First Strike (1996)

FirstStrike_1First Strike [警察故事4之簡單任務] (1996)
AKA Police Story 4: First Strike, Jackie Chan’s First Strike, Final Project

Starring Jackie Chan, Annie Wu Chen-Chun, Jackson Lau Hok-Yin, Ailen Sit Chun-Wai, Yuriy Petrov, Bill Tung, Nonna Grishaeva, John Eaves, Nathan Jones, Terry Woo, Kristopher Kazmarek

Directed by Stanley Tong

Expectations: Very high!

threestar


First Strike released in the US roughly 11 months after Rumble in the Bronx, and in that time I had gone from knowing absolutely nothing about Hong Kong films to a seasoned fan of Jackie, John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Wong Kar-Wai, etc. thanks to my friends and their knowledge of tape trading. In fact, I had already seen First Strike a few times, so seeing it on the big screen was merely a treat instead of a new experience. Well… I suppose it was something new, since 20-something minutes were chopped out for the US release, and the original English & Cantonese soundtrack had been completely re-dubbed into English only (just like Rumble in the Bronx). I haven’t seen First Strike in probably 15+ years, so re-visiting it was in part like reconnecting with an old friend, yet also like seeing it for the first time with a more robust knowledge of Hong Kong film in place.

Jackie’s films had been progressively leaning towards international appeal since Police Story III, and First Strike does that more than any previous film. There are James Bond elements in both Supercop and Rumble in the Bronx, but First Strike throws Jackie into the framework of a James Bond story and lets him loose. It’s a great concept, unfortunately it doesn’t translate to the heights of action movie gold that you might think. Don’t get me wrong, I love this movie, but whenever there’s only one legitimate fight in a martial arts film, I’m always going to be disappointed at some level.

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Rumble in the Bronx (1995)

RumbleintheBronx_1Rumble in the Bronx [紅番區] (1995)

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Bill Tung, Francoise Yip, Marc Akerstream, Garvin Cross, Morgan Lam, Ailen Sit Chun-Wai, Kris Lord, Yueh Hua, Rainbow Ching Ho-Wai, Carrie Cain-Sparks

Directed by Stanley Tong

Expectations: Very high!

All things considered:
threestar

Just the action:
fourstar


If I had to point to a single movie that changed my life, it’s without a doubt Rumble in the Bronx. While I had seen some Bruce Lee films as a kid, Rumble in the Bronx was my first real taste of the Hong Kong movie. Even in its somewhat watered-down form as released in the US, the film completely and utterly destroyed my brain. I became immediately obsessed with Jackie Chan, to the point of not being able to watch American action films for years because they didn’t have the reckless, dangerous, “real-life” quality to the action that typifies the Hong Kong films of the ’80s and ’90s. This obsession even led me to dig deep into classic films, researching the work of Buster Keaton (a major influence on Jackie), which would eventually evolve all the way to me starting up this very blog as a way to express my unique and eclectic taste in film.

Roughly 20 years has passed by now, and re-watching Rumble in the Bronx for the first time in at least 10 years has given me a new understanding of the film (especially after reviewing my way up through Jackie’s filmography). I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed, or that it failed to live up to my personal legacy with it, but it definitely has its issues. I experienced a similar feeling when I reviewed Police Story III: Supercop, and within the films’ shared creative team the reasons for this emerge.

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Drunken Master II (1994)

drunkenmaster2_12Drunken Master II [醉拳II] (1994)
AKA The Legend of Drunken Master

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Ti Lung, Felix Wong Yat-Wah, Lau Kar-Leung, Cheung Chi-Gwong, Ken Lo, Ho Sung-Pak, Hon Yee-Sang, Hoh Wing-Fong, Andy Lau, Bill Tung, Chin Ka-Lok

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Expectations: C’mon, it’s Drunken Master 2! I know it’s awesome!

fourstar


I can confirm that love at first sight exists, because from the moment I first laid eyes on Drunken Master II, nearly 20 years ago, I was completely and utterly smitten. Time has changed many things in my life, but time has not diminished the power of Drunken Master II even a smidgen. It is every bit the amazing film it always was, and re-watching for the first time in many years brought back every enthusiastic feeling I ever had about the film. Heaven is indeed real, and it is watching Drunken Master II! Hyperbole aside, Drunken Master II is great and if you love martial arts films, I don’t think there’s any way for you not to love this one.

The film begins with Wong Kei-Ying (Ti Lung), his son Wong Fei-Hung (Jackie Chan) and their assistant Tso (Cheung Chi-Gwong) waiting to board a train home to Canton. Fei-Hung doesn’t think they should be forced to pay taxes on the ginseng root they are bringing back for a patient. Tso tells him that British consulate members don’t need to pay the duties, so when a group of them go past, Fei-Hung swaps the ginseng box with an identical box of theirs.

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Police Story III: Supercop (1992)

PoliceStoryIIISuperCop_1Police Story III: Supercop [警察故事III超級警察] (1992)
AKA Supercop

Starring Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, Kenneth Tsang, Yuen Wah, Bill Tung, Josephine Koo Mei-Wah, Kelvin Wong Siu, Lo Lieh, William Duen Wai-Lun, Phillip Chan Yan-Kin, Mars, Sam Wong Ming-Sing

Directed by Stanley Tong

Expectations: Superhigh.

threehalfstar


Dimension’s US release of Supercop was the second Jackie Chan film I saw. I was 14 and it blew me away. Rumble in the Bronx made me an instant fan, but Supercop spiked me into overdrive. Not only does it feature Jackie Chan doing amazing Jackie Chan things like hanging from a helicopter’s rope ladder while it flies around a Malaysian city, it also introduced me to Michelle Yeoh. She easily holds her own against Jackie, and in many ways upstages him in his own movie! Re-watching the film amidst the context of my chronological review series provides a different context and understanding, allowing me to appreciate the film in new ways, but also allowing for some disappointment to creep in.

