You don't give Jackie Chan superpowers. You just don't. He doesn't need them, his attributes are his physical prowess and agility and his mental creativity in a situation. That's what makes him so cool. Like Batman (though with far more charm, likability, and a sense of humor)his "powers" are skill and they're honed, not magical or the result of some radiological/astronomical/supernatural blessing.
That aside, this movie has Chan save a child's life and buy dinner for a stray dog just in the first ten minutes. He goes on to ride motorcycles, get whacked by a (recently emptied) bed pan, run amok in Dublin, and play hide and seek with bad guys among hundreds of large metal shipping containers on a dock. He even diesthis isn't giving anything away since it happens less than an hour into the movie: you know he's not going to stay dead.
All that and...this was really lacking.
One should not judge all movies by a small set of acknowledged classics. You don't judge Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento) by Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles) or Bullet in the Head (1990, John Woo) by Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz). Or to stay within a genre (both are musicals of a sort): Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979, Allan Arkush) with The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming, King Vidor). So one doesn't expect "great art," just entertainment.
Originally titled Highbinders (note the clapboards during the obligatory outtakes at the end), The Medallion (2003) was intended to be a melding of Hollywood and Hong Kong. It ends up failing as either. Generally, I'll give Chan a lot of leeway in his work (as Roger Ebert put in his review "I realize I am not stern enough with such movies, permitting myself to be entertained when I should be appalled...."), going by my "Marx Brothers rule": a "bad" Marx Brothers movie is still better than most similar films. Doesn't mean Chan hasn't done some clunkers (even seen one of his "serious" kung fu movies? don't.). But they always have some redeeming qualities if you have an open enough mind, the right mood, and look hard enough. A lot of Chan charm and charisma go a long way. As do inventive stunts.
It's well acknowledged that he's slowing down. In April 2004 he'll be turning 50. And he's done over 50 movies since 1980 (his first credited appearance was in 1972 and that was not his first acting work). He's been killing himself by inches for his fans' entertainment for a long time. It's not easy to keep punishing one's body, especially as one ages. He's not 40 anymore. Or 40. Or 45. But he can still pull off some nice action work&151;his niche has never really been as a martial artist anyway (his "style" is more along the lines of his beloved silent film comedians like Buster Keaton and his training with the Chinese opera). But as each new film comes out, the comment about fewer and fewer stunts and fighting gets repeated. It's true and will become a bigger problem as he ages because, despite a natural knack for amiable comedy, one needs capable writers to make a more plot driven story work.
One should usually beware of a film that lists multiple writers (unless the names are Chapman, Cleese, Gilliam, Jones, and Palin). The Medallion has five. Not a good sign. Especially since none of them seem to have done much of a job. Plot? In a Jackie Chan movie? Yeah, usually it doesn't much matter because the lead carries the movie, needing only the skeleton on which to hang the chases, stunts, fighting, and a little slapstick. So plots are usually perfunctory, which in Chan's case is adequate (and if the plot is a bit more than that: bonus). This one is just dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Can Jackie save it?
I really wanted to like this movie. I really did.
Chan is (once again) a Hong Kong police detective, this time working with Interpol. They are trying to track down and bring in a notorious smuggler (Snakehead) played by Julian Sands, who has very little to do until the end and seems less menacing than usual. Doesn't even seem to be having much fun, either. But Mr. -Head is after bigger game: a medallion that can give the owner both superhuman powers and immortality (with a catchthere always is). It is held by a young child who becomes a the object of his quest. Chan and partner Arthur Watsonplayed by Lee Evans, whose best known roles in the US are probably Mouse Hunt (1997) and There's Something About Mary (1998)is to find the kidnapped child (they don't know about the magical medallion: that comes later).
Evans, though a bit heavy-handed at times, actually injects some welcome humor to keep things from falling apart (like bandaging the dike). He's incompetent and his wife thinks he works as a librarian. Ha ha. There's a completely unexplored subsubsubplot with his beautiful Asian wife Charlotte (Christy Chung) who apparently has a secret life herself. But it only comes up during one short sequence and then is forgotten, uncommented on (like some scenes were excised and they didn't want to bother reshooting). Claire Forlani (a rather nice looking actress who is better at the "looking" than the acting) plays Chan's sorta estranged former girlfriend. Yes. "Girlfriend." Chan generally avoids (has for most of his career) "love interest" material, opting to include it merely as a passing comedic element. Possibly a deference to the intended western audience or possibly a way to pad a script anemic of both "real" action and plot. Or both. Or something. In the right mood, parts of it are almost touching. But mostly awkward and guilty of slowing down things. Too calculated, like it was blueprinted from some action-comedy template. And somewhat annoying.
