A covert man travels the world stealing historical artifacts, priceless paintings and relics from every corner of the globe. Asian Hawk (Jackie Chan) works with a group of businessmen, who endeavour to buy and sell precious items to manipulate the markets and earn large profits. A hired gun of sorts, Asian Hawk, uses his superior physical ability, host of James Bond like gadgets, and slapstick type of martial arts to acquire practically anything for the highest bidder. Tasked with the mission of recovering 12 bronze heads, each representing an animal from the Chinese zodiac, Hawk infiltrates the lives of his wealthy victims and even travels to uncharted islands in search of his mark.
‘Chinese Zodiac’ is a film about expectations. If you are a fan of the genre of dubbed-over Kung Fu films that are merged with an international take on slapstick comedy, then the film should provide an enjoyable viewing experience. If you are looking for a compelling cinematic experience or a piece of quality Chinese filmmaking, let’s face it, you wouldn’t go and watch this film. To say the film was ‘bad’ could be considered negative, and considering films of this ilk are imbued with over the top performances aimed at entertaining both Chinese and American audiences, the film may be considered a cult favourite that is so bad – it somehow becomes good.
Although, films of this type leave little fodder for commentary and analysis, a few elements of the film were noteworthy. Despite the fact that almost all cultural elements of the film were diluted for western audiences, there is some sociopolitical sentiment regarding the Chinese identity, which is rooted in many of the objects that Hawk and his team are stealing. This sliver of cultural meaning in the film is mirrored by the use of Chinese-pop that reminds the viewer of the film’s origins and the Cantonese that has been replaced by English. The theme song of the film, Shi Er Sheng Xiao, blends a bit of western style, traditional Chinese rhythms and the concept of the Chinese Zodiac to create an easy listening tune, even if you don’t understand the lyrics.
The second unique element of the film was the animation segments that were used for flashbacks, which capture the historical pillaging of Chinese temples in sepia-tone, dream like sequences. Unfortunately, these sequences were overshadowed by the sloppy use of CGI, which at times make the film almost a caricature of itself. It appears that the film is trying to be too many things at once, and often forgets that the core of Jackie Chan’s filmmaking and acting are impressive martial arts. Un-inspiring fight scenes and somewhat palatable comedy really don’t mix at times and leave the viewer patiently waiting for the epic martial arts battles that Chan is known for.
Overall, if you are not a fan of the genre, steer clear of ‘Chinese Zodiac’ as it will leave you unfulfilled with this uninspired start to film watching in 2013.