City Hunter (1993)

tho-san-thanh-pho-city-hunter-1992 After a fairly hefty slice of disappointment at recent viewings of “classic” Jackie Chan films, I admit I was a bit nervous about revisiting this. He was such a big part of my film youth, but would this one still hold up? “City Hunter” has a somewhat confusing provenance. It started off as a “manga”, basically, a comic book, and under that format released many volumes of adventures, each one focusing on one damsel in distress that our hero would have to save, romance, and ignore if a more beautiful woman came along. There have been multiple animated series, a live action TV series, and many alternate versions where the characters have been borrowed for other very similar series. Jackie Chan’s film version is nothing but a footnote in the Wikipedia article about the franchise, and he’s apparently said he’s not happy with it. Perhaps it’s an indicator of how he’s not a very good judge of his own work, as it’s hilarious! The craziness starts from the very first second and never lets up. He’s a complete doofus of a private eye and, along with the orphaned daughter of his former partner, is assigned the job of hunting down the missing daughter of a wealthy businessman. CityHunter-JoeyWong_TanLapMan_MikeAbbot_GaryDaniels_60736a7e99a6b9ddc4833202dbf2c5b7 This and associated shenanigans leads them to a cruise liner and a bunch of jewel thieves, and…it’s really not important. The plot is absolutely only there to be a backdrop for the jokes and stunts. Talking of backdrop, there’s a scene that seems to go on forever with a comedy musical dance troupe, zero relation to the plot, so I have to assume they’re friends of the producers or something.

 

The stunts are, just as standard for a Chan movie, fantastic. There’s a skateboard chase through oncoming traffic, a gun battle across the top of the boat, multiple fantastic fight scenes, and most famous of all, the “Street Fighter” fight, where Chan and main bad-guy muscle Gary Daniels get electrocuted by a Street Fighter arcade machine and turn themselves into all the different characters from that game. It’s amazing, and is a rare example of blatant product placement being used for something interesting (talking of product placement, the character E Honda has his name changed in the film to E Honde because of Chan’s lifelong sponsorship deal with Mitsubishi).

 

Yet again, we must resent the portrayal of women in these films. Despite him being a scumbag – one of the women in this film says of him, he’s “reputed to be an infamous sex fiend” – he’s irresistible to women and has three of them lusting after him. Still, it’s pretty much par for the course, but what isn’t is the reshooting of an entire scene because the women in the background weren’t pretty enough. If there’s ever a sentence which sums up everything wrong with the attitudes of this sort of cinema, it’s that. City-Hunter-10101568 The icing on the cake is a frankly disgusting homophobic scene, which was so appalling that the European distributors cut it out of the original release. One of the people on the cruise ship says of the (largely caucasian) jewel thieves, “I hope they all get AIDS and die”. There’s a scene of gay panic in there too, but that’s pretty minor in comparison.

 

So, an extremely entertaining film, chock full of comedy that works, by and large, with a huge number of thoughtfully laid out fight scenes too. But, it’s so thoroughly awful in some of its execution that it’s difficult to just kick back and have a good time with it; even appearances from ISCFC favourites Richard Norton and Gary Daniels aren’t enough to tip the scales in its favour.

 

I don’t even think it’s to do with me being a feminist, or a socialist – there’s no reason to have attitudes like this in film, and you don’t need to be actively political to have this leave a bad taste in your mouth. You just need to care about people being portrayed equally, no matter their gender. When we’ve just reviewed a film like “Pride”, a magnificent film about gays and lesbians, this seems even more archaic, more from the 1950s than the early 1990s.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

You can read RJW’s review of ‘City Hunter’ by clicking here

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Dragons Forever (1988)

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I’m sure there are tons of reviews of this film out there already – written by smart people with a deep knowledge of both Jackie Chan and martial arts cinema in general, with all sorts of information about the evolving style and the one-martial-art-vs-another undercurrent that seems to feature in so many of these films. But for this one, you’re just going to get the socialist film nerd’s approach…which is probably not original either. But it’s free, so stop complaining!

Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao (the three stars of this film) were all brought up in one of the many Peking Opera Schools, among the last generation to do so. The kids were trained from an incredibly young age in dance, acrobatics and martial arts, and paid off the training “debt” by public performance. This was pretty brutal (Chan’s autobiography goes into some detail on this) but for those who succeeded, they could make a career out of it afterwards – and that’s what happened for the three famous graduates, who started at the school at the same time.

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The plot to this one is pretty irrelevant, to be honest, as it’s just a hook to hang Three Stooges-level slapstick and insanely complicated fight sequences on. A woman’s fish farm is being threatened by pollution from a nearby industrial laundry (which, it turns out, is a front for a heroin production plant, a twist that any fan of “Breaking Bad” will have spotted) and Jackie is the bad guy’s lawyer. He employs mystical thief Yuen and conman Sammo to try and get the woman to both drop her lawsuit against the laundry, and sell them her farm – and eventually (but not til a really long way into the film) they realise whose side they should be on.

