CZ12: Film Review

The alleged final action film from martial arts star Jackie Chan is a hideous cocktail of cynicism, sanctimony and pedestrian filmmaking.    

The latest globetrotting romp from martial arts star Jackie Chan.

The latest globetrotting romp by martial arts action star Jackie Chan, opening Dec. 20 in Hong Kong, is the kind of mindless, silly romp the multi-hyphenate has become known for. CZ12 (sometimes Chinese Zodiac) couldn’t be a more inauspicious swan song if he tried, if such rumors are to be believed. As a mercenary tomb raider looking for ancient Chinese sculptures Chan’s age is starting to show; with the exception of one key fight sequence he leaves the heavy lifting to his younger costars and resorts to either greenscreen for his big moments -- or does them from the comfort of a horizontal position. This isn’t what you pay for when lining up for a Chan film.

VIDEO: Jackie Chan on Making 'Chinese Zodiac'

Clocking in at just over two hours and with a remarkable dearth of the martial acrobatics Chan is known for, there’s little to recommend the film for anyone other than Chan completists. The film is hitting screens in Hong Kong the same week as the superior family fare of Wreck-It Ralph, popular box office nonsense of the last Twilight film, and only days ahead of Les Misérables. It’s going to be an uphill battle for this vehicle, particularly in light of recent comments in the press (“taken out of context” naturally) where Chan whined about Hongkongers being too quick to exert their right to free speech. It hasn’t endeared him to the public and a backlash wouldn’t be at all surprising.

Still, it’s a Jackie Chan movie and his fans around the world are legion. CZ12 is aggressively multi-national and designed for maximum market appeal: the cast hails form South Korea, China, the USA and France, is spoken in four languages and was shot in Paris, Taiwan and the South Pacific among others. Chan is still a brand even if it is a diminished one, and he broadened his reach when he went down the slapstick road with 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx (complete with Canada Post mailboxes visible in the background). The kids in the audience rarely stopped giggling, and so reasonably healthy box office returns should be expected in Asia where slapstick plays well, and the content will make it an enormous hit in China. Overseas the film is going to have to rely on viewer goodwill and brand loyalty. CZ12 should fade to the background of Chan’s oeuvre sooner rather than later.

As the leader of a wily band of Indiana Jones-type archeological thieves, JC (Chan) has made a good living swiping rare antiquities from long abandoned corners of the globe and handing them over to auction houses. When the nefarious president of the MP Corporation (Oliver Platt, slumming it) hires him to find the last of the missing bronze zodiac animal heads from the old Summer Palace in Beijing, he meets the irritating, sanctimonious Coco (Yao Xingtong), a member of an irritating, sanctimonious activist group dedicated to returning national treasures to their rightful owners—which is mostly China. They wind up on an island where a French woman that’s fallen on hard times, Katherine (Laura Weissbecker), claims her grandfather’s ship ran aground coming back from China. Great, more stolen treasure for Coco to get indignant about! After about five minutes of introspection JC finds his soul and decides to steal for the right reasons.

Regardless of what one believes about historical propriety and national rights, CZ12 is not the place to debate them, and after the third lecture on the foreign raiders and auction houses that profit from 19th century pillages, the subject simply becomes exhausting. No matter how valid the argument, it’s cocooned inside some truly awful paint-by-numbers filmmaking with dull characters, wooden acting and at least two moments of dreadful compositing. No one expects Chan to crank out the next Citizen Kane, but we do expect him to meet a standard of fun. This is mostly lazy, with frequent lapses in logic and continuity. A final warehouse confrontation with Lawrence’s henchman Vulture (Alaa Safi) in and around a sofa set and then a horde of thugs is the creative high point, however JC’s right hand Bonnie (Zhang Lanxin) and her opponent (Caitlin Dechelle) is far more interesting. 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. 

Producer Stanley Tong, Barbie Tung, Jackie Chan

Director Jackie Chan

Cast Jackie Chan, Yao Xingtong, Kwong Sang-woo, Zhang Lanxin, Laura Weissbecker, Oliver Platt

Screenwriter Frankie Chan, Edward Tang, Stanley Tong, Jackie Chan

Executive producer Brett Ratner, Wang Zhongjun, Albert Yeung, Jackie Chan

Director of Photography Ng Man-ching, Jackie Chan

Music Roc Chen, Nathan Wang

Costume designer Kitty Chen, Kwok Big Yan

No rating, 124 minutes