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'The Medallion' tests its shine

From CNN Correspondent Andrew Brown

Chan, 49, has been Asia's biggest box office star for more than 20 years.
Chan, 49, has been Asia's biggest box office star for more than 20 years.

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Hong Kong action movie "The Medallion" will test its strength at the U.S. box office this weekend against the might of horror grudge match "Freddy vs. Jason" and "S.W.A.T." which topped takings last week.

"The Medallion" -- which opens in the United States on Friday -- stars martial arts superstar Jackie Chan who powered blockbusters like "Rush Hour" and its sequel to success.

While "Rush Hour 2" was financed by Hollywood, "The Medallion" is backed by Hong Kong investors who hope the film will be a big leap forward for the local film industry.

But the $35 million production -- a record for Hong Kong -- could also be an embarrassing flop, if local reviews in this film-mad territory are anything to go by.

Hong Kong's English daily The South China Morning Post, gave it only two out of five stars. But if the popcorn munching public in America takes a shine to "The Medallion," then local filmmakers will feel they've proved something.

"The Medallion" has a mythical theme that U.S. critics believe will play well with America's pre-teen and young teens.

Produced in English to appeal to Western audiences, industry sources say the funding for "The Medallion" came from Hong Kong's Emporer Group.

"If Nike can be made in China, why not a Hollywood film in Hong Kong?" asked "The Medallion" director Gordon Chan, during an interview with CNN.

Hong Kong action hero Chan -- a movie god throughout Asia with a growing following in the United States, plays local police inspector Eddie Yang.

Chan with Forlani.  Forlani plays Yang's love interest and Interpol partner.
Chan with Forlani. Forlani plays Yang's love interest and Interpol partner.

Yang teams up with Interpol to try and stop baddie Snakehead, played by Julian Sands, from getting his hands on an ancient medallion that has supernatural powers.

Sands ("A Room with a View" and "The Killing Fields") is one of three British actors to star in the film.

Claire Forlani ("Meet Joe Black") plays an Interpol agent also on the case, while comedian Lee Evans ("Something about Mary" and "The Mouse Trap") is Yang's bumbling sidekick.

Humor is always a feature of Chan's films and in "The Medallion" much of the comedy is generated by the star Chan and Evans, who improvised some of the scenes.

The movie is partly shot in Ireland, where most of the action takes place.

Director Chan says Ireland was a perfect setting for the movie.

"(Ireland is) a place with lots of stories, ghost stories ... basically, a lot of legends," he told CNN.

The director admits that Ireland offered tax breaks too.

Ironically Hong Kong, the home of Emporer Group and star Chan, doesn't.

"The government of Hong Kong has done nothing to encourage filmmakers like the governments of Ireland, like Germany, like England, like Canada, Australia," says media expert Peter Schloss.

But ultimately its success will be determined by bums on seats.

In Hong Kong, "The Medallion" hasn't generated much excitement among moviegoers. In its first six days of showing, the movie pulled in less than $650,000 -- a mediocre return for such a high profile film.

Though "The Medallion" was cheap to make by Hollywood standards, both Chans will be disappointed if the film bombs at the U.S. box office.

Indeed, Jackie Chan's super powers as an action star may not be enough to give "The Medallion" the luster it needs.

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