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Bob Smithouser

Movie Review

Interpol and the Hong Kong Police Department are hot on the trail of Snakehead, a notorious smuggler with a gothic island fortress, lots of guns, a legion of black-clad thugs and a burning desire for immortality. He hopes to attain it by kidnapping a “chosen child” who—by uniting two halves of an ancient Buddhist medallion—can resurrect people and give them super powers. Interpol agents Eddie Yang and his goofy partner, Watson, try to protect the boy and bring Snakehead to justice. They also enlist the karate-chopping services of Eddie’s old flame, Nicole James. After a series of bloodless gunfights and wild chases, Eddie and young Jai face certain death. Eddie drowns in an act of self-sacrifice, only to have the boy work his magic and bring him back to life in a new, energized body impervious to injury and endowed with super-human powers. When Snakehead snatches Jai, the wicked megalomaniac ingests poison so that he, too, can die and get supernaturally jacked. It all ends in a high-flying face-off worthy of Neo and Agent Smith.

positive elements: Eddie is a nice guy. When he picks up dinner at a street-side sushi wagon, a pitiable mongrel gets a break as Eddie buys him some food. In fervent pursuit of the bad guys, Eddie pauses to ask a victim if he’s okay. He’s also a generous tipper. Most Hollywood secret agents attend swanky parties or seedy clubs, but Eddie and Nicole spend a quiet evening with Watson’s family, dancing innocently to Beatles tunes and playing majong (the night ends with Eddie and Nicole sincerely thanking each other for a “fun time”). The heroes extend hospitality to others, and race to protect Watson’s family when they are threatened.

spiritual content: Believe it or not, a pivotal scene borrows elements of the Gospel message, yet clothes itself in Buddhist garb. Eddie saves a child from dying, willingly laying down his own life in the process. Soon after, he is resurrected and given a “new body” (it feels pain, but sustains no permanent damage). However, the power source is what one character calls “the holy grail of Eastern philosophy,” able to make someone “a god” under the right circumstances. An opening sequence involves monks worshiping at a Buddhist temple. Surrounded by candles, Jai sits in a lotus position, one half of the mystical medallion in each hand. At the end of the film he walks through a wall and into a vortex that transports him to another dimension. The medallion’s key symbols of a fish and a serpent are released in spectral form.

sexual content: Watson makes off-handed comments about breasts, penis size, and his desire to see Nicole naked. An innocent conversation between Eddie and Watson (former “partners” with the bureau), is perceived by others in the room as having homosexual overtones.

violence content: There’s a lot of hand-to-hand, martial arts combat. Kicking. Punching. Slamming people into walls and tossing them over railings. Heroes fall from great heights (one is already indestructible, the other gets resurrected). Upon realizing he is immortal (several bullet wounds leave no scars), Eddie stabs himself in the chest to show Watson his mastery over death. Watson proceeds to stab him numerous times just to make sure. A police boat gets shot with a bazooka and bursts into flame. A small plane crashes through a window and into a bad guy. The fair Nicole is embroiled in combat (one scene is a cat-fight with a nefarious female). Snakehead holds a knife under a man’s chin, drawing blood but nothing more. A praying monk gets knocked cold by the butt of a rifle. For all of the gunplay, there aren’t any casualties. Even when defending themselves against nasty hoodlums out to murder them, the good guys simply disable their foes without killing them.

crude or profane language: Not much. Two “h—“s and one “a–“ are joined by a few exclamations of “my g–“ and uses of the term “bloody.” In the outtakes following the film, there’s an s-word.

drug and alcohol content: Wine is served with dinner. Snakehead poisons himself so that he might experience “a painless death.”

other negative elements: Crude moments find Eddie and Watson waving around a full bedpan, and an evil henchman with a full bladder urinating in view of the camera. Although their marital deception is played for laughs, Mr. and Mrs. Watson have been keeping secrets from each other about their professional lives.

conclusion: The Medallion may not be a particularly good movie, but it deserves kudos for being a responsible PG-13. Very little foul language. No sex (though some humor employs innuendo). Even the frequent action violence yields few casualties. The filmmakers could have gotten away with a lot more offensive material, yet chose not to. That’s refreshing when so many PG-13 actioners see how far they can push the envelope before entering R territory. But beyond that, there’s not much worthwhile about Jackie Chan’s latest effort.In addition to bad writing, uneven pacing, and embarrassing jokes that blow up in the actors’ faces like a novelty cigar, The Medallion loses its power midway through by turning Chan into a post-Matrix superman. Slo-mo martial arts, defying gravity and cheating death may do wonders to enhance Keanu Reeves’ bland persona, but it does exactly the opposite for Chan. Fans enjoy his movies for the physical stunts he performs without computerized effects and camera tricks (there’s a cleverly choreographed foot chase over iron gates, across a series of parked bicycles and through traffic). But once he goes Crouching Tiger on us, he’s not nearly as interesting to watch. His charm and raw agility are replaced by special effects and a blue screen. Also, for some strange reason, parts of the dialogue are badly dubbed into English, making those moments feel like they’ve been pulled from a cheapie Godzilla sequel. But the biggest spoiler for me was the movie’s theology. Eastern mysticism is the heroes’ salvation. By empowering a messianic Buddhist child and the titular medallion with the ability to restore or take away life, this movie misrepresents true divinity and spiritual authority.

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Bob Smithouser