Sunday, 28 June 2015

Chinese Zodiac

Quick synopsis for this movie.
Jackie Chan goes globetrotting to find artifacts based on the Chinese Zodiac.
No, this isn't his cartoon series, this is a movie imaginatively titled Chinese Zodiac.
Whoever designed the DVD cover needs to be sacked.
This isn't just any Jackie Chan movie though, this one was made with a message in mind.
Like all great movies, it starts with a history lesson.
Sepia-toned CGI? 
But unlike most history learned from movies, this one's actually accurate. The Old Summer Palace is a real place which really did contain a fountain with twelve bronze heads based on the Chinese Zodiac. And yes, they really were stolen in 1860 by the British and French.
After the lesson we skip to an auction house where some of the heads are being sold.
The Ox, Monkey and Tiger really were sold at auction in 2000. Followed by the Pig in 2003 and the Horse in 2009.
Not even three minutes into the movie and five heads have been recovered. Should be done pretty quickly.
Cut to the present day (2012) and an old French person is talking to a pretty Chinese lady about two more of the heads, which he's donating back to China.
Because in movie-land, all scientists are pretty ladies.
Again, this is historically accurate. The Rabbit and Rat were owned by Fran├žois Pinault, owner of Gucci. Although they weren't officially returned until 2013.
Elsewhere, a rich guy is buying a set of four very rare stamps. But the moment he buys them he tears three of them to shreds, which just makes me think of him as a Seto Kaiba wannabe.
"Now they can never be used against me."
He walks into a meeting headed up by his father, who talks about jacking up the prices of antiques. Quite frankly, he's a horrible person.
He makes Gozaburo Kaiba look like Humanitarian of the year.
He decides to steal the remaining heads so that he can sell them, saving the Dragon head until last (Due to it being the year of the Dragon). They decide to hire a guy named J. C. to retrieve them for him.
Gee, I wonder who'll be playing J. C.?
Cut to some military base somewhere, where a very pretty lady pulls up in a very cool sports car and asks them if she can use their toilet, but this is just a ruse so she can hide their keys.
I think an important part of my brain just melted.
Why is she doing this? because J. C. is inside and he needs to escape.
Being Jackie Chan, he escapes in the most badass method possible.
Batman, eat your heart out.
Jackie full-body skates down the side of a mountain with a military trying to shoot him the entire time. Some of the stunts are, naturally, amazing.
And insane.
He makes his way down the mountain and goes flying off of it, only to be caught by a giant safety net.
The lengths some people go to to get good reception.
So Jackie is told about the job and he goes to China in order to learn about the heads. Pretending to be a journalist for Nat Geo, he gets access to the replicas, which he secretly scans.
Isn't technology wonderful?
Jackie's friends use the scan to make replicas (Of replicas) using a 3D printer.
Once this is done they go to France, taking their own replicas with them, so that they can declare them to customs.
And throw them off a bridge.
On their way to meet the archaeologist's assistant they pass some college kids protesting about something, but I'm sure it's not important.
Jackie enters the assistant's houseboat to find her in the middle of breaking up with her French boyfriend, who's been cheating on her.
A French love rat? Why, that's neither cliche nor racist.
The assistant introduces herself as Coco and they go to her office where a whole bunch of college-age people are hanging around, thinking up ways to get relics back to their home countries. Jackie sneaks a look at some details about the heads before they get interrupted when two kids stumble in, having been beaten up.
To be honest, most of the students seem a little arrogant and douchey.
And no-one bothered to tell this poor bloke that bow-ties are not cool.
Jackie sneaks some sort of special dust onto Coco's hands before he leaves. They follow Coco as she speaks with the owner of the heads, taking the opportunity to show off lots of spy gadgets, then Jackie sneaks into the building.
Spider-Chan, Spider-Chan, does whatever a Spider-Chan can.
With special glasses he follows the powder to find the secret vault where the heads are hidden. The vault is hidden behind a bookcase in the library.
Imaginative.
Jackie is stymied when it turns out that the vault is locked by a very hi-tech computerised lock, but he figures out how the owner remembers the password.
They're written on the books next to the computer?
What was his second choice, his mother's maiden name?
So Jackie sneaks into the vault and steals the heads (And a few other relics along the way). As he leaves he spots something that had been mentioned in passing, a painting called Roses which is apparently really, really valuable.
