The Protector [威龍猛探] (1985)
Starring Jackie Chan, Danny Aiello, Roy Chiao, Bill Wallace, Moon Lee, Victor Arnold, Kim Bass, Richard Clarke, Saun Ellis, Ronan O’Casey, Patrick James Clarke, Sandy Alexander, David Ho, Peter Yang Kwan, Sally Yeh
Directed by James Glickenhaus
Expectations: Jackie Chan, American style.
Like all of Jackie Chan’s American films, The Protector is a much watered-down version of the amazing action star. But in terms of his “first wave” of American films in the ’80s, The Protector is easily the best and most “Jackie” of the bunch, making it quite an entertaining film as long as you also like the general ’80s action genre. And who doesn’t?
The Protector opens in New York, as some Mad Max rejects re-wire a stop light in order to rob a semi-truck full of computers. Don’t worry about remembering this because none of it matters. It’s merely a setup to introduce us to New York cops Billy Wong (Jackie Chan) and Michael, who respond to the call. They chastise the Texan truck driver about stopping for a red light during the night in the Bronx. But the cops should’ve taken their own advice, because when they end their patrol shift by knocking back a couple of brews at the local bar, the place is robbed by a bunch of armed gunmen. Jackie’s partner is murdered, so he gives chase by land, sea and air (kinda), resulting in the murderer dying in a ball of fire and boat debris, and Jackie being given a more ho-hum job of working security at a party.
There he meets Danny Garoni (Danny Aiello), another loose cannon cop who’s been demoted to this less-than-exciting detail. But remember: this is dangerous New York! So they shouldn’t be surprised when a shitload of masked bandits burst through the windows, abduct the host of the party and then promptly leave. This leads the new pair of Chan and Aiello to pursue the case in Hong Kong!
As the synopsis shows, The Protector is pretty jam-packed with one action scene after another. This is somewhat misleading because the film isn’t as exciting as it might seem on paper. A boat chase ending in a big explosion sounds spectacular, but in actual execution it’s not all that exciting. It’s fun, and the shots of Jackie in the boat are really great, but it’s missing a tension that a great action scene needs. That carries through most of the movie, too, so while it’s entertaining enough on a visual level, it fails to ever really become viscerally exciting.
There’s plenty of fun Jackie Chan stuntwork, which is always exciting and amazing to watch, but the film has a problem trying to string anything together. Take the section of the finale when Jackie and a bandit are on a platform being lifted high into the air by a crane. The bad guy throws boxes like Donkey Kong at Jackie for a while, we watch via helicopter shots, and then Jackie unceremoniously kicks the dude off the platform to his death. If this was a HK movie, I can imagine an entire fight staged on this high-flying platform. Lots of little frustrations like that add up over the course of the film. There’s lots of action, but very little flow or “Jackie-ness” to it all.
If I had never seen a Jackie movie and I saw The Protector, I wouldn’t be close to comprehending just how badass he is (or was 🙁 ). It’s a passable action film, but his work in Hong Kong contemporary to The Protector is so far and away better than anything here that it makes the greatest moments in The Protector feel boring. I know that’s no way to judge a film, but in this case it just can’t be helped.
My other real disappointment with The Protector comes by way of a pair of supporting actors: Moon Lee and Bill “Superfoot” Wallace. I recently saw a couple of fights from Moon Lee’s ’80s film series Angel (AKA Iron Angels), and they were incredible. So I expected her to have at least something of a martial arts role. But no, she’s relegated to a small speaking role and doesn’t really do ANYTHING! If only I could go back in time to when I first saw this movie and I didn’t know who she was. Woulda really helped my disappointment this time. That trick wouldn’t have worked for Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, though, as during my childhood my dad owned the leg stretching machine he sponsored. So I knew all about Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, so when I saw that he was a villain in the movie I got excited figuring that Jackie and him would have some sort of rumble at the end of the movie. And they do! And it sucks! What a waste. At least the part with Superfoot coming at Jackie with a saw was pretty fun (in an American fight scene kinda way).
As much as I recognize how mediocre this film is within Jackie’s filmography, there’s no denying that The Protector does try to play up Jackie’s strengths. That’s something that none of his previous American films did, and it is was separates this one into the “good” heap of Jackie’s ’80s films, despite whatever flaws it has or how it feels watered down. Moments like when he flips the gun from the rug to jump onto the desk and catch it in mid-air, or when he climbs up the side of the stack of containers on the dock, are true Jackie all the way, and these small moments of brilliance are what makes The Protector worth watching.
If that’s not enough to draw you in, The Protector also features a truly awful, cliched script, that in this case is actually a positive. It’s not every day you hear Jackie spout classic “Only in the ’80s” lines like:
“Discretion is my middle name.”
“That’s not a threat, that’s a promise.”
“Give me the fucking keys!”
Or my personal favorite, “Listen, you creep. It’s not your money we want… it’s your ass!”
It might not have come through as much as I’d have liked, but I do like The Protector. It’s a fun movie that tries to capture some of the death-defying spirit of Jackie’s HK films, while also delivering a fairly standard gritty action film typical of the ’80s. Fans of both genres will find lots to like and dislike, so just try to enjoy it!
I also watched Jackie’s re-cut HK Version of The Protector, and I found it to play much quicker. Lots of early scenes were trimmed to speed things along, but Jackie’s version adds a new sub-plot featuring Sally Yeh that eventually connects Jackie with Peter Yang Kwan on the boat. One of the best additions thanks to this sub-plot is a short fight in a gym that’s funny and a lot of fun. The added scenes do feel completely different in tone to the original material, though. It’s like being dropped into a true HK movie mid-movie. It’s all much lighter and more in line with the other work Jackie was doing at the time, such as the Lucky Stars films. Due to this and the nature of the sub-plot’s connection to the original plot, these scenes do have a tendency to make the film feel more disjointed than it originally did. What really sets this version apart, though, is the re-shot/re-edited end fight with Bill “Superfoot” Wallace. In the US version it’s such a slow, disappointing fight that doesn’t do justice to Jackie or Superfoot at all. Jackie’s just getting beat up for most of it! Jackie’s new version is much faster, adding in lots of meaty and exciting fight choreography to thrill the fans.
I can’t recommend one version over the other because they both have their faults. Honestly, I wish there was a composite version of them both together, although that probably wouldn’t make for a better movie either.
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan is Sammo Hung’s Heart of Dragon! See ya then!