Chinese Zodiac (released in its homeland as CZ12), a 2012 feature directed by, co-written by and starring the great Jackie Chan, was a highly anticipated picture among the action star's legions of fans because it was touted as a follow up of sorts to the two popular Armor Of God films. The movie begins with a fantastic sequence in which a man named Hawk (Chan) escapes from a highly guarded facility using a suit with various wheels attached to it. With this suit he's able to zip down a winding mountain road at a ridiculous speed, passing oncoming traffic by zipping up the side ramps or simply going as low to the ground as possible and going directly underneath them. Despite some obvious CGI work it's a fantastic scene that sets the bar for this picture, reportedly the last big time action comedy that the Crown Prince Of Kung-Fu is going to make, pretty damn high.
As it turns out, Hawk is part of a team. The other members are Simon (Kwone Sang Woo), David (Liao Fan) and Bonnie (Zhang Lanxin) and they specialize in retrieving valuable ancient artifacts, and in this particular case, they're after a collection of bronze heads made centuries ago to represent the different signs of the Chinese Zodiac. Lawrence Morgan (Oliver Platt), the head of the MP Corporation, will pay handsomely to get them. So our hero and his crew wind up on a quest that takes them to various exotic locations around the world. A trip to France results in a meeting with a woman named Catherine de Sichel (Laura Weissbecker) who is the ancestor of the man who originally stole the zodiac heads. It is said that they are buried with him alongside a king's ransom in treasure. As they get closer to finding the loot, they come into conflict with Coco (Yao Xing Tong), a woman who has made it her life's mission to return stolen artifacts to their rightful owners. Will Hawk's conscience catch up with him or will greed win out?
So how does it all add up? Meh.
Chan is in fine form here in that his comedic timing is still very strong and he's just generally a really likeable guy. Longtime fans will definitely crack a smile during that opening sequence in the roller suit, as it's an amazingly choreographed segment that is both thrilling to watch and impressive in its technique. The supporting cast doesn't get all that much to do here, even Platt is more or less in the background for most of the picture leaving Jackie to do almost all of the heavy lifting on his own. And he does. He's fun to watch. Unfortunately, while there are a few equally spectacular scenes here in terms of scope and conceptual creativity, they fail to really ignite the way that the opening one does. We get some nice locations on display throughout the movie, an exotic jungle and a dangerous volcano being two standouts and the movie does a fine job of showing all of this off, but despite all of this there are pacing issues and clichés galore holding things back.
Now in all fairness, it would be unrealistic to expect Chan to deliver the insane caliber of action he was somehow able to offer up pretty much consistently through the eighties and into the nineties. He's not a young man anymore and by all accounts he needs to slow down. This is the product of a man pushing sixty, but really, that's not so much the issue here. The problems come more from the predictability of the story, a middle part that tends to drag, and some noticeably hokey CGI and green screen work that take us out of the action when used. On top of that, Chan's nationalist streak runs through this one with abandon and because of this, what should be a rollicking Indiana Jones style adventure movie enjoyable for kids of all ages winds up getting needlessly preachy. While the intent behind these moments is not only notable but completely understandable, they neither serve to properly further the story nor do they occur naturally over the course of conversations between the characters. Instead they feel crammed into the movie to suit the director's sense of patriotism. This isn't embarrassingly terrible or anything, but Chinese Zodiac never turns into as good a movie as most will have hoped for.
Chinese Zodiac arrives on Blu-ray presented in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer in its 2.35.1 widescreen aspect ratio. The quality of the image is pretty strong here, even if the color scheme intentionally looks a little too hot for its own good. Colors pop quite a bit, in some scenes more so than others (the scene that plays out in the jungle being a good example) while detail remains strong. This was shot digitally so there are no issues with print damage or source related deficiencies. Skin tones look a bit warm but that's in keeping with the movie's style. Black levels are strong and pretty deep and show good shadow detail as well. This is a nice transfer, the movie looks very good. This was shown in 3D in theaters but only a 2D version is included on this release.
The only audio option on this disc is an ENGLISH language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio Track with optional subtitles provided in English, French and Spanish. There is no Chinese language option provided on this domestic release, and that's a shame, because there are times where the English dubbing is obvious. Painfully obvious, though there are also times where some of the cast are obviously actually speaking English. It's a weird track for that reason, as the movie incorporates a few different languages in rather awkward ways. With that having been said, the technical quality of the track is fine. There's plenty of surround activity noticeable throughout the movie right from the opening scene all the way to the big finish. The levels are nicely balanced and there's plenty of depth to the score. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion to note and the dialogue is always perfectly easy to understand.
Outside of menus and chapter selection, the disc includes an hour long behind the scenes featurette that is actually pretty interesting. It's made up of some nifty footage shot on set during production across the various locations used throughout the movie, so yeah, we get some green screen footage but so too do we get some footage of Chan and company doing their thing near a pretty big volcano. We see how some of the stunts were done, we get to hear Jackie's thoughts on the pros and cons of working with less experienced cast members as opposed to seasoned performers and quite a bit more. A download code for a digital copy of the movie is also included.
Chinese Zodiac starts off strong but quickly turns into a fairly mediocre effort ripe with a lot of clichés and some fairly obvious pacing problems. The opening set piece is fantastic and there are a few moments scattered throughout the movie that are amusing and exciting, but not enough to make this one an instant classic by any definition. The presentation on the Blu-ray from Universal is technically sound and the lengthy documentary on the making of the movie quite interesting, but the obvious English dubbing hurts the movie. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.