Mr. Nice Guy (1997)

mrniceguy_2Mr. Nice Guy [一個好人] (1997)
AKA No More Mr. Nice Guy, Mister Cool, Nice Guy, SuperChef

Starring Jackie Chan, Richard Norton, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Miki Lee Ting-Yee, Karen McLymont, Vince Poletto, Barry Otto, Peter Houghton, David No, Judy Green, Jonathan Isgar, Sammo Hung, Emil Chow Wah-Kin

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Interested to revisit it.

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Mr. Nice Guy was the first brand new Jackie Chan film to be released while I was a fan. I often find that films (or albums) with this distinction hold a special place in my heart, as they struck me right at the genesis of my fandom and I was in a prime mindset to receive them. Mr. Nice Guy never did much for me, though, outside of a couple of the action scenes. Regardless, I was eager to revisit the film, both as a Jackie Chan vehicle and as one of Sammo Hung’s last films before his 19-year directing hiatus (which ended with this year’s The Bodyguard). Mr. Nice Guy is a fairly weak film when judged on traditional merits, but as an internationally appealing Hong Kong production, it’s an overwhelmingly fun, unsung gem.

Traditionally speaking, the main strike against Mr. Nice Guy is its story. It’s so thin that it’s something of a miracle that the whole thing doesn’t crumble into an incoherent mess. It’s more of a set-up than a true story, but as much as this hinders the film, it also allows the action to flourish. There are lots of fun chases, fight scenes, and athletic Jackie Chan stunts… perhaps more than in any Jackie film since Rumble in the Bronx. It feels like Jackie was finally back to full strength after his broken-ankle setback on Rumble, and the amount of classic Jackie action in Mr. Nice Guy benefits greatly from this. So in a way, the thin story is actually one of the film’s biggest strengths that lays the groundwork for the action to build on top of.

mrniceguy_8And what is that shaky foundation? Well, a drug deal devolves into gang violence and it’s all clandestinely filmed by a reporter (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick), who then clumsily alerts the gangsters to her presence. These evildoers, led by Richard Norton, want the reporter’s VHS tape at all costs, and throughout the film they make many attempts to retrieve it. Jackie plays Jackie, a TV cooking show co-host who rescues the fleeing reporter and is drawn into her plight when the VHS tape gets mixed up in a box of his cooking show recordings in his car’s back seat. Outside of some slight sub-plots, this is all you get, but Jackie Chan fans should delight in the film’s many and varied offerings of fun athleticism.

mrniceguy_7The action is credited to the Jackie Chan Stunt Team and Cho Wing, and I’m sure Sammo put his two cents in every now and then. As you might expect, these guys know a thing or two about action, so Mr. Nice Guy is filled with some truly great choreography. The pinnacle of this is the construction site fight; it’s easily one of my top Jackie Chan fights, and on some days I might even say it’s my favorite. The integration of the surroundings into the fight, coupled with the diversity of the things Jackie interacts with (everything from a trash can to a table saw), tied together with some awe-inspiring feats of human strength and agility make this fight the jaw-dropping, “I gotta see that again,” type of classic Jackie action that fuels my soul. I absolutely love it.

mrniceguy_12The rest of the film’s action doesn’t slouch either, with all kinds of fun coming via a horse-drawn carriage, an altercation contained within the back of a van (all while Sammo Hung hilariously cameos as a biker riding alongside), multiple chase scenes, and the heaviest of heavy machinery delivering nothing but cathartic destruction and explosions. I’m actually a bit shocked that I didn’t take to this one as a teen; it excellently executes all the elements necessary for a successful Jackie Chan action film.

What I imagine threw me off was the decision to film 95% of Mr. Nice Guy in English. Rumble in the Bronx and First Strike were filmed similarly, with each successive film reducing the amount of Cantonese spoken. Arguments could be made that all three films feature horrible acting from the native English speakers, but the actors in Mr. Nice Guy take it to a whole new level. I don’t so much mind Baggio (Barry Otto) as he’s amusing, and Richard Norton is having a ball playing the ruthless villain, but everyone else is sooooooooo annoying. To anyone that doesn’t think Jackie Chan is a good actor, I present Mr. Nice Guy as a document of his solid acting performance alongside some truly horrific turns from his co-stars.

mrniceguy_5No matter how great the action is, there’s almost no way to get through the movie without being annoyed at some point by the characters, and since they have no story to build we also have no attachment to them. Jackie’s even named Jackie, so the audience isn’t even asked to buy into Jackie as someone other than his hi-octane movie persona. We’re just waiting for Jackie to do Jackie stuff, and while he does a lot of that, nearly everything else is just getting in the way of our enjoyment. This is what makes Mr. Nice Guy a film for the ardent fans, and not one for mass appeal, because only a true fan will endure all the chaff to get to the incredible action core.

mrniceguy_3As a Sammo Hung film, it bears the director’s trait of spotless editing and energetic camerawork coming together to create dynamic action sequences. As much as I enjoy the Stanley Tong’s Jackie movies, there’s no denying that Sammo is a better director of action. In terms of English-speaking international appeal, Tong’s easily got him beat, though! Anyway, Mr. Nice Guy also bears a trait that defined the action of his most recent film, The Bodyguard: that annoying, stuttering slow motion that I’m pretty positive is achieved through slowing down regular-speed footage. I blamed it on Sammo caving to modern, digital conventions in my review of The Bodyguard, but it’s very much present and a large part of every action scene in Mr. Nice Guy. The technique also figures prominently in a small portion of the pachinko fight in Thunderbolt, which Sammo also choreographed/action directed. So it would seem that it’s a technique well-loved by Sammo in the later stage of his career, and if I had seen this prior to The Bodyguard I doubt it would’ve surprised or bothered me as much as it did.

mrniceguy_18With the level of quality action displayed in Mr. Nice Guy, it really had the potential to be one of Jackie’s greatest films. Unfortunately the lack of any real story keeps the viewer from getting involved with the characters, and thus we’re just waiting for the next action scene. Jackie is in great form, though, and his English continues to improve as he prepares himself for his full-on Hollywood takeover. The film’s finale is ludicrous and wonderful in all the right ways, too, and it made me wish that a Hollywood studio would give Sammo $100 million and just let his action-focused imagination loose. Mr. Nice Guy is definitely worth your time if you’re already a fan.

Also, look out for Emil Chow Wah-Kin reprising his role as the ice cream vendor from Rumble in the Bronx!

Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan is his last directorial effort until CZ12, 1998’s Who Am I! See ya then!

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