Nice frame
As he tries to leave however, he gets spotted by Coco and the chief security guard, who chase after him. With dogs.
This being Jackie, he clambers out the window and parkours his way to the ground, only to be chased by more dogs.
He enters the maze, spraying something behind him to cover the scent and confuse the dogs.
Where he has a quick impromptu game of Pac-Man.
He opens up a parachute, which he tries to use to escape, but there isn't enough room to get a decent run-up. As he gets cornered he escapes by doing two of the most unrealistic things I have ever seen.
First, he kicks a dog so hard it does a double-backflip.
Jackie has led a rather unusual life.
Then he grabs another dog by the snout and forces it to the ground, telling it to stay, which works, despite him having said it in English (To a French dog).
Maybe it's bilingual?
It's not the language thing that's unrealistic. No trained guard dog would just lay down for a stranger, even if you did grab it. You'd just lose your fingers the moment you let go.
Anyway, Jackie manages to escape but bumps into Coco on the way out. She accidentally snatches one of the heads from him before they part ways.
And yet she's still a better driver than my sister.
Unfortunately though, the security guys spotted them together and jump to the conclusion that they were in cahoots, so when Jackie visits Coco's houseboat to 'explain' things (By lying through his teeth) they show up to grab him.
They are unsuccessful.
One of Coco's neighbours phones the police, who arrest everyone on sight and sort it out later.
Luckily for our protagonists, they declared their replicas to customs. They also have security footage showing nothing and a witness comes forth, saying that she was there and also saw nothing. The French police tell Coco that she can have the head back in two weeks.
Outside, the witness (named Catherine) approaches Jackie and tells him that she wishes to talk to him.
When they get to her house (Or mansion rather) she tells them that the bank has taken possession of everything, meaning that there are extra security measures.
This perturbs them, especially when they discover that she has the Rooster head.
That's the second biggest cock-head I've ever seen.
Katherine shows them her heirloom room, filled with stuff that her Great-great-grandfather brought back with him after serving in the French army. In 1860. Her Great-great-grandfather died, but she wishes to know what happened to her Great-grandfather, who went missing searching for where the Indestructable shipwrecked.
The only clue was this painting, that showed exactly where he was.
Jackie and his team discover some photos sowing that more of the heads where on the Indestructable, so they agree to help Katherine find it.
Oh, there's also a lot of arguing between Coco and Katherine about whether her ancestors were thieves or soldiers, but that's a very thorny issue which I'm not going to get involved in.
Jackie's not so lucky.
Before they locate the Indestructable however, they still have the small task of stealing the Rooster head. Having already told Coco that they're stealing the heads in order to repatriate them she volunteers her archaeologist boss's help in making a replica, which they sneakily replace the real head with.
By walking it straight through the front door.
Once they get out to sea they very easily locate the island Katherine's Great-great-grandfather painted his pictures on.
Almost as though they had some sort of clue.
They set up camp and wait for morning, when Jackie's team head out to search the island, telling Coco and Katherine to stay behind so they don't get into trouble.
But because they're female and in a movie, they naturally don't listen to what the experienced world-travelers have to say.
And Katherine screams at the sight of a lizard.
So she's going to be our uselessly screaming, hysterical woman for this movie?
Jackie and his team discover a whole lot of Chekov's guns in the jungle, including a large log, a suspended anchor and a beehive.
But most importantly, when Katherine and Coco get themselves into trouble (Big shock there) and Jackie rescues them, they fall down a deep ravine.
Where we discover that Coco's a pervert.
When they hit the bottom they land on the remains of the Indestructable, which just proves my theory that if you're in a movie and want to find something, let an idiot walk aimlessly for five minutes. If your movie's comedic enough, they'll practically break their foot on it.
Sometimes literally.
After calling the captain to bring the first-aid kit they scour the ship, finding not only Katherine's Great-grandfather (Or his bones at least) but also the Goat head. Just as they're congratulating themselves and preparing to search for more, a familiar face shows up, aiming guns at them.
And looking fabulous.
