Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Film
cover art

The Medallion

Director: Gordon Chan
Cast: Jackie Chan, Claire Forlani, Lee Evans, Julian Sands, Alexander Bao

(Columbia; US theatrical: 22 Aug 2003; 2003)

Meow

The outtakes at the end of Jackie Chan’s movies used to be great fun, revealing the literal beatings he endured to realize his extraordinary stunts. He’s older now, of course, has broken multiple bones, and has even taken up wirework in an effort to keep up with the genre he once made—more or less—his own. These days, more and more, his outtakes feature flubbed lines, as in the final credits sequences for Rush Hour 2 or Shanghai Knights (the sequels to his buddied outings with Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson, respectively), where his broken English apparently suffices for entertainment.


All this is not to say that anyone wants to see Chan break his bones (well, someone probably does). It is to point out that, as energetic and enthusiastic as the man remains, things have definitely changed, for him as well as viewers. Gordon Chan’s The Medallion shows more signs of slowing. Chan plays a Honk Kong cop named Eddie Yang, introduced mid-mission, in an uneasy alliance with Interpol. So that you can feel assured that Eddie’s really a nice guy right away (in case the fact that he’s played by Chan doesn’t clue you in), the first moments show him buying fast-food octopus for himself and another portion for a stray dog. Cue cutesy shot-reverse shot sequence. Aww.


Just then, he gets the call. An undercover cop has spotted the culprit. Time to move! Back in the day, this would mean some stunty good times. Now, it means that Chan will be sharing the screen with his appointed “buddy,” here Lee Evans as Interpol agent Arthur Watson (Evans was the fake-crutches guy in Something About Mary, which may give you a sense of his comedic parameters). The action goes on to cut back and forth between Eddie chasing down the villain—someone named Snakehead (Julian Sands playing the same reedy villain he’s played for ten years)—through a Hong Kong temple and Arthur pulling his gun on every Buddha he runs across, as if the joke will become funnier if only it’s repeated eight times.


Snakehead’s target at this moment is the titular medallion, and the magical little boy, Jai (Alexander Bao) who can imbue it with its designated powers, in this case, granting the user super-powers and immortality. The catch is that the user must die an unbrutal death (body intact) and be brought back to life by Jai with medallion in hand. Eddie takes out a series of guards with some kicking and leaping, Arthur arrives too late, and the boy is saved. The scene closes with him looking as gratefully at Eddie as that stray dog. Aww.


A few minutes later, Snakehead kidnaps the boy (apparently Jai has no adults to care for him, and apparently Interpol didn’t follow up on the causes for Snakehead’s initial assault). Eddie, still liking that boy, figures it out and heads to Dublin, where Snakehead has a castle and Interpol has an office. Too conveniently, Arthur works for this Interpol. (And he’s somehow crucial to the case, which means Eddie needs to work with him; why is never explained, as he appears to have no particular information or insight to contribute).


Also too conveniently, Eddie’s ex, Nicole (Claire Forlani, who appears to be running a British accent) also works there. Eddie and Nicole’s first meeting on the job brings up the film’s greatest and never-addressed mystery, that Eddie “didn’t call” and she forgives him instantly—what either of them might have been thinking on either occasion is entirely unknowable. Maybe it’s better not to know. The biggest news about Nicole is that she provides the occasion and the lips for Jackie Chan’s first onscreen kiss. It’s sad to say that this is news, but given the traditionally a-sexed characterizations of Asian martial arts (and other) stars in U.S. movies, it is.


While Nicole and Eddie rekindle their romance through obvious gazes across an office stocked with extras carrying clipboards, Arthur and Eddie engage in gay jokes that hinge on the fact that Arthur looks and acts so darn gay. (Usually in buddy movies, the partners appear so straight that the gay jokes look phobic; here, they look odd and phobic.) So that you might rest assured that Arthur, as he puts it, is “a man!” Eddie and Nicole visit him at home with his wife Charlotte (Christy Chung), where the primary gag is that she thinks they’re all librarians. In a wholly peculiar montage sequence, they cook and laugh and twist to “Twist and Shout,” as if to bring together all the cross-cultural and cross-sexual currents in the room.


This sequence, seemingly so nonsensical and irrelevant, underscores the film’s general slapdashness; attributed to a slew of writers (who seem not to have consulted with one another), it has the spastic rhythms of a Hong Kong martial arts film, with none of its charms. Why do you see Eddie actually arrive at the Dublin airport, exit the building, and drive to Interpol? How do Nicole and Eddie ride her motorcycle to Snakehead’s lair and arrive sooner than Arthur in his homemade airplane? And why oh why does Nicole engage in a catfight with Snakehead’s evil girl minion, complete with a cat-meow to open the fight, and then not even muster a decent fight?


Slowed by such tedium and self-congratulatory showiness, The Medallion might have used a bump from Sammo Hung fight choreography. It is sometimes sharp, but the editing is erratic and the wirework illogical. At first, Eddie and his anonymous ninja-looking team can leap tall ship containers and scale the occasional wall. After Eddie dies to save the boy and is resurrected, all bets are off: he can fall off buildings, be stabbed and shot, speed up and down stairs in a blur of whooshy effects, and take all kinds of martial arty punishment without any apparent consequences—all emphatically not what Jackie Chan does best.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


Related Articles
Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements
PopMatters' LUCY Giveaway! in PopMatters's Hangs on LockerDome

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.