Tuesday, December 18, 2012

CZ12 (十二生肖 / Shi Er Sheng Xiao)


My generation grew up with Jackie Chan movies, where we would be eagerly anticipating his once a year blockbuster release usually around the Lunar New Year period. The draw would of course be his brand of action, consisting of death defying stunts all executed by himself, to varying degrees of success as captured in the end credit outtakes, to the all round family entertainment that is sans sex and swearing. Then Hollywood came knocking, and the inevitable happened - Jackie Chan grew older, and sane enough to slow things down a couple of notches. But there goes the usual charm, which of course no one will berate him for, after giving his prime to entertaining the masses round the world.

No longer the usual one man hero / one man show in his films, his characters become the team leaders, rather than operating in lone wolf fashion, and in some ways, nurturing fresh faces amongst his troupe to do things the JC way, continuing his brand of action-filmmaking. He had arguably made his 100th film with 1911, and with his latest release in CZ12 (Chinese Zodiac 12), you could sense the very obvious slowdown, and less risk taking involved, which culminates in a less than enjoyable audience experience, sad to say, when he tries hard to compensate with an increase in drama and story, which is perfunctory at best for the action sequences to surface.

Wearing multiple hyphenated hats, probably the most in a feature film, having a hand in everything from producing, directing, writing, lensing, deciding on art direction, and the list goes on. Perhaps having to wear too many hats may have diluted his focus and responsibilities in a lot of areas, resulting in what would be a very lackluster Jackie Chan movie by his standards. The usual comedy he puts in are very tired and unfunny, and the stunts give way to some obvious wire work, and a hint at stand-ins which once upon a time would be unthinkable. Perhaps it is these high standards he had already set, that he's woefully unable to achieve, being also bogged down by the latest technology buzz to replace practical effects with CG ones as much as possible.

The story is simple, with Jackie Chan playing JC, a mercenary Indiana Jones type thief for hire, operating with a lean crew (Zhang Lanxin, Kwone Sang-Woo, and Liao Fan) and often posing as a National Geographic journalist. They get assigned by an unscrupulous auction house to steal what would be the bronze heads of the Chinese Zodiac statues, which in the late 19th century sat pretty in a Chinese palace already demolished by the invading Western forces. So he goes jet-setting round the globe to recover these artifacts for the wrong reasons of personal profit, before being told off and influenced by a group of well meaning lobbyists whose objective is to convince owners of any antiques and national treasures, to return them to where they rightfully belong.

I won't even go into too much specifics of the story, because it conveniently introduces characters, from a Chinese woman (Yao Xingtong) working in France, to a French lady (Laura Weissbcker) whose ancestor happen to be one amongst many to have laid eyes on the treasures in China, and helped himself to plundering for profit, including being shipwrecked, which leads the merry crew to an abandoned island where perhaps one of the longest, and most uninspiring set action pieces takes place. Granted this film has got its fair share of investors, it's a little bit of a scrimping felt when this entire sequence was sound-staged, with stunts that try to look dangerous when it's obvious there's no degree or hint of risk. A bunch of multi-lingual, multi-cultural pirates enter the scene as adversaries, and I tell you it's one of the most tedious sequences in the entire film, contributing to the tremendous sag in pace at the halfway mark.

The highlights though were the first sequence involving Jackie Chan in what would be a suit of skates, nimbly escaping from soldiers as he weaves in and out through pursuing vehicles, and the quintessential warehouse setting that serves as a villains lair of sorts, which allows for all hell to break loose, and for the man to do battle against a whole host of adversaries, giving opportunity to perform his usual bag of circus acrobatics that have become the hallmark of his career. It's vintage JC just in that segment. And in what would be a case of too many endings, the finale involving a sky-diving fight on approach to an active volcano, is again something of a letdown, given the lack of sophistication in masking and refining its movie magic moments (the outtakes will show just why the hunger and appetite for risk is no longer there).

Running just over 2 hours, CZ12 would have benefitted if the pace was tighter, and trimmed without many unnecessary moments that dragged and bloated the thin storyline, be it the light comedy that tried too hard to be funny, action that became repetitive after a while, or the chest-thumping, nationalistic moments with characters exalting their motherland, and preaching from a morale high ground of obligation to seek and retrieve national treasures from the hands of greedy museums and private collectors. It may be amusing for a bit, but too much of something just becomes a little bit abhorring.

CZ12 is full of excessive moments, which I think is natural for JC the filmmaker to have had become a little over self-indulgent with his latest effort. A slew of cameos from Oliver Platt, Shu Qi and Daniel Wu, amongst others like Jonathan Lee, were sought to spice up the ensemble cast especially in the dying moments trying to sweeten the deal, but these add to nothing other than a distraction from fans from what is a rather dull action-adventure. It's one thing going out on a blaze of glory, and another fading into the sunset. Even the usually interesting end credit outtakes of a typical Jackie Chan movie, didn't manage to last to the end, and had little to show for effort put into this film.

1 comment:

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Hi Stefan,

Greeting for the day!

I am hosting my first ever blogathon on my movie blog: A Potpourri of Vestiges. It is called "Best of the Best Blogathon".

Now, I would be highly obliged if you could contribute a post or two towards the same. You may write a new post but an existing one will also suffice :-)

Here's the link:


Murtaza Ali

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