Dir: Gordon Chan. US/HK. 2003. 90mins.

The Medallion is for die-hard Jackie Chan fans only. Thankfully, for Columbia TriStar, they number in the millions so this scatter-brained action comedy, known as The Highbinders in earlier incarnations, should do respectable international trade. But prospects are bleak for even a modest North American break-out on the order of Shanghai Knights, a product which is Shakespeare by comparison. An unhappy blend of screwball antics mixed with the standard flying fists and a romantic angle without romance, let alone chemistry, the film grabbed some business in the US when it opened at the weekend, taking $8.2m from 2,648 sites for a n unimpressive $3,096 average, but is then likely to fizzle from a paucity of word-of-mouth. Ancillary prospects should mirror theatrical - a must-have DVD for Chan completists.

A glance at the screenwriting credits is the first indication of serious trouble. Apparently the entire above-the-line crew has taken a kick at the can, and soundly missed. There are no visible signs of direction, suggesting that HK veteran martial arts filmmaker Gordon Chan concentrated solely on blocking the fight sequences.

The film begins promisingly, on a funky neon-saturated Hong Kong night, as local detective Eddie Yang (Chan) shows what a nice guy he is by feeding his take-away to a puppy. Then he springs into action, as back-up to an Interpol stake-out of a criminal named Snakehead (Sands) whose face no one but the audience and Snakehead's fifty henchmen has ever seen. Leading the Interpol charge is Agent Arthur Watson (Evans), an autocratic old-school bumbler who couldn't catch a cold. They fail to catch Snakehead - for which Watson blames Yang - but inadvertently foil his attempt to kidnap Jai, a child monk who is the keeper of the titular medallion, a totem which can impart immortality and supernatural powers to the recently dead. Rarely has mumbo-jumbo been given such short-shrift as in The Medallion. But short-shrift is the theme here.

The very next scene sees Chan and his men attempting to rescue Jai, who has somehow managed to get kidnapped off-screen. Then it's off to Ireland where the boy has been secreted for an assignation with Snakehead - there's no procedure detailing how this information was secured - and a change in pace so complete it's as if the film had started anew.

Yang teams up with girlish Interpol agent Nicole James (Forlani) - who has kept a candle for him - to convince Watson to help them locate Jai. They crash Watson's home as uninvited dinner guests - his wife thinks he's a librarian - whence there proceeds a truly bizarre cookery montage best described as a bad parody of domestic goddess Nigella Lawson. There is no further need of detective work as Yang consistently stumbles across his quarry on the streets of Dublin.

UK comedian Lee Evans is game - he has some modestly funny bits, as when he pokes Chan's suddenly immortal Yang with a knife and then keeps poking him in helpless fascination - but like any comic working without script or direction his default facial expression is a clown-like frown. Forlani has the thankless role of pretending to care in a film that couldn't care less. Sands is in worse shape - there's nothing sadder than a villain without a scheme of world domination. He just wants to live forever, and the film gives no hint of what mischief he might get up to, were he but given the chance.

Technically, the film trends downwards to a conclusion worthy of a 1950's-era B-movie, complete with papier mache building blocks bouncing off the floor. The end-credit roll features some out-takes that hint at a messy production process; many are from scenes that were themselves cut from the movie.

Prod cos: Emperor Multimedia/Golden Port/Columbia TriStar
US dist:
Sony Pictures
Int'l sales:
Emperor Multimedia Group (Asia, Japan, Fr-speaking terrs)
Int'l dist:
Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International (exc EMG terrs)
Exec prods:
Jackie Chan, Willie Chan, Albert Yeung
Alfred Cheung
Bey Logan, Gordon Chan, Alfred Cheung, Bennett Joshua Davlin, Paul Wheeler
Arthur Wong
Prod des:
Joseph C Nemec
Ki-hop Chan
Adrian Lee
Main cast:
Jackie Chan, Lee Evans, Claire Forlani, Julian Sands, John Rhys-Davies