The Medallion

(2003) ** 1/2 Pg-13
88 min. distributer. Director: Gordon Chan. Cast: Jackie Chan, Lee Evans, Claire Forlani, Julian Sands, John Rhys Davies.

Jackie Chan fans (like myself) are bound to feel more of the aging action star's growing pains than usual this time around. The Medallion, a cheap-feeling, English-language hybrid of American dollars and international talent, has plenty of squandered potential and only a few inspired scenes. Chan fans (and kids) will slog through them just fine; others should not apply.

Though the action takes place largely in Dublin, most of the key players here hail from Hong Kong, like director Gordon Chan (Jet Li's Fist of Legend) and action director (and longtime Chan chum) Sammo Hung. The Medallion starts out awful, has a sprightly midsection, then finally beomes mired in the effects-ridden finale. Chan plays Eddie Yang, a Hong Kong cop teamed with two British Interpol agents: former flame Nicole James (Claire Forlani) and tightly-wound Arthur Watson (Lee Evans).

They're after a power-mad baddie named Snakehead (hmmm...I wonder which of the five screenwriters came up with that one), who in turn is hunting a sacred boy (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and his pet medallion. Eventually, after shaking hands with the medallion, Eddie turns into a Highbinder endowed with supernatural powers that come in handy while crimefighting.

Jackie Chan is...The One? Too close for comfort to Chan's disappointing American feature The Tuxedo, The Medallion puts the proof to Chan's assertions of late that special effects would pave his cinematic road as the years pass. Chan now increasingly relies on quick editing, wire work, and even (horrors!) stunt doubles and digital "wizardry." These tricks might make movie magic for Keanu Reeves, but they bring Chan back down to Earth.

Chan can't fly forever, but the crazy stunts aren't essential. The action star simply needs to resist the pressure to film quickly and lazily, instead getting smarter about action scene design. Chan's last big American feature, Shanghai Knights, modelled what should be Chan's new path: try-anything comedy and smart action tailored to his late-middle-aged speed, with only the occasional double.

The Medallion understands this in spurts. Perhaps Chan's businesslike cop character simply affords too few opportunities for comedy in the early going, but scene after scene flops in the first act. Then a hurtling foot chase through the streets of Dublin jolts the film to life, with Chan vaulting, springing and clambering over urban obstacles. Most of the rest of the action is filmed or edited too frantically to register, but the comedy of the second act helps the story along.

Chan's comedic partner this time around is Lee Evans. It's impossible not to wonder, after the recent Johnny English, what a Rowan Atkinson/Jackie Chan team-up would yield, but Evans--best known in America for Mouse Hunt--makes a splendid foil for Chan all the same. Fussy, grimacing, near-hyperventilating Evans is never less than amusing, and he devises a couple of endearingly funny feats of mime and physical comedy which make him a more organic match for Chan than his American partners.

One sequence, set in a morgue, involves Chan's new abilities and Evans's gobsmacked reaction to them; the entire theaterful of moviegoers with whom I saw the film erupted in deafening laughter during this scene. As long as Chan can manage big laughs and eye-popping action, he'll have an audience; let's just hope for bigger portions next time.

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