NOW PLAYING: The Medallion

Posted: Monday, September 08, 2003

Going to see a Jackie Chan movie used to be a guilty pleasure. They were cheap chop-socky thrills with bad dubbing and worse story lines. But you didn't go to them for a quality movie experience. You went to watch in utter amazement as this goofy little Chinese guy performed the most incredible stunts you could imagine. He'd leap from one moving car to another, take out an entire bevy of bad guys from the third rung of a ladder, and make it all look spontaneous, almost accidental, as he emerged unscathed with an unassuming kind of "who me?" look on his face. His success, first in Hong Kong, and then here in the States, was anything but accidental, however. The skill with which Chan managed his career was only equalled by the incredible choreography he designed and played out with deceptive ease. And the best part was, he was really doing it all. No wires, no movie tricks - Chan did it all, and audiences ate it up. That was then.

Lately, Chan has become a genuine Hollywood movie star. With real movie hits like Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon, the guy who made cheesy kung-fu fun and fashionable has become too big for his former fare. Worst of all, he no longer does his own stunts. Enter The Medallion, Chan's latest Hollywood entry. While this movie still has the Chan charm, it's a far cry from his action packed crack-ups like Rumble In The Bronx or Drunken Master. Where those movies were dumb but fun, this movie is just plain dumb. Played too broadly as a comedy, The Medallion sabotages its own potential as good-natured mockery. With his other films, we were laughing both at and with Jackie and crew. The Medallion piles on the weak, easy jokes and we end up doing neither.

Chan is Hong Kong police officer Eddie Yang, an agent with some kind of loose connection to Interpol that is never made clear. When the evil Snakehead (played with evil aplomb by Julian Sands) attempts a kidnapping in a sacred Chinese temple, Yang and crew are on the case. Turns out, the target of said kidnapping is a little boy referred to as "the chosen one," a moniker extremely popular in lightweight supernatural adventures, and is the beneficiary of an ancient medallion capable of bestowing fantastic powers. This fact is made very clear to Eddie when he is killed saving the child from Snakehead's henchmen. With the help of the medallion, he is miraculously resurrected, and the super-fun begins.

The Medallion is inane, but innocuous and inconsequential. It's not going to hurt anyone, and if you require acting, writing or plot development from your cheesy action movies, you may even enjoy it a little. There is virtually nothing to offend anyone; even the violence is neutered, which brings up an interesting point. My wife mentioned to me after the movie (she agreed to go see this with me, which was nice, though probably will do more harm than good for the next time I ask) that all the violence was rendered harmless except for that inflicted on those imbued with medallion-powers. The upshot is that for a movie with a dozen gun-fights, not a target is struck except for the "immortal" one; the one that can't be hurt. Talk about a video game culture. It's just like getting a new life; hitting the restart button. And, unlike superhero flicks of the past, where these so-called powers are examined for both the good and bad, there seems to be no downside to medallion resurrection. Hell, let's all do it. Just a little death and you too can be a superhero.

Depending on your expectations, The Medallion can be simple diverting fun or a intolerable afternoon of drivel. Of course, it's not pretending to be anything it's not. It lets you know pretty much from the beginning that it's little more than a souped-up episode of T.J. Hooker with slightly advanced special effects. The villain's name is Snakehead, for goodness' sakes. I suppose it all has to do with your tolerance level. I was disappointed with this shiny but poorly made trinket, but one man's tin star is another's Medallion. Grade: C-

The Medallion is rated PG-13 for cartoon violence.

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