You Don't Know Jackie!
Woody Allen turns out a movie every two to three years and typically finds a new way to express his story. Jackie Chan puts them out at least once a year. Over tea, perhaps, he dashes out simplistic stories that will allow for stunts and fighting. The former delves the human character. The latter explores ways in which the human body can thrill. One really should stop and marvel when a middle-aged man runs over the top of a moving car, then leaps feet first into the front passenger window.
But if Chan churns them out-and he does-then how is one to pick the one film to see from the not unrare Jackie Chan section in the local video store? And if you're new to the genre, just looking to find out what all the fuss is about, where do you begin? Police Story? Snake In Eagle's Shadow?
Here are some tips and recommendations, based on the ratings above. Though by no means the expert, I have seen at least 20 Jackie Chan flicks, some more than once. Please let me know what you've seen and enjoyed or disliked. I'll cull responses and share the results with you in two weeks.
Top priority for a newcomer is the classic Twin Dragons. Probably from the late 80's, this one has it all and is a stand-out example of a martial arts film. It combines some of the best stunts I've seen with a surprisingly good script. Among the stunts is a fight in a automobile-testing factory that affords Chan and his enemies countless large metal structures to swing around. Chan's stunts are death-defying, and he performs them himself. Still agile, though well into his thirties, Chan moves with speed and endurance to make the jaw drop. And the script, well, it's a comedy! Chan plays both a fight-lovin' mechanic and the wimpy orchestra conductor who are identical twins. Surely, it's not a new premise, but this gimmick is usually central to any movie in which it appears. But this is no Parent Trap. The twin story is adjunct to excellent martial arts. And it works. Farcical scenes take place throughout the movie, with some well-adapted twists culminating in the classic hot-tub scene. Project A runs a close second for combining action, humor, and good film-making. The Big Brawl, one of Chan's first film in English, is also well done with some pro-wrestling style. You might also like Police Story, but I find it heavy on guns, light on martial arts.
I consider Drunken Master the best-in-class of the young Chan pictures, which include Fearless Hyena, Drunken Master II, Snake In Eagle's Shadow, Spiritual Kung Fu, Fearless Hyena II, and to a lesser degree Dragon Fist. Find these films by looking for something that looks distinctly pre-80's. Also find one that spells his name "Jacky." These early flicks are characterized by fighting, and plenty of it. The story: an evil powerful person wrongs the frivolous, young Chan early in the film. Chan gets beaten up, trains, then returns to battle minions one by one until finally confronting chief-baddie and whupping him. The film then ends. But never mind the plot-here come the flying fists and feet! Full body shots of extreme agility, on-the-ground stunts to rival the Olympics tumbling team, frequent clowning, and long demonstrations of kung-fu styles. DM is my favorite. Fearless Hyena and Spiritual Kung Fu are also surprisingly good.
Latter-day Jackie Chan is characterized by bigger budget production, more guns, less fisticuffs, and one or two blockbuster stunts per film. You have to wait to get the good stuff. The comedy is still presen, but films like Who Am I?, Rush Hour, First Strike, and Police Story rely less on Chan's unique martial arts, skills that perhaps are fading with age and repeated injury. The plots are still simple with the possible exception of Who Am I? that shows a little more creativity in scripting, although the number of places in which the story revolves around a completely ludicrous coincidence is glaring. And yet, it has an amazing scene wherein Chan runs/slides down the side of a 70-story building. First Strike, one of the earlier films in the recent Chan revival has a few more stunts-per-hour and some excellent kung fu as well. An extra eighth of a star. Police Story has one of the weakest stories, ironically, and Rush Hour has the annoying intrusion of Chris Tucker and has Chan recycling a lot of old tricks.
At the bottom of the list is Fantasy Mission Force, a downright silly film. The problem with this films is that it looks from the box like it could be a Drunken Master with lots of shots of Chinese countryside backgrounding fast-fury-fu. But nope. The difficulty with Chan's body of work is that in this bag of peanuts, there's plenty of fun to be had, but those rotten ones are in there and they will always take you by surprise.
Again, if you have more comments about Chan, I would be glad to cull
more information to pass onto the converted and unconverted masses. I certainly
think Chan is worth your viewing time, and until Jet Li gains proper
distribution in the U.S., my crazy-fightin' video dollar goes to Mr.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.