There are two things to say about this film. First and foremost is the astonishingly backward portrayal of women, which starts with Jackie walking through the courthouse, sleazing women into going out with him while his secretary looks on longingly; continues through the fish farm owner and her friend discussing how you should pretty much say yes to any man because you might end up 40 and alone; and culminates with the two women forgiving Sammo and Jackie almost immediately when it’s revealed that they have been working for the violent criminal who’s trying to put them out of business. Oh, I almost forgot that Jackie’s girl (who is an expert witness for the fish farm) being forced by the judge, under oath, to say whether she loves Jackie or not.

Now, I know banging on about this sort of thing says more about the relatively enlightened times we live in now than it does about then; but this film is so awful that it sticks out, even among the late 80s. While watching this and discussing it, my wife asked “so, this film is from the 1940s, right?” with not much irony.

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The second thing is the magnificent set pieces. There’s a reason I had it fixed in my head that this is my favourite Chan film, and it’s the incredible fight scenes that are dotted throughout. Chan is the best in the world at this sort of thing, with Hung and Biao not far behind, so the stunts are performed at an incredible pace with a degree of difficulty most other stars (or even their stuntmen) could only dream of. The closing fight, where Jackie and Yuen take on a drug plant full of guys, one of whom is Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, former world champion martial artist and looking extra-creepy here with heavy mascara, is just fantastic. Even with the technical advances made since 1988, and the arguably more impressive set-pieces (such as Tony Jaa taking on a nightclub full of guys in a single take), this is still an amazing technical achievement.

It wasn’t a hit at the time in the Far East (all three main guys played against type, and seeing Chan with a woman is a big no-no for his female fans, apparently), but it’s become more of a classic with the passing years – so this review is somewhere between those two poles. The reason it doesn’t work isn’t because they play different sorts of roles than we’re used to, it’s because the plot is stupid and it’s appallingly sexist; and while it deserves to be seen, it needs to be watched with a critical eye. Still, there aren’t many films that combine fighting and broad comedy with as much skill as this one does, so enjoy the incredible display, and the ludicrous comedy.

Rating: thumbs up

City Hunter (1993)

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Directed by: Wong Jing

Adapted from a popular Japanese manga series ‘City Hunter’ is about a womanizing private detective with a silver tongue and wandering hands. Dressed like an extra in a Miami Vice episode, or perhaps more accurately like a man who had raided the wardrobe on a Duran Duran music video set, Jackie Chan proves quite adept at playing the lecherous creep. Although his catchphrase is clumsy, it does also fit his persona “The City Hunter is my nickname, fighting crime’s my game”.

In the comic book Chan’s character Ryo is described as a pervert. But I think on screen he plays the character more like the playful sex pest. The kind of guy who you might softly slap in the face after a wolf whistle, as opposed to the bloke who needs a restraining order because he’s on the lookout for a ‘mokkori chance’ (Google it. Trust me, it’s worth it). There is a point in the film when a gun toting streetwise female police detective exclaims “he is reputed to be an infamous sex fiend”.

The film itself requires real a period of adjustment. Before the action moves to a cruise ship the colours are garish, the dubbing is ridiculous and there is a naff scene involving skateboarding riding hockey players. For a while it is like being stuck in a dream like loop of endless eighties pop videos parodied in the crazy mind of some J Pop impresario. At one point a Japanese pop band does actually dance around for a few minutes interrupting the film’s flow like Vanilla Ice did when he mimed ‘Go Ninja Go’ in ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze’.

City Hunter is given an assignment by a wealthy business man to track down his estranged pretty daughter, much to the chagrin of Kaori, the cousin of City Hunter’s late partner. The regular joke of the film is that Kaori is always jealous of City Hunter’s womanizing. There’s an early scene when a group of attractive women attack City Hunter. These women are revealed to be wives of all the people he’s arrested. City Hunter is able to literally beat the clothes off these women (though this is captured off camera by flying lady garments).

When the action does eventually move to a cruise ship it initially looked like we are set for the worst movie set on a Cruise ship since ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ (‘Boat Trip’ also runs it close). City Hunter smuggles himself aboard the ship by hiding in a laundry bag. Having waited around for a while in the bowels of the ship he is feeling awfully hungry. Whilst searching for something to eat he gets discovered by some crew members who chase the starving stowaway. Chan revels in his Kung Fu Buster Keaton role.

