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Going out with a blockbuster bang

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Jackie Chan has come up with some “impossible” action-film stunts throughout his decades-long stellar career, but the opening sequence in his latest starrer, “Chinese Zodiac,” is still a lulu, and hard to beat.

To get into a totally guarded secret facility, he transforms himself into a human “vehicle” or self-guided rocket with an exceedingly low physical profile that enables him to slide under his pursuers’ cars!

The long sequence gives the action-comedy star ample time and room to show off what his new contraption and vehicular carapace can do, driving his foes crazy—and his fans wild with renewed adulation for their constantly creative and inventive idol. Even James Bond and his crew of “mad” inventors were never like this!

Visually inventive

On the other hand, while “Chinese Zodiac” is visually inventive, its storytelling is for the birds—the overstuffed kind.

Chan’s latest screen exploits and antics are performed because his screen character is tasked to retrieve 12 ancient animal heads and bring them back to China—where they belong. Now, that’s a major downer, just about as action-unfriendly as screen storytelling can get.

On second thought, the film’s plot is thematically valuable, because it reminds us that stolen and otherwise hostaged cultural artifacts belong, not to their buyers, but to the culture and country that originally created them.

Aside from that key message, however, the movie’s scripting is of little use to the production, which is why it concentrates most of its energy and creativity on thinking up and pulling off some really far-out action stunts, to give moviegoers a really good, if escapist, time.

Occasionally, however, the visual antics get out of hand, like the overlong sequence set in a maze, in which a pack of killer guard dogs viciously do their darnedest to bite Chan to bits and pieces! The concept is initially exciting, but it’s extended for much too long.

On the other hand, much later in the movie, Chan engages in a long but exciting fight with a martial-arts expert that involves only a sofa and the constantly creative use of their feet and legs locked and unlocked in ferocious combat—and it’s great!

Even later, Chan transforms himself into a human rocket, falling swiftly into the flaming maw of a volcano (!), but that visually arresting sequence is still upstaged on point of impact by the fancy martial-arts footwork showcased some minutes before.

Stellar casting

The fact that Chan is now an international film star is underscored by the film’s stellar casting, which includes a lovely French actress as well as a racially mixed bunch of actors as—pirates!

Despite the international “colors” surrounding him, however, Chan makes sure that he and his Chinese costars hold the film’s central focus.

As Chan winds down his eventful action-film career with “Chinese Zodiac,” he makes doubly sure that he goes out, not with a whimper, but with a satisfyingly big bang. Happily, he accomplishes that filmic feat—but, it visibly sucks the wind out of him.

Talk about perfect timing for taking a well-earned stellar break from further mayhem, this is it!

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December 18, 2014

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