Chinese Zodiac was released in 2012. Written by Jackie Chan, Frankie Chan and Stanley Tong and Directed by Jackie Chan this had great promise. We were excited at the prospect of a new addition to the Armour of God series but being in our 40’s we remember the feeling of watching Chans earlier work as kids and perhaps this is the thing with this movie, we are not kids any more. Watching this we both felt that if we were 10 year olds we would enjoy it a lot more. It feels like it was made with a younger western audience in mind to introduce them to these characters and this style of film. This film was unfortunately not well received, and this maybe stalled the franchise. We feel this is a shame because on a second viewing it is not as bad as we initially dismissed it as being and Jamie, being a parent, thinks it would be a good introduction to Chan for his young son.
This time around JC (they dropped the bird theme names for this one and went with initials) is portrayed as a master antiquities thief with a team of 4 working with him. They are tasked with getting the remaining bronze heads of the Chinese Zodiac characters for their rich client who wants to make money off them.
This work is a bigger budget affair than the previous two, according to IMDB trivia on the films page one major fight scene cost more than 10 million US dollars. It does feel like there has been a lot put in to this work, Chan broke two Guinness world records on this production, most credits for a film and most stunts by a living actor. This may be the reason the film comes across as a mix of ideas, it could be seen as Chan saying how much longer can I do this and going all out to cram as much in as possible for one last hurrah. On the Blu Ray cover in the UK it does state “Chinese Zodiac is a spectacular adventure Featuring Jackie Chan who performs all his own stunts for the last time on film.”
There is stuntwork galore in this as you would expect from a Jackie Chan film but the thing that stuck out for us was the use of CGI. Where previously these sequences would be done on location or on purpose built sets exclusively, for us the CGI stuck out at times like a sore thumb. Particularly the ‘log ride’ towards the end of the film we didn’t think was that well done. That is most likely due to us being fans of the old school and as we said earlier grew up watching JC in the age before CGI. It is highly likely that if the technology was around in the 1980’s it would have been used in HK cinema and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between then and now.
This entry ties into the previous two well. There are recognizable beats which are present throughout. The character has always had up to date technology which in this film is more hi tech than before. There is a machine gun gag which worked brilliantly in Operation Condor but misses the mark slightly here and Mitsubushi is, as always, represented in a Chan film.
There is a bit more character development in this movie, there is a tone of sentimentality within it and JC is portrayed as more of a father figure. Another thing that points to this being aimed at a younger western audience is the ending of the film. We found it quite sickly sweet for want of a better description, every one is happy, reconciled and there are no consequences for actions. The ending of this could be seen as very telling as Chan's character is last seen in a hospital bed wearing various plaster casts on his limbs, maybe a way of saying this is my last time doing this style of film. This may have been a missed opportunity, perhaps if this was made 10 or 12 years earlier it could have worked better to bring the Asian Hawk to a new generation.
So as may be apparent, although all three are important and fitting entries in Chan's filmography, by far our favourite is Operation Condor. It is consistently the most fun and the most recognizable as what we see a Jackie Chan film to be.