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The Medallion

The chain that leads to The Medallion might have gone something like this.

"It's like Highlander. Instead of Christopher Lambert, use Jackie Chan. Oh, and rather than that weird Kurgan guy, follow the Hong Kong tradition of cold British villains by using Julian Sands. See? It's totally different - it's called Highbinders.

Wait. That still sounds too close? Okay. Throw in a love interest, but remember that Jackie's fans really could care less about the love stuff. We need it to have a little more international appeal, so make her someone who has been in some American movies, but is still British - Claire Forlani, great idea. Her acting won't overwhelm Jackie, no how. Besides, she's got nice …eyes.

We need comic relief. How about Lee Evans? Americans don't quite get him, but they thought he was funny in There's Something About Mary. He serves a valuable purpose: keep people from noticing that we only plotted enough to cover about a half hour. Maybe he can bumble or something. Yeah, that's it.

Dang. Still too obviously close to Highlander? No, no, a lot of that movie took place in Scotland. We're in Ireland, totally different. What do you mean, none of the actors are Irish? Like Sean Connery looked like a Ramirez…no one will notice."

Clearly, at the last minute the crew, led by co-writer and director Donald Chan, decided someone would notice, so all actual references to Highbinders got cut from the film. (Except in the obligatory closing credit outtakes, in which almost every scene has a reference to the title Highbinders.) With those cuts also went much of the film's coherence (maybe that's optimistic), as most of the plot now just sort of vaguely references things of great import.

However, The Medallion does show a little promise. It starts out creepily enough, with Sands reciting prophecy from an ancient text, then threatening the book dealer who found it for him. The scene shifts to Hong Kong, where Detective Eddie Yang (Chan) sits as part of a stake-out with Interpol, there to track down the evil mastermind known as Snakehead.

That nobody actually knows what Snakehead looks like is a detail thrown in way after the fact. Had we not known, there might have been some crude sense of suspense. Also, just what Snakehead is supposed to have done also gets left out; his trying to get the titular Medallion is an element completely out of the blue as far as Interpol is concerned.

To be fair, there might have been an explanation, but it gets lost in an awkward mixture of action and buffoonery between Chan and Evans as Interpol Agent Watson. The film plays straight until Watson goes into action, then he gets all goggle-eyed and pathetic, pulling his gun on no fewer than three different statues of the Buddha in a temple raid.

Yep, when a lame gag gets repeated that many times in so short a sequence, you know it's going to be a long night.

And so it is. Snakehead accomplishes his goal, kidnapping a young boy known as "The Chosen One." According to the prophecy, by combining the chosen one's mystical energy with that of The Medallion, immortality will be granted.

Actually, it seems less immortality and more like super-cloning. And there also comes a warning that the boy can bring death as well, though that only sort of pays off.

For at least half an hour, however, the filmmakers pad the plot with side trips in which Yang must convince Watson to let him help find Snakehead in Ireland. Supposedly Watson is a crack agent, yet at no point does the movie show him behaving in any way near competent.

Nor does he follow orders well, because when his superior (John Rhys-Davies, failing the wooden puppet test) tells him he has to work with Yang, he refuses and stalks off into a filing closet.

In a fit of Brady Bunchian logic, Agent Nicole James (Forlani) suggests that if they get to know Watson's family, he'll have to team with Yang. Yes, they cook, they dance, they have dinner. And of course they bond.

But at the earliest opportunity on the job, they ditch Watson. Go figure.

There's more - obviously from the commercials, Chan gains superpowers, and so does Snakehead, for a climactic duel. But it's all just terribly boring. Every time somebody suggests the worst next possible thing that could happen, it happens, without much of a fight, a tepid struggle, or even really a reaction.

Even the fight scenes, the real reason people love Jackie Chan, fail to ignite any excitement. Long-time Jackie Chan cohort Sammo Hung may have done an incredible job choreographing it all, but the director and editor, Ki-Hop Chan, conspire against Hung. Everything is undone by quick cuts and odd switches in point of view, so we're never quite sure who did what to whom and why.

The two exceptions would be in the face-offs between Yang and Snakehead, but only because not much actually happens. They run at high speeds. Then they fly at each other. There's even a moment when they go all M.C. Escher on each other, one done better by both Labyrinth and even The Cradle of Life.

There are a couple of legitimate laughs, too, once Yang becomes immortal. He and Watson test the limits, and only then does the British comedian's slapstick skill work, because for the first time we can actually understand why he would do what he does.

If they'd jettisoned the first half, Evans' performance might have seemed funnier. It's much easier to forgive him being a prat after he's been faced with the unbelievable situation of seeing a "friend" resurrect.

The Medallion is ham-handed filmmaking that will still make kids laugh. Years later they'll be embarrassed by it. Heck, Jackie Chan should be embarrassed by it now. Something has gone terribly wrong when a movie like this makes you long for the wit and cleverness of the Rush Hour films.


Derek McCaw

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