There's some decent fight/chase scenes early on. Not enough to carry a film (even a non-Jackie Chan one) but enough to remind you why he's such a fun actor. Then, inevitably, like the proverbial gun in a drawer, a magical medallion comes into play. And Chan gets his "powers." Doors fly off cars and he accidentally jumps through as ceiling. The only real pay off is during a bit where he discovers remarkable indestructibility. That was funny. Also, predictably predictable, Sands gets his powers and then it gets worse. Chan has always had a bit of cartoonishness about him (in his case, one of his likable qualities) but this becomes a bad cartoon (sorta like "Jackie Chan Adventures" only more boring and you have to pay to watch it).
Running Flash-like through the woods and jumping from tree limb to tree limb. A big (anti)climactic fight in an Irish castle (an utterly wasted location). Flying through the air, spinning, walking upside down underneath free standing stairs (a sad M.C. Escher hommage, perhaps). It sounds like the exciting, frenetic work of Hong Kong's Tsui Hark and others. It's not. I have no problem with wire and trampoline work, I really don't. I loved the Swordsman movies (1990, 1991, 1992) and even some of the worse kung fu flicks. But this stuff is done poorly. And substitutes (fake-looking) special effects for the most part and enough cuts to qualify for music video status. Frankly, you know Chan will win and the sooner he gets it over with, the better.
Why, Jackie why?
Even his trademark outtakes suffer. Granted, there were fewer stunts to work with but the dialogue flubs were just tiresome (and not really funny). Instead of sticking out the credits like one usually does with a Chan movie, just beat the crowd to the parking lot. The final shot of Chan and Forlani bursting through a rock face and flying away together was the last straw of many that I kept giving him, hoping for things to turn out better. It's great that he is so prolific. I am a fan. But he needs to be more discriminating. Please.
This one will probably drop off faster than the recent Hulk. Or Chan's The Tuxedo (2002). Unless one is a Chan completist, wait until it hits television. Better yet, check out Legend of the Drunken Master (1994/2000), Supercop (1992/1996), or any number of his 1990's films one could name. Or if infected by a goofy mood, 1980's Half a Loaf of Kung Fu. None of which are Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman) or to everyone's taste, but they are entertaining and they go well with the popcorn.
Notes (for those so inclined):
- I really do like Batman. Much better and cooler than the guy with an "S" on his chest.
- The hardest part was coming up with the movie pairs, I almost resorted to random stuff off my shelf. I do think Woo's Bullet in the Head is arguably his best work and his best examination of emotional bond of male friendship and its betrayal. Its lack of Chow Yun Fat will mean it's hard to get a hold of in the United States.
- Richard Fleming's footage for The Wizard of Oz wasn't used and was totally reshot. Vidor did the scenes in Kansas. Neither were credited. Rock 'n' Roll High School also had uncredited directorial help from Joe Dante and Jerry Zucker. I did not realize this. Research rules!
- In China/Hong Kong, a "snakehead" is someone who is involved with smuggling humans into what sometimes becomes indentured servitude, if not slavery. All accompanied by gouging the relatives for money (the promise is that the person is being taken to a western country) and beatings. Other nasty business. It's a reference probably lost on most western viewers who think it just refers to an invasive species of fish in the US.
- Sands briefly did voicework on the animated "Jackie Chan Adventures".
- The reliance on dialogue outtakes has become more prevalent since his official Hollywood movies (his later Hollywood movies, starting with 1998's Rush Hour). A similar phenomenon can be seen with his longtime friend and the action choreographer Sammo Hung whose short-lived series "Martial Law" (1998-2000) used the same outtake formula. After the show was sent in a more comedic vein through the inexplicable (probably Rush Hour inspired) addition of Arsenio Hall as his partner, the outtakes became less about stunts and more about screwing up lines of dialogue. Hung is not only an accomplished fight choreographer but a martial artist as welldespite being quite overweight, he is remarkably agile and a (in Asia, at least) star in his own right. Trivia probably more interesting to me than to anyone else....
- Originally released in 1994 as Drunken Master II (or Drunken Fist II, a sequel to his 1978 Drunken Master, an example of his earlier mixing of kung fu and comedy), the movie was released in 2000 under the title of Legend of the Drunken Master.
- Supercop was released in 1992 as part three (hence the other title: Police Story 3) of the Police Story series, the first of which (1985) is considered his breakthrough action film. After the US box office success of Rumble in the Bronx (1996, originally released the previous year), Supercop was quickly released. As with his other films, the US release was dubbed, a new musical score added, and some scenes were deleted. Again trivia no one else cares about....
- Finally, I have not seen The Tuxedo. I do not intend to. And with the exception of Hulk, I like all the movies cited above. For the record.
Sources: seeing the first showing the day it came out; many hours of watching his films on video, DVD, and at the theater (kung fu films in general); facts and dates checked at www.imdb.com.