Review: CZ12 十二生肖 (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Review: CZ12 十二生肖 (2012)

Review: CZ12  十二生肖 (2012)

CZ12 a.k.a. CHINESE ZODIAC opens with a brief prologue (narrated by Jiang Wen) about how British forces invaded China in 1860 and end up stealing a number of prized Chinese antiques, which includes the heads of 12 Chinese zodiac animal statues from Beijing's Old Summer Palace. Ever since then, the 12 bronze heads have long obscured until they resurface in auction houses around the world. When wealthy businessman and antique collector Lawrence Morgan (Oliver Platt) desperately wants to get his hands on the last of the remaining bronze heads, he ends up hiring renowned treasure hunter JC (Jackie Chan) for the job, at an astonishing price of $1 million for each head. JC agrees and quickly assembles his team which includes his right-hand man Simon (Kwon Sang Woo), tech wiz David (Liao Fan) and female assistant Bonnie (Zhang Lanxin). They head on to Paris, where JC poses as a National Geographic photographer and meets Coco (Yao Xingtong), a Mainland Chinese activist who is working hard with her like-minded young people to bring the lost antiques back to China. After JC successfully stealing two bronze heads from a French mansion, he crosses path again with Coco and eventually ends up meeting Katherine (Laura Weissbecker), a French aristocrat where her great-great grandfather was involved in the raid of the Old Summer Palace. Soon, all of them tag along and travel to a remote island in search of the remaining bronze heads and some hidden golds. What follows next is a series of (mis)adventures as they encounter a band of pirates and other dangerous threats ahead.

REVIEW: You know what people used to say when you are about to retire on something, at least you go out with a bang? That question reflects similarly to Jackie Chan and his much-publicized "last big action movie", CZ12 (or better known as CHINESE ZODIAC). Expectations (especially for die-hard fans of Jackie Chan's movie) are naturally high. I mean, this is CZ12 we are talking about -- the long-awaited sequel to 1986's ARMOUR OF GOD and 1991's ARMOUR OF GOD II: OPERATION CONDOR (two of among Jackie Chan's most beloved and financially successful action comedies in his career). But after more than six years of waits since Jackie Chan last announced his return to one of his beloved franchises, CZ12 proves to be nothing more than a ho-hum experience. So if you are expecting the '80s and '90s style of Jackie Chan's movie-era, you'll be left disappointed by his half-hearted attempt to recapture his old glory.

The biggest problem in CZ12 is the bloated screenplay written by Jackie Chan, Frankie Chan, Edward Tang and Stanley Tong (all highly-recognised veterans in the Hong Kong movie industry). But despite all the screenwriting talents involved, the story is obviously tailor-made as Jackie Chan's vanity project than anything else matters. Of late, Jackie Chan's movies (excluding the one he made in the Hollywood) are mostly preachy and CZ12 is no exception. The middle part of the movie is especially long-winded with too many expository scenes detailing on how each national treasures should belong to each country and all the heavy-handed message about nationalistic pride (no, I kid you not).

And there's the whole segment at the remote island scene, which is enormously tedious and downright annoying to the point you wish when is it going to end. Here, Jackie Chan has gone for the sheer excess with wildly over-the-top scenarios that involved too many shouting and broad comedy that tries too hard to be funny (it's hard to believe that comedy is usually one of his fortes). If that's not insulting enough, Jackie Chan also introduces a band of multi-lingual pirates that each of them speaks different kinds of languages. And no, they are not the kind of pirates you'll be expecting in PROJECT A (where I wish them to be) but rather the kind of kid-friendly pirates exist in a Walt Disney comedy.

The cast, in the meantime, is a mixed bag. Jackie Chan at his usual old self. At 58 years of age, he still has a knack to perform death-defying stunts and some of his winning charms we always expect from his movie. Except this time, his character here tries so hard to be funny and serious -- two mixed elements that you hardly see in his previous ARMOUR OF GOD movies. It's actually good that he tries to evolve his usual character to a different level, but a mellow Jackie Chan just won't cut it -- especially for this kind of movie. Watching him preaches about all the long-winded message is so boring it's a butt-numbing experience to sit through. The rest of the supporting actors are sadly undermined. South Korean heartthrob Kwon Sang Woo (best known in VOLCANO HIGH) is relegated to a thankless role that doesn't do much other than Jackie tries to groom him as his next protege (especially the way Kwon Sang Woo fights). French actress Laura Weissbecker is terribly annoying as Katherine, and same goes to Yao Xingtong as well. The way she has to speak a combination of Mandarin, French and English are simply mind-boggling. Liao Fan is almost non-existent here. But relatively newcomer Zhang Lanxin, China's former Taekwondo champion-cum-model, is an engaging presence. At an imposing 177cm tall, not only she is eye-catching to look at but also proves to be an impressive fighter that would make other veteran Chinese female action stars like Michelle Yeoh proud of her physically demanding performance.

Despite blessing with a big-budget tag, CZ12 still suffers from poor special effects (especially the one involving the silly tree trunk ride down the slope of the remote island and the climactic finale at the volcano). The music score is totally forgettable, while the cinematography is adequate at best. Jackie's direction is terribly haphazard and tonally inconsistent. It's certainly a big mistake he tries too hard to be everything mashes up altogether. In the past where Jackie used to direct his own production, he is mostly in total control and the movie often turns up to be an unforgettable cinematic experience. That much-needed vibe is half-baked in CZ12. You can blame the fact that Jackie shouldn't have worn too many hats at one time (in which he happens to win two Guinness World Records for Most Credits in One Movie and Most Stunts Performed by a Living Actor), which causes him to lose focus in his direction.

Still, CZ12 is not entirely a disappointment. Somewhere in between, there are a few lively sparks left to satisfy those who always come to expect from a Jackie Chan movie. The inventive opening scene, featuring Jackie in a roller-suit (invented by Jean-Yves Blondeau) as he flees from a Russian army base, is impressive. Same goes to skydiving finale where Jackie is struggling to fight a group of skydivers mid-air. But the best action sequence surprisingly comes from the one that isn't death-defying. The particular scene at the underground facility is clearly the most exciting moments of all -- his showdown against his rival, Vulture (Alaa Safi, a former world Taekwondo champion) where they have to fight each other while remaining at the couch; and the acrobatic fight against a bunch of bodyguards (especially the one involving stand, studio umbrella and photo frame). Not to forget also is Zhang Lanxin's spectacular one-on-one fight sequence against Caitlin Dechelle, who is formerly a world martial artist champion).

As a supposedly "last big action movie" for Jackie Chan, CZ12 is far from what he claimed the most, even though it's still a fairly entertaining effort. So much for the high expectation.

Jackie Chan's long-awaited sequel to the first two ARMOUR OF GOD movies is a haphazard action-adventure that only works in individual moments.

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