That's Pierre, the chief of security for the palace that Jackie robbed earlier. He orders Jackie to give back everything he stole, pointing out that he could kill them right now and get away with it. But when a gunshot rings out he ducks along with everyone else, since he and his men didn't load their guns (Technically, he is a good guy after all).
But if neither he nor his men fired, who did?
This guy.
These guys are pirates, who've been using the island as their base for a good long time. But they never discovered the ship.
And they are without a doubt my favourite characters in the whole movie. There's just so much about them to love. Starting with their outfits, which are just plain silly, but in a fun way.
One's even dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow.
They even have a guy who speaks Mandarin who can translate.
The joke is that it's the black guy.
As they threaten Jackie and his team, Pierre surrenders (Because he's French I assume), telling the pirates that their boss will pay a lot to get them back. Jackie instead decides to fight, pulling the trigger for the bald guy's bazooka, which luckily doesn't hit anyone.
(Other than the guy sitting directly behind it)
This is no time to blaze.
So they have a massive fight scene, which is utterly freaking epic. You've got martial arts, crazy stunts, machine gun fire and dropped grenades.
And some very scared Frenchmen.
Oh, and they even find the Snake head, which is useful.
Even the characters can't believe how lucky they are.
So yeah, the fight scene escalates and I love every second of it. Eventually though, all good things must come to an end and they escape when the bazooka shell fired earlier returns, causing a massive explosion. Clambering aboard the log they found earlier (Which is not only set on rollers to get it down the mountain quickly, but is also filled with gold) they use the grenade to dislodge the anchor, which was holding the log in place.
Before it can get loose though the pirates catch up, but Jackie uses Katherine's scarf and the beehive to distract them. This allows them to ride down the mountain on top of a log filled with gold.
Which is such an awesome thing to say that I don't even mind the terrible CGI used for it.
Why is this not a theme park ride yet?
And naturally, they go shooting off of a cliff.
Ah, that'll be why.
And check out these amazing effects.
This doesn't look unnatural at all.
"Wheeee!"
You'd think Jackie Chan would be a bit better at rodeo.
Yes, it does look ridiculous, but it's just so cool.
Since the log still floats, they tie it to the back of their yacht and set sail for home, divvying up the approximated 8 million US$ between them. For any other movie, this would be a suitable end point, but there's still one more head to be found (Plus a bazillion subplots to tie up).
And don't ask what happened to the Dog head, it must have gotten lost somewhere along the way.
After the party Coco discovers that the heads have been sold at auction rather than being donated back to China. She quite rightly calls them out on it and karma seems to agree with her, since all of the gold falls out of the log into the middle of the ocean.
You win some, you lose some.
After returning home and going their separate ways the remaining heads go on sale. Jackie finds out some bad news though. His employers already had the Dragon head and as such the bonus he was offered for it could never have been claimed.
In other bad news, the two college kids who had been beaten up earlier got beaten up again, this time badly enough to go to the hospital.
Coco's brother and some friends snoop around the Kaiba vineyard, only to get kidnapped. With no-one else to turn to, Coco asks Jackie for help.
He doesn't exactly jump to the rescue.
After a short chat with Bonnie (The chick on his team) he decides to help Coco. He uses the Roses painting as bait to set up a meeting with Seto Kaiba.
Once inside with Bonnie, Jackie uses the chance to look around, as well as give some exposition on the knock-off antiques trade.
TL:DR version, criminals are bad, M'kay?
As they wait for Seto to finish authenticating the painting the movie takes this opportunity to introduce a new antagonist (Only 90 minutes in), an absolute douchenugget named Vulture, who nevertheless holds his own in a fight against Jackie.
He wins the style competition though.
When Seto gets back Jackie sets his price: The freedom of the kidnapped students. Seto denies all knowledge of the students, so Jackie decides to let them out himself.
This of course requires Jackie to beat up an entire army of security guards.
And for the two girls to fight each other.
Naturally, the fight is amazing, but what did you expect from Jackie? He even beats up some security guards using a camera at one point.
However, the fight ends when a very large boiler (They did explain why it was there, but I got bored of the exposition) gets damaged and explodes.
