is pushing 60, and it’s starting to show. The closing credit outtakes this time around have an, “Oww. Ooh. Oww,” feel as opposed to the, “Oww. Ha ha,” feel of years past. The film’s effects are inexcusably weak and the script (by — wait for it — Jackie Chan) can’t keep its characters straight. Aside from a few cleverly choreographed action sequences, like the silly but fun opening body roller chase (again, a nice comfortable seat) and the concluding warehouse throwdown, there aren’t enough cool punch-ups to save it from itself.