Chinese Zodiac (Armour of God III) Review
Lightweight, CG-enhanced, but still impressive for a man pushing 60
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.Shot over 2 years ago and unceremoniously flung at Western audiences under the guise of the generic title "Chinese Zodiac", this is actually the third entry in one of action superstar Jackie Chan's two biggest Hong Kong film franchises - Armour of God (the other being Police Story).
Of course most Western audiences will probably know him best for his two most successful Hollywood franchises – Rush Hour and the Shanghai Noon/Knights series – but, with five Police Stories and a sixth one on the way, and this third Armour of God entry, there’s no doubt where his heart truly lies.
Earning himself two Guinness World Records in the process (Most Stunts performed by a living actor, and, perhaps even more incredibly, most credits in one movie – as Writer, Actor, Producer, Director, Cinematographer to name but a third of his credits on this film), Chan was clearly committed to this go-out-with-a-bang sequel, but unfortunately things have changed since the days of the Police Stories and Armour of Gods.Nowadays audiences expect more; they expect CG spectacles and massive scales to everything and don’t much care about impressive stunts which are actually being performed by the lead actor himself. Indeed, whilst Chan may be doing unprecedented stunts for a man pushing 60, that doesn’t really mean a great deal when CG can have anybody do anything.
Of course, Chan realised this, and attempted to compromise by making the movie more of a CG-driven spectacle, but, unfortunately, in the process, diluted the potential impact of most of the film’s more elaborate sequences, taking the focus away from what he does best and blending his jaw-dropping lightning-fast antics into a bloated, overlong ensemble piece featuring a generic younger cast of supporting players, most of whom don’t deserve to even stand in his shadow.
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 after they laid waste to one of the most beautiful pieces of Chinese architecture in history. After this we see Chan’s JC (aka Asian Hawk), and a whole team of interchangeable sidekicks, going to great lengths to recover all 12 pieces in a globe-trotting escapade that is long on morality lessons and short on substantive action.
It's got to be worrying when an Armour of God sequel is so disappointing that it has you hoping for another Rush Hour instalment.
It’s funny but the smaller moments are what Chan still excels at; climbing up and down walls like Jason Bourne on speed, acting like he invented Parkour, and skipping about as if he were a human who was one step closer on the evolutionary scale to an agile chimpanzee. Seeing him skipping about mid-parachute atop a moving vehicle is far more fun than seeing him evading CG dogs in a CG maze for supposed comic benefit, and even the supposedly stunning blading-suit sequence feels anticlimactic when you consider that it was actually him in that suit.
Fans will get a real kick out of the umbrella sequence, although it feels like too little too late and, overall, you get the overwhelming feeling that this would be a flat-out disappointment if it truly was his last action entry. Thankfully, with a further few films in his roster (including an already-shot further Police Story sequel – Police Story 2013 – and a potential Rush Hour 4 still being touted) there’s always the chance that this being his last major action outing was just a ruse. Certainly it’s nice to always see Chan 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.
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