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
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.
Jackie plays the womanizing private eye Ryu Saeba, who has raised his murdered partner’s cousin, Kaori (Joey Wong Cho-Yin), since she was a small child. Kaori’s fallen for Ryu, and he likes her too, but he swore to his partner that he’d never date her. Anyway, they receive a job from a rich businessman to find his missing daughter, Kiyoko (Gotoh Kumiko), and this leads Jackie to stow away aboard a cruise ship. The madcap insanity kicks into high gear and continues on the high seas, with international terrorists, deadly card sharks, and more cartoony hijinks than you ever thought were possible in a live-action film.
Wong Jing is known for crafting films with this kind of reckless insanity, and for some reason I feel like City Hunter is kind of a tame film for him. I’ve seen less than 10 of his 100 (and counting) films, and all the ones I’ve seen were in my teens and I remember nothing. If my reaction to City Hunter is any indication than I should be in for a treat when I eventually revisit them. He got his directing start in the early ’80s with the Shaw Brothers studio, and he has been one of the rock solid pillars of Hong Kong cinema ever since. Judging on his talent for wrangling the myriad plotlines of City Hunter and infusing nearly every moment with frenetic energy and sharp comedic timing, it is with good reason! I really must dig into his massive filmography one of these days.
As I mentioned earlier, the film’s action is impressive in how it works with and never betrays the film’s comedic, outlandish tone. It is immediately distinguishable from the traditional Jackie-style fight, as well as fights in other Hong Kong films of the era. The choreography is relentlessly inventive to keep up with this wild tone, and it’s nothing short of perfect. The obvious standout is the Street Fighter scene, where multiple classic characters from the video game are brought to life. It’s a stellar fight, and I don’t think anyone will ever faithfully recreate Street Fighter in live-action form as successfully as they did in City Hunter. Jackie Chan will always be my favorite Chun Li.
Gweilos Gary Daniels and Richard Norton are just as impressive as Jackie in City Hunter, giving him a pair of foes worthy of his best efforts. Norton has always been one of my favorites because of his fight with Sammo Hung in Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, and his work in City Hunter is fantastic. I’m not nearly as familiar with Gary Daniels, so he stood out the most to me. The initial fight between Jackie and Daniels is so fierce, with so many quick, precise movements by both men packed into each shot. I got the sense