Thunderbolt (1995)

thunderbolt_1Thunderbolt [霹靂火] (1995)
AKA Dead Heat

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Yuen Wing-Yee, Michael Wong Man-Tak, Dayo Wong Chi-Wah, Thorsten Nickel, Ken Lo, Chor Yuen

Directed by Gordon Chan

Expectations: Very high!

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

Just the action:
threehalfstar


The one-two punch of Drunken Master II and Rumble in the Bronx is an incredibly tough act to follow, and Thunderbolt is not up to the challenge! Hahahaha, but really it’s kind of a mess of a movie. This is where your love of simple entertainment and Jackie Chan come in! By all normal metrics, Thunderbolt should be a disjointed failure, but it’s actually an entertaining, offbeat gem in the Jackie catalog. I enjoyed it so much as a teen that I actually thought showing it to my grandma was a great idea, choosing it specifically because I thought other, better films would be a harder sell. What’s funny is that re-watching the film now, I can kind of understand what I was thinking.

Thunderbolt continues the trend of Jackie Chan films attempting to appeal to the wider international audience, like Police Story III and Rumble in the Bronx. Thunderbolt goes a step further by limiting the martial arts and replacing it with cars, something more inclusive in a general sense than hand-to-hand fighting. The story retains a slight Hong Kong flavor, but overall the film barely feels like a Hong Kong production. It’s also more in the serious vein of Crime Story than the standard Jackie action comedy, thus avoiding some of the inherent cultural differences in humor. This is my long-winded way of saying that I must have thought my grandma would respond better to something a little closer in sensibility to US films than something like Drunken Master II. I was trying to ease her into the world of kung fu. Hahahaha… it didn’t work.

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City Hunter (1993)

City Hunter [城市獵人] (1993)

Starring Jackie Chan, Joey Wong Cho-Yin, Richard Norton, Gotoh Kumiko, Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching, Carol Wan Chui-Pan, Tan Lap-Man, Leon Lai, Ken Lo, Gary Daniels, Eric Kot Man-Fai, Jan Lam Hoi-Fung, Mike Abbott, Louis Roth, Michael Wong Man-Tak, Hagiwara Kenzo

Directed by Wong Jing

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


City Hunter is another Jackie Chan film that I wasn’t completely in love with during my teenage obsession. I was desperate to recreate that first-time feeling of experiencing Rumble in the Bronx, so something like City Hunter, with its wildly comedic, cartoon tone, wasn’t going to fit the bill. These days my passion for Jackie remains constant, but my expectations and restrictions of what I want to see from him have relaxed and opened up considerably. Now I’m happy to follow Jackie and whatever director he’s working with into any creative experience they can cook up.

In these terms, City Hunter is an impressive work of art. It manages to capture the over-the-top look and the feel of a cartoon/anime in live action, and it keeps this tone and aesthetic constant throughout every aspect of the production. From exaggerated acting and facial expressions, to the breakneck, logic-smashing pace, to the action choreography that is comedic and over-the-top before anything else, City Hunter is stylistically rich, and about as perfect a comic book adaptation as you could ask for. I have half a mind to give it four stars — I was that bowled over by it — but I’ll have to watch it again to see if it holds up and reinforces this strong a reaction.

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Seven Swords (2005)

Seven Swords [七劍] (2005)

Starring Donnie Yen, Leon Lai, Charlie Yeung, Lu Yi, Lau Kar-Leung, Sun Hong-Lei, Kim Soo-Yeon, Michael Wong Man-Tak, Chi Kuan-Chun, Jason Pai Piao, Duncan Lai, Tai Li-Wu, Zhang Jing-Chu, Huang Peng, Ma Jing-Wu

Directed by Tsui Hark

Expectations: Moderate. It seems to have a lot going for it, but I don’t want to get too excited.


Back in my teenage years, Tsui Hark was one of the mystical, incredible directors that I loved. He was responsible for some of the best films Hong Kong had to offer, most notably the Once Upon a Time in China films and Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (among many, many others). Like lots of the big Hong Kong directors though, he emigrated over to the US in the late 90s, hoping to find grand success on the larger American stage. Instead, he found heartache and disappointment with a pair of underperforming JCVD films, Double Team and Knock Off. To be fair, I’ve only seen half of Double Team and the first few minutes of Knock Off, something I plan to remedy at some point, but from these small bits one might guess he had lost his knack for filmmaking. Seven Swords is a few years later, but it proves why Hong Kong filmmakers should stay in Hong Kong (unless an American studio is willing to give them free rein, which is never going to happen).

On the surface, Seven Swords is yet another play on the Seven Samurai framework. A helpless village is being assaulted by bandits and they need the help of seven rogue swordsman and all that. Here it’s slightly tweaked where the Emperor has sent out an edict where all practitioners of martial arts are to be killed. General Fire-Wind and his brutal army are parading around the land, killing and beheading whoever fits the bill. They happen upon a remote village and quickly plan their assault. Two of the villagers, along with veteran martial arts choreographer and all-around Hong Kong legend Lau Kar-Leung, venture out to Mount Heaven in search of some help from the hermit swordsmen residing there. So yeah, the setup is very Seven Samurai, but the rest of the movie is anything but.

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