A team of thieves lead by JC (played by Jackie Chan) searches the world for a set of mystic artifacts – 12 bronze heads of the animals from the Chinese zodiac.
This is a tricky movie to critique. First of all, Jackie Chan has stated that this is his last time performing his own stunts in a movie. So do I measure CZ12 as a standalone film or do I position it as a final act in the long line of Jackie Chan’s filmography over the last 30 years?
Secondly, what can I expect from Jackie Chan? As a final bow, what can he do to surprise me? He is long past his physical peak (in my opinion, his top physical peak was Police Story 2). After 20 years of growing up on his films, The “Jackie Chan Action Scene Formula” is forever embedded into my brain; I almost always know how his fight scenes end. In case you do not know what I’m talking about, here it is:
- There’s a situation where Jackie Chan is being beaten by a group of people.
- The fight leads to an environment/a prop.
- Jackie Chan using the environment/prop, creatively defeats the entire group of people.
- There’s a joke at the end that comes from the environment/prop. End scene.
So, did Chinese Zodiac 12 surprise me? I would say 40% yes, 60% no.
I watched a recent interview that Jackie Chan gave to a mainland show where he said that he did not like casting TV actors in his movies because they take way too much time to get through a scene of dialogue. It seems he went the other extreme, because the dramatic scenes are played out and edited way too quickly. It’s like every dramatic scene was played out on fast-forward and often there is not a lot of time to digest what’s going on. Even comedic moments are neutered from the lack of time to digest them. I found this to be problematic.
Narrative wise, the story takes shortcuts. Characters act out of character at times for story convenience. And seriously, can anyone really buy Jackie Chan being a heartless money-grubbing thief? I’d have an easier time buying Tom Hanks playing a bad guy than Jackie Chan.
So about the set pieces. For what he can’t bring physically, Chan makes it up with scale and locales. The action set pieces are fun, some stand out more than others. My favorite was the bodyblading sequence at the beginning. That was a very tense sequence watching Jackie Chan go head first speeding down a highway. The story and action scenes in CZ12 ask the audience to recall Jackie Chan’s past filmography, notably the two Armour of God movies (You can call this Armour of God 3, if you like). It even drew a few gags from it and there was one set that recalled the drug factory from Dragons Forever. This makes it impossible for me to critique it as a standalone film.
Part of the film’s story is a piece of issue-tainment addressing the issue of museums withholding historical artifacts from their home countries. It’s an issue that Jackie Chan seems to care a lot about and he presents it as an international issue. Although the film treats this issue rather lightly and it does ultimately get buried under the trappings of a Jackie Chan movie, it’s nice to see Chan raising an issue like this in a film.
There are many personal touches like that here, it’s very possible that Jackie Chan can just be a director in the future. There was one noteworthy part of the movie where Jackie Chan actually officially apologizes to his real-life wife for the time they’ve missed together all these years. They reportedly see each other once a year. This moved me by the end. It was not from the story of the film or from a well-earned dramatic catharsis, but because it felt like Jackie Chan was saying goodbye to me.
For anybody who’s unfamiliar with Chan, it’s not a great movie by conventional rules nor would it gain him any new fans. For these people, I refer you to his earlier films, check out The Drunken Master and the Police Story films.
For people who grew up on Jackie Chan movies like I did, I don’t think I can ever stomach the idea of Jackie Chan saying goodbye. My earlier memories of films were of Jackie Chan movies. Watching this movie, I was moved, laughed and exhilirated, all the time thinking maybe this was the last time. If Jackie Chan really chose to retire performing action, CZ12 is a good way to go out.