Terrorists (rather different in the early nineties to how they look today) are also on board, Though it must be said this isn’t a ‘Captain Phillips’ situation. The terrorists led by a suave bloke called Mac plot to rob all the millionaires on board and throw anyone who gets in the way to the sharks. The film really picks up when the bullets start to fly, and there are two particularly brilliant fight sequences; one which takes place in a cinema, with Bruce Lee’s ‘Game of Death’ playing in the background. When you think back to that movie, it is remarkable to see Bruce Lee fighting basketball legend Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, the equivalent today would be Jason Statham taking on Kobe Bryant.

The second notable fight scene is masterful, one of the most innovative, hilarious fight scenes I’ve ever seen, as Jackie Chan faces off against a blonde haired Karate expert in an arcade. Chan gets tossed into an arcade machine, and in the process gets electrocuted. After the shock he then transforms into several characters from ‘Street Fighter’. I won’t spoil it by telling you which ones.

‘City Hunter’ is a flawed film saved by two wonderful fight scenes. Although Chan makes a solid dragon’s fist of his comedic role, the attempt to make the movie a live action cartoon is a tad jarring. It isn’t too surprising that a sequel was never made.

– RJW
6/10

City Hunter on IMDB

The Spy Next Door (2010)

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Directed by: Brian Levant

Jackie Chan is my second favourite action hero after Tom Cruise. I guess I like my action heroes to be diminutive men who do their own high risk stunts. My love affair with Chan’s unique brand of high flying acrobatically enhanced Martial Arts moves began with ‘Rumble in the Bronx’. He later starred in my favourite buddy cop franchise (yes, more dear to my heart then Gibson and Glover in the Lethal Weapons) with Chris Tucker in the ‘Rush Hour’ trilogy. I must admit I couldn’t stomach Chan’s work after ‘Shanghai Noon’ but recently I’ve been thinking about what gems I might’ve missed from Chan’s formidable filmography. I decided to start with ‘The Spy Next Door’, mainly because it co-stars Miley Cyrus’ Dad.

Essentially ‘The Spy Next Door’ is a diluted ‘True Lies’, marketed to appeal to a young family demographic. It could also be lumped in with the babysitter movie genre which varies in quality from ‘Uncle Buck’ to ‘The Sitter’. Jackie Chan plays Bob Ho (sounds like Bob Hope when he says it), who works for the CIA; he’s a transplant from the Hong Kong Police (some things never change). After yet another successful mission he decides to retire and shack up with his stunningly attractive blonde (yet probably mentally scarred) girlfriend and her three kids. To distinguish the spy from the civilian Chan is given a pair of Woody Allen’s glasses to wear.

We are told that the blonde is attracted to Bob because unlike all the other men who’ve let her down, naturally including her ex-husband, Bob is a nice guy. See, in Hollywood nice guys still can get the hot chick in the same way the everyman sitcom slob always has a trophy wife. It just happens. The three children are all equally annoying. You have the toddler who likely will grow up to be the next Lindsay Lohan, likely already traumatized after being forced into the entertainment industry too early and witnessing numerous retakes of cartoonish Jackie Chan violence, the precocious boy genius and the stroppy tween who wears slutty clothes.

The first ten minutes are very trippy because the pacing is way off. It’s as if someone has mistakenly hit the fast forward button. We are told so much and everything happens rapidly, which doesn’t bode well because you know those involved in creating this film have condensed these opening scenes in order to cram in set piece stunts and Jackie Chan bumbling his way through his lines. It’s remarkable that despite starring in English speaking films for nigh on two decades Chan still struggles to get the words out. Most of the movie is about Bob babysitting the kids when the hot blonde leaves town and his cringe worthy attempts to bond with them. Initially this is handled rather clumsily as Bob says “I’m going to force those kids to like me” and proceeds to spy on the eldest daughter by lurking in the shadows.

Billy Ray Cyrus, who looks increasingly like a former Motley Crue roadie who’s came off the junk and has smartened up his act, plays a tech expert; Cyrus speaks solely in Southern platitudes. Remarkably, since he hardly appears on screen his acting abilities can’t be scrutinized too much because he isn’t giving enough lines to make any kind of impression, negative or otherwise.

The bad guys are also on the periphery for most of the film, and are wonderfully incompetent. Led by a badly dressed (or in the case of Russian fashion, dressed culturally appropriately) baddie called Poldark, who is attempting to destroy American oil using a unique chemical formula. The actors involved have terrible Russian accents. They’d been better off doing vodka shots in between takes to acquire authenticity.

Quite simply ‘The Spy Next Door’ is awful. It is worse than ‘The Pacifier’ starring Vin Diesel. You’d expect a little better from Brian Levant, given he had directed more palatable kids films like ‘Beethoven’ and so bad it’s quite good tripe like ‘Jingle All the Way’, although unlike his previous work there is no humour whatsoever that isn’t ironic.

– RJW
2/10

The Spy Next Door on IMDB