Still the Fastest Man in the East
Chinese Zodiac Blu-ray Review
On the one hand, it's nice to see JC back doing what he's done best for 50 years - crazy stunts and comic-laced action, breaking bones and winning awards. On the other hand, I hope this isn't really his last actioner.Earning himself two Guinness World Records in the process (Most Stunts performed by a living actor, and Most Credits in one movie – as Writer, Actor, Producer, Director, Cinematographer et al), Chan was clearly committed to this go-out-with-a-bang sequel, but unfortunately things have changed since his heyday.
Nowadays audiences expect more; they expect massive CG spectacles and don’t much care about impressive stunts performed by the lead actor himself. Of course, Chan realised this, attempting to compromise by using more effects, but, unfortunately, in the process, diluted the whole, blending his lightning-fast antics into a bloated ensemble piece featuring a generic younger cast of wannabe stars.The story too, is an odd choice, and far too pro-Chinese for many foreign sensibilities, kick-starting with a lesson in history that sees the evil British and French looting 12 Chinese artefacts which, decades later, Chan seeks to *steal* back; crafting a globe-trotting escapade that is long on morality lessons and short on substantive action.
Fans will get a real kick out of the umbrella sequence, but it may not be enough to satisfy if this truly is his last actioner. Thankfully, with a further few films in his roster (including an already-shot Police Story 2013 and a potential Rush Hour 4) there’s always the chance of more from the master.
Certainly it’s nice to always see him doing what he does best, no matter what his age, but it’s just a shame that his age no longer appears to be the real issue – it’s more what he feels that audiences expect from his movies that truly limits him.
What is Chinese Zodiac Blu-ray Picture QualityChinese Zodiac hits UK Region Free Blu-ray sporting a solid, frequently impressive, but also far from perfect 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen. Shot almost 3 years ago, with additional footage, effects work and post-production implemented over an extended period of time, there's something of a mixed bag when coming to appraising the footage, with the overall look being slightly overblown in terms of contrast, undoubtedly in an effort to make everything brighter, fresher and younger.
Hot contrast is the name of the game in this blooming, sporadically soft, but otherwise good video presentation.
Detail is generally very impressive, however, with the rendition affording clean lines, strong fine object detail and largely no digital issues apparent - no overt edge enhancement, excessive DNR application, banding or blocking. Softness appears to come as a by-product of the contrast tweaking, and does leave JC looking younger than you'd expect from a guy pushing 60, although it's far from consistent, and it doesn't look bad, just not quite as acutely observant as you'd expect a modern HD pic to look. The colour scheme is obviously also affected by the contrast tweaking, but tones are presented in a largely vibrant and vivid way, even if this occasionally goes against authenticity. Skin tones are skewed but tanned, with black levels strong and deep, and sporting strong shadow detail. Whilst far from perfect, this is still a generally very good looking video presentation, and many problems within appear to be as a result of the stylistic choices rather than the presentation itself.
How does Chinese Zodiac Blu-ray SoundIn a relatively rare turn of events, this UK Region Free release of Chinese Zodiac comes with far better audio options than its US counterpart - whilst ostensibly released by Universal, this is obviously from the UK branch. Perhaps the biggest asset, whilst not the default track, is the option to watch the film with its original audio in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Sure, we also get the horrific English dub for those who want to be confused by the even more jarring confluence of accents, languages, and mis-aligned lips - which is the ONLY option on the US counterpart - but thankfully we also get the original audio track as well.
Although one might assume that this is just a Mandarin audio track with English subtitles, things get far more complicated than that, with the international cast speaking a variety of languages - English, Mandarin, French and Spanish - of which Mandarin is barely the most dominant. Further confusing is the fact that many of the cast - JC included - speak more than one language in the track, although the benefit is that at least it's him speaking throughout, no matter what language.
Although not the default option, at least we get the far superior original language audio, where the US release only had the dubbed English track.
In terms of technical appreciation, both tracks are largely identical, with the original language track obviously sounding more natural, although in both cases the supporting elements are basically the same. Effects are myriad, from Asian Hawk's rollerblading stealth robbery to the jungle exploits, and volcano setpiece, popping with solid surround usage and a decent LFE undercurrent that lends the whole thing a little more oomph. It's not quite what you'd like from, say, a blockbuster release, but it is still an energetic, frequently impressive offering which boasts a suitably frantic score to boot.
Chinese Zodiac Blu-ray ExtrasAlthough there's only one extra, at least it's a beast, with the accompanying Making Of a deceptively underplayed HD offering that actually runs at almost an hour in length and provides as comprehensive a documentary as you could have possibly hoped for. Featuring plenty of input from the cast and crew (predominantly subtitled) interview snippets and loads of behind the scenes footage of the spectacular stunts, this is certainly a must-watch for fans of the film, and most Chan fans will find it difficult not to at least dip into.
Is Chinese Zodiac Blu-ray Worth BuyingIt's always nice to see Jackie Chan back in action, but let's just hope this isn't his last stunt-laden outing. For such a labour of love - where he's taken the role of Director, Writer, Producer, Star, Cinematographer, and about ten other titles - it's undoubtedly a bit of a disappointment; an uncomfortably pro-Chinese, anti-West adventure which is terribly bloated, and noticeably diluted by the presence of a younger cast of Jackie-wannabes. There are a few classic stunts in there, but the bigger CG effects only drown them out, and the end result is far from what you'd have hoped for from his final foray into stunt-driven action.
For fans who want to enjoy Jackie Chan doing what he does best, there's still a few minutes of that buried under the two-plus-hours of padding.
This Region Free UK release is certainly the better title over the US equivalent, not least because it sports the original longer international cut, but also because it has the original Mandarin audio (which is actually an almost even blend of English, French and Mandarin) rather than just the awful English dub. The video promotes the overblown contrast, and the massive Documentary should satisfy fans of the film. If you like Chan, there's no doubt you'll have to watch this at some point, but perhaps it's worth a rental first to test the waters and see whether it's a keeper. If you're interested in exploring the works of this action master, then you have to start with his classics - and this sure as hell isn't one of them.
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