And in a shocking break from tradition, it's the bad guy who saves the good guy.
When everything's exploded (And everyone's confirmed okay) Gozaburo shows up and berates his son for kidnapping the students, ordering his men to let them go. After Jackie leaves he points out to his son that they were going to have to destroy the place anyway, so they actually saved some money.
Once again, where lesser movies would end with everyone happy, this movie instead ups the ante.
Gozaburo goes on tv with the final auction for the Dragon head. This time however there's a twist, if the head isn't purchased by noon, then he'll have it thrown into a volcano.
He wanted to turn it into a secret lair, but couldn't get planning permission.
This strikes me as a pretty terrible decision. After the noon deadline passes he issues an order to carry out his threat. I'm pretty sure that if successful, China would blacklist his entire company. Probably even initiate a State-sponsored hacking campaign to destroy it. China is very emotional about those bronze heads.
And I don't think that there would be many countries willing to support his company after such an act.
But anyway, Vulture is prepared to go through with it, jumping out of the plane with his team, Dragon head in hand.
But then Jackie shows up.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's SuperChan.
He fights the bad guys in freefall, knocking the woman unconscious by accident. But since he's the hero, he steers her to her friend, who thanks Jackie and hooks her to him, pulling his shoot and saving her life.
But Vulture is still on target, with the Dragon head. Jackie and Vulture fight, with both pulling not only their regular shoots, but also their backups, ending up in the odd situation of the villain using his parachute to keep the hero alive, since the hero's got no chute left.
"No homo?"
"No homo."
But Jackie isn't willing to let the Dragon head be destroyed, even if it costs him his life. He separates himself from Vulture and dives through the volcano smoke, snatching the Dragon head as he passes.
before he crashes into the side of the volcano however, he pulls another tag on his jacket, which inflates some airbags. Rolling with the impact, he uses the angle of the volcano's slope to slow his descent enough for him to safely land. Well, not entirely safely, he does get a few injuries, but as they say, any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.
Was this a good landing?
Ummm...
No.
As Jackie convulses on the ground from more injuries than even the real Jackie could survive, Vulture walks over with the Dragon head and places it on the ground next to him. As emergency choppers hover overhead he salutes Jackie's big brass ones and walks away.
Some time later Jackie is recovering in hospital, bandaged so tightly that Imhotep would be jealous, as the news wraps up all of the remaining subplots. Both Kaibas were arrested after the police discovered a stolen painting on their property (The Roses, Confirming its' status as a Chekov's Boomerang). This also presumably solves the subplot involving Pierre, since if the Roses has been recovered his boss will probably have paid the ransom for him.
The other relics that Jackie stole from him however were anonymously donated to museums in their home countries.
Oh, and one last subplot gets resolved too. I never bothered mentioning it, since it didn't serve the plot at all, but it deserves a mention here. Bonnie and her husband (Another member of Jackie's team) were going through a messy divorce, with their daughter caught in between. But at the end, they reconcile with this scene.

And this scene really pisses me off. I'm pretty sure that they're not intending to say that you need to stay with someone you don't love if you've got a kid, but it's what they're saying. Well, this is bullshit.
Two reviews in a row huh? I'm going to get a lot of mileage from this pic.
It is far, far better for a child to grow up with divorced parents than with parents who bicker endlessly. And what about widows or widowers? Is this movie saying that these people must find someone to raise their kids if their spouse dies?
Yeah, this may have touched a nerve.

Overall, this was a really great movie. The action scenes were amazing, the characters were enjoyable (Especially Pierre and those pirates), the history was accurate and there was even a great message attached to it.

But it does have flaws. The CGI at times was pants, there were many subplots that didn't go anywhere and the accidental message about families was shite.

Next Thursday is something special. A movie was recently released on DVD which I intend to review. This movie is so heinous, so terrible and so gorramn awful that I intend to review it immediately, even though it messes up the alphabetical theme I've been going for.
Next week, we see how many shades of angry I can get.

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