This movie is a mess. But it’s a Jackie Chan movie. It’s a genre that carries with it certain lowered expectations for art and elevated expectations for action and fun.
The Medallion is neither the best nor the worst Jackie Chan movie, and if you decide to go see it, you’ll probably get what you pay for.
A Magical Trinket
PG-13 for action violence
The title refers to a trinket in the possession of a young boy being raised by monks. Before Interpol and the Hong Kong police can intervene, villains kidnap the boy.
Eventually, the movie tells us that the medallion is magical, which explains the supervillain’s motivation, and it allows an aging Jackie Chan to rely more on wires and special effects and less on neck-risking stuntwork.
Along for the ride are Claire Forlani, whose primary job is to smile and look pretty (although she gets to perform some martial arts), and Lee Evans, whose job is to make the audience laugh, no matter what the cost. Forlani and Evans are both very good at their jobs.
Set aside the clichéd plot, the two-dimensional characters, and the sloppy editing, because this is a genre movie. The important question is how the movie stands up to other Jackie Chan action/comedies.
The most notable feature of The Medallion is it includes more wire-fu than you’d expect from Chan. A foot chase early in the film features Jackie and the bad guy jumping like Super Mario Brothers. They leap over cars, steps, and walls. The villain leaps over a row of bikes, knocking them over like dominoes; then Jackie leaps, stops the domino effect, and lightly steps over the last bike, all through the magic of wires. In places, The Medallion looks more like Jet Li than Jackie Chan.
And that’s too bad. What I’ve always loved about Jackie Chan is his amazing grace. Using wires feels like cheating, and I always feel disappointed when I see the effect. Fluidly moving cameras in The Medallion add a nice visual texture, but they also, obviously, help to hide either wire stunts or special effects.
The most enjoyable stunts in The Medallion are not the elaborate set pieces (half of which are very good; Sammo Hung choreographed them), but the throwaway gestures that Chan seems to do without even thinking. He hops from one shipping container onto another, and then slides down through a narrow crack. He hops up, grabs a pipe, and swings himself up to the next level. These stunts aren’t incredible, but the ease and grace Chan shows in performing them is. More importantly, they’re clearly not faked. No wires, camera angles, or special effects were required — just the skill and grace of a master.
Choose: Funny or Believable
The other highlight of The Medallion is the comic presence of Evans (Funny Bones, There’s Something About Mary), who plays an Interpol agent, although he’s more Johnny English than James Bond. He projects charm and confidence about two steps louder than what his character can actually support. The most hilarious outbursts happened while Evans was on screen. (My audience was heavy on the kids, who seemed more generous with the laughs than I would have been.)
But Evans’ comedy is a mixed blessing. Each time he does something funny, the movie’s credibility is stretched thinner. He’s supposed to be an Interpol agent, after all. He didn’t get where he is by pointing his gun at statues and screaming in surprise. Nevertheless, given the choice between believable and funny, The Medallion was right to choose funny.
For years, Chan’s movies have been moving away from amazing stunts and outstanding fights toward more comedy, special effects, and wire-fu. The Medallion is just the next chapter in a very long, repetitive book.
And even though I’m sure the next movie will be the same as The Medallion (and The Tuxedo and Shanghai Knights and...), I’ll be right there in line to see it.