Can’t anybody in the movie biz figure out how to make better use of Jackie Chan’s time?
Come on. The guy’s like a precious internatural resource, a minor institution of world cultural heritage. For decades he’s been the biggest star in Asia and abroad; and, if most of his films have been mediocre at best, at least the better ones have understood that the way to make a Jackie Chan movie is (1) stay out of his way and let the man do his thing, (2) don’t take it too seriously, and (3) try not to do anything too glaringly annoying that could prove a distraction to the audience.
Jackie’s current string of Hollywood buddy movies (the Rush Hour and Shanghai flicks; The Tuxedo) have brought him success in the U.S. — but at a price. For one thing, he’s never been allowed to do the kind of really elaborate, extended action-comedy sequences that were the heart and soul of solo efforts like First Strike and Rumble in the Bronx. For another, he’s had to share the spotlight with a string of costars ranging from alternately funny and irritating (Owen Wilson, funny in Shanghai Noon but irritating in Shanghai Knights, and Chris Tucker, alternatingly funny and irritating throughout both Rush Hour movies) to just plain irritating and not funny (Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Tuxedo).
The Medallion is actually a Hong Kong production, but it’s a Hollywood buddy-flick wannabe, filmed in English with a fairly respectable English-language supporting cast including John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings), Julian Sands (TV’s "Napoleon"), and Claire Forlani (Northfork).
Any of these costars might have made a decent movie buddy for Jackie. Instead, the buddy role goes to British comic Lee Evans (The Ladies Man, There’s Something About Mary), who’s not only far and away the most irritating buddy Jackie’s ever been saddled with (easily surpassing Jennifer Love Hewitt), but has got to be one the most irritating buddies in buddy-movie history. Just in his excruciating response to a Three’s Company moment when he realizes that an argument he’s having with Jackie sounds to eavedropping coworkers like a gay lovers’ quarrel, Evans sinks to a level all his own.
Enduring Evans might be possible if The Medallion compensated with vintage Jackie moments as inspired as the best bits in Shanghai Knights (the umbrella sequence, the revolving door, the ladders), or even comic routines as entertaining as his James Brown riff in The Tuxedo.
Alas, The Medallion has very little genuine humor, and only one action scene of any distinction at all — a crowd-pleasing chase scene with Jackie hot on the heels of a remarkably agile Johann Myers. There are also a few diverting moments in a fight scene at a dockyard amid dumpster-sized iron cargo containers.
Beyond that, it’s all generic at best, watered down with lots of fast cuts and uninteresting special effects. It’s not enough. For the first time in years, the lameness of the surrounding product finally drags Jackie down, instead of him managing to rise above it.
I realize that at nearly fifty Jackie’s slowing down. I accept that. I’m not asking for Legend of Drunken Master-level agility and speed. I’m willing to live with Jackie using wirework, CGI, maybe even stunt men. My standards aren’t unreasonable. For crying out loud, I even enjoyed The Tuxedo, and nobody liked The Tuxedo.
All I ask is, show me some imagination, some playfulness, some creativity. Bring on the props, the slapstick. There’s a scene in this film in which Jackie and some allies are under attack in a house, and the housewife starts going through a closet looking for weapons. In the closet is an ironing board. My heart leaped. For years I have been waiting for Jackie Chan to get busy with an ironing board. Sadly, the moment passed, perhaps forever.
At least The Medallion isn’t marred by the sometimes nasty violence and (other than that one out-of-context exchange mentioned above) off-color humor that have plagued Jackie’s Hollywood films. On the other hand, the film’s supernatural elements — a mystic medallion in the hands of a Golden Child-like lad of prophecy capable of conferring supernatural powers and even immortality — are rooted in a Buddhist milieu, and give the proceedings a flavoring of pop Eastern mysticism.
Compounding this is the unsettling way that the medallion’s gift of "immortality" works: Instead of reviving the dead body, it creates a new one, after which the old body crumbles into dust. The conferral of immortality and supernatural power on a dead body sounds like resurrection, but in the movie it’s more like reincarnation into a higher form. That may be overanalyzing, but watching Jackie’s dead body dissolve into dust while his incredulous new body watched on, I found it hard to think of it as a neutral plot point.
Spiritual implications are the last thing I want to think about at a Jackie Chan flick. Other distractions include worse-than-usual storytelling (perhaps a result of cuts, imposed by skittish Screen Gems suits, of up to a half hour of material), a script that’s merely lame rather than campy (credited to five writers, no less), and of course Lee Evans’s buffoonish, prissy Interpol cop. The ratio of bad to good is always a live issue with a Jackie Chan movie; here the balance is just too far in the wrong direction.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.