Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Medallion (2003)

The Medallion (2003)
Directed by Gordon Chan; Starring Jackie Chan, Lee Evans, Julian Sands

Rating: 2/5

From the start, you know what page you should be on in Jackie Chan vehicle The Medallion. It exists to entertain, not to make any kind of bold spiritual or meaningful statement, even if the plot is grounded in a delightful magical hokum, which may or may not be inspired by certain elements of Chinese mysticism, which I’m sure it takes many liberties with.

Still, in this kind of film, a MacGuffin is required to get the plot moving. The titular Medallion is thousands of years old, and grants the holder a host of powers, including strength, speed and immortality. Naturally, some unscrupulous individuals are bound to want to get their hands on this wondrous item, and indeed they do, making off with both it and its child guardian Jai, who has been chosen by the fates as the only one who can activate the Medallion, by binding its two halves.

Who’s on hand to stop this selfish abuse of ancient power? Hong Kong police officer Eddie Yang, (Jackie Chan). Chan plays his usual role as the dogged nice guy, battling against all the odds, and a seemingly never-ending stream of enemy goons, with only his skill at martial arts to protect him. As ever, it’s impossible to dislike Chan, and you end up along for the ride, and rooting for him every time.

Lee Evans appears as Arthur Watson, a somewhat incompetent Interpol agent who is partnered with Jackie and becomes his comic foil. Evans is best known as a stand-up comedian, but has displayed his acting chops as early as MouseHunt (1997), a film I remember fondly from my youth.

Throughout Jackie Chan’s extensive filmography, he has been paired with numerous partners, especially in his Hollywood productions that have tended to exploit the “buddy cop” dynamic to its full potential. Lee Evans, for example, is not Owen Wilson, who performs admirably alongside Chan in Shanghai Noon (2000) and its sequel. Similarly, Chan’s partnership with Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour film series is, of course, the stuff of cinematic legend. As a fan of Steve Coogan, I was entertained by his performance in the otherwise lacklustre Around the World in 80 Days (2004).

That said, Evans is not a bad choice for Chan’s partner. If you like him, he can be endearing, and his character here is written with this intention. However, like many stand-up comedians, he succumbs to the Marmite effect – you either love him or you hate him. If you fall in the latter category, he is likely to annoy you all the way though, and his presence in the film could be a deal breaker.

Claire Forlani’s character, another agent by the name of Nicole, is an old flame of Eddie/Jackie’s. Regrettably, she is not particularly engaging and there is little chemistry between her and Jackie to give credence to their previous relationship. She seems to fill the obligatory role of the love interest to accompany the primary duo into the finale, but I would have preferred to see this role filled by Charlotte Watson (Christy Chung), Arthur’s wife, who appears all too briefly during a fight in the Watson household, revealing herself to be an agent too. Pre-dating Mr. & Mrs. Smith by two years, neither Arthur nor Charlotte have filled each other in on their true professions, but when her family is threatened, Charlotte springs into action. For some reason, nothing is made of this after the scene, and the character does not appear again.

Those who grew up watching the animated series Jackie Chan Adventures might enjoy a nostalgia trip when they recognise a familiar sounding villain in the form of Julian Sands, who proves that the stereotype of the well-spoken British villain is still very much alive in his role as the borderline psychotic crime lord known as “Snakehead”. At times, this film can feel like a live action imagining of the aforementioned series, where Sands played Jackie’s nemesis, a similar villain with a penchant for the theft of mystical items.

Gordon Chan directs, as an experienced figure in Hong Kong cinema who has worked with Jackie Chan before. Gordon Chan’s other notable works include remakes of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury (1972): Fist of Legend (1994), starring Jet Li, and Legend of the Fist (2010). As ever, the real star is not the plot or characterisation, but the fight scenes with Jackie, who is well known for performing all of his own stunts, to the point that nobody would insure him. Typically, the director is happy to let Jackie do his thing, whilst the soundtrack plays some pop rock with a groovy bass line. During the finale, Forlani’s fight with her female counterpart in Snakehead’s organisation is set to a rocking blues guitar solo. Perhaps this choice of score is not surprising; the soundtrack was co-written by Steve Porcaro, one of the founding members of Toto.

In a film about a medallion that gives supernatural powers, the most entertaining fights are the most realistic. These are the ones where Jackie fights a number of thugs in an industrial location. Once in the sewers beneath the streets of Hong Kong, and twice on container ships, in Dublin and Victoria Harbour. Once the characters inevitably become juiced up on the medallion’s powers, the fights seem somehow less impressive. Whilst events become visually more extreme, and the stakes are technically higher, what with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, conflicts between these newly immortal warriors lack the tension of a fierce urban punch-up. The Medallion’s powers do give Jackie the chance to perform near super-human stunts, such as scaling a building, or leaping a large gate in one smooth movement. I’m sure some of these stunts must be his own, unassisted, proving he doesn’t really need these powers after all, even if his character wouldn’t normally be up to it.

Though an English language, Hollywood distributed film, The Medallion was not American made. This may be behind the choice to set the second and third acts in Ireland, rather than transplant the action to the States after the first act in Hong Kong. This is reminiscent of the varied locales of some of Jackie’s other non-American films, including the European (Rotterdam) set finale of Who am I? (1998) and the Australian backdrop of Mr. Nice Guy (1997). Indeed, Chan spent a brief period living in Australia during the 1970s, the place where he first earned the nickname “Jackie”.

Yet Interpol is based in Paris and very few of the European characters are Irish. Julian Sands, Claire Forlani and Lee Evans, depicted as living with his family in Ireland, is played by the English Evans, and the other member of Interpol we are introduced to, the bombastically named Commander Hammerstock-Smythe, is played by the Welsh John Rhys-Davies. But the British Isles are the British Isles, and after the fights in Dublin, the characters head for the final showdown in Snakehead’s medieval castle, on a rugged Irish cliff top.

This film, while an hour and a half of entertaining absurdity, does not deserve further analysis, nor does it ask for it. Jackie Chan saves this film, simply by doing what he does best. But it is by no means his best work.

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