The Medallion

(Gordon Chan, Hong Kong/USA, 2003)


Three films released around the same time in 2003 reach an almost identical climax. In Kill Bill (2003), The Matrix Revolutions (2003) and Jackie Chan's vehicle The Medallion (2003), the action culminates in a long-awaited duel between a hero and a villain who usually sport colourful names. In The Medallion, bad guy Snakehead (Julian Sands) even gets to hiss: "We're the same, you and I!".

Such showdowns are inevitable in action cinema, but what is most striking is the almost abstract way all these fights are rendered. As the music surges, the figures go into super slow motion, are seen as distant silhouettes and shadows – and often the actual blows they are delivering are quite illegible, fudged so that we can instead study faces in close-up quivering and twitching in divine grace or messianic madness.

What's going on in popular cinema? Cheap thrills are being traded in for pompous grabs at spiritual significance and mythic resonance. In The Medallion, the alibi for such a finale is a plot device that enables characters who die to be immediately resurrected for another round of action. Naturally, the medallion that allows such a miracle is greedily coveted by all players in the story.

The Medallion is much better than Chan's previous, dire English-language vehicle, The Tuxedo (2002). This is due solely to the contribution of veteran Sammo Hung as director of the action scenes. The abundant leaping and flying in tightly constricted spaces never fails to be exciting.

Just about everything surrounding the action scenes is pretty awful, however. British comedian Lee Evans as Watson, Jackie's sidekick, has to repeat a joke where he clumsily pulls a gun on a holy statue about a dozen times, and it never gets any better. Claire Forlani has the honour of a fight scene with a punk girl that is accompanied by sound effects of cats hissing.

Call me prim and old-fashioned, but I have a hard time reconciling Jackie Chan's magnificent legacy with these current projects full of creaky sexual innuendos and even, as here, a scene where he has to dart around in the nude. Where is the sublime Drunken Master of yesteryear?

MORE Jackie Chan: Jackie Chan's First Strike, Rumble in the Bronx, Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Knights, Around the World in 80 Days

© Adrian Martin November 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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