Police Story III: Supercop cuts right to the chase; the first scene can easily be summed up as, “We need a supercop!” This time it’s Interpol coming to the HK police in search for someone who fits the bill to catch an international drug lord named Chaibat. They don’t name names, but they would have to know Chan Ka-Kui’s record, no? In any case, it’s interesting that this kind of traditionally simple action movie writing also serves as an evolution of the Supercop character.

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Miracles (1989)

MrCantonandLadyRose_1Miracles [奇蹟] (1989)
AKA Mr. Canton and Lady Rose, Miracle, Black Dragon, The Canton Godfather, Big Brother

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Gua Ah-Leh, Richard Ng, O Chun-Hung, Sunny Fang Kang, Bill Tung, Tien Feng, Ngai Jan, Gloria Yip Wan-Yee, Wu Ma, Billy Lau Nam-Kwong, Lo Lieh, Lee Hoi-Sang, Michael Chow Man-Kin, Paul Che Biu-Law

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Very High. It’s the only classic Jackie film I’ve never seen.

threestar


Miracles is Jackie Chan’s favorite of all the films he’s made, but I doubt many of his fans share the sentiment. It is a lavishly produced film, a true achievement for Jackie Chan the director, but from a viewer’s perspective it is a bit all over the place. It is a prime example of the flexible approach to mixing genre and tone often seen in Hong Kong films, and as such it is both a rousing success and somewhat underwhelming. I imagine that future viewings of the film will only make it better in my estimation, as it won’t be working against 20-some years of expectation and personal hype.

Jackie’s film is a remake of the Frank Capra film A Pocketful of Miracles, which in turn was a remake of the earlier Frank Capra film Lady for a Day. I haven’t seen either of the Capra films, but judging from their synopses it would seem that their stories are more focused on the deceptive plotline that makes up the bulk of the second half of Miracles. Again I haven’t seen the other films, but this would make sense because just watching Miracles, it feels like the first half is almost entirely unnecessary in a strict plot sense.

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Police Story Part II (1988)

policestory2_1Police Story Part II [警察故事續集] (1988)

Starring Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Lam Gwok-Hung, Bill Tung, Charlie Cho Cha-Lee, Benny Lai Keung-Kuen, Ben Lam Kwok-Bun, Guan Shan, Mars, Lisa Chiao Chiao, John Cheung Ng-Long, Danny Chow Yun-Gin, Johnny Cheung Wa

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: High. Can’t wait to see that playground fight again.

threestar


Like Project A 2, Police Story Part II begins by re-introducing the disgruntled, revenge-seeking villains of the first film, but then sidelines them for a completely new plotline. This works well in Project A 2 — the pirates are but a single cog in a very well-constructed script — but in Police Story 2 the returning baddies don’t serve much of a purpose at all. They drive the story a bit in the early going, and they facilitate the entire playground fight, but overall they could have been excised and the film would still make complete sense. I’m ultimately glad they’re around because that playground fight is one of my favorite Jackie fights of all time, but I just wish their inclusion was more meaningful.

This disillusionment also represents my general feelings towards Police Story 2 this time around. There’s a lot to like here, and the action is incredible, but it’s in bad need of some editing. It turns out the version I watched was the Japanese cut — supposedly Jackie’s preferred version of the film — which runs about 20 minutes longer than the original HK cut. I guess I’ll have to hunt down that shorter version for next time, although I’m not entirely sure it would really change my opinion all that much. I guess it depends on where those 20 minutes are coming from.

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Project A II (1987)

ProjectAII_1Project A II [A計劃續集] (1987)
AKA Pirate Patrol 2, Project B

Starring Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Rosamund Kwan, Carina Lau, Lam Wai, Bill Tung, Kwan Hoi-San, Regina Kent, Wong Man-Ying, Chris Lee Kin-Sang, Tai Bo, Mars, Ben Lam Kwok-Bun, Ken Lo, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Wang Lung-Wei

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: The only thing I remember is the redone Buster Keaton stunt. I don’t even remember if I liked the movie or not!

threehalfstar


The perennial question, “Is it better than the original,” always surrounds any discussion of a sequel. In the case of the Project A films, this is not an easy question to answer. The two films are markedly different from one another, with the most defining difference being the absence of Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao from the sequel (they were off making the awesome flick Eastern Condors). This allowed Jackie to branch out the sequel’s story in wildly different directions than the original film, and in a lot of ways it makes for a better, more diverse piece of entertainment.

The choreography is certainly more refined and representative of the “Evolved Jackie” that took shape in Police Story and emerged fully formed in Armour of God. There are certainly instances of Jackie’s defined style earlier, but starting with Police Story the elements come together to create the earliest examples of the quintessential Jackie Chan film. In Project A II, the fights are funny and almost constantly thrilling, without a single moment of wasted movement, and the circumstances under which Jackie finds himself fighting are truly inspired (such as the incredible sequence when Jackie is handcuffed to Chun (Lam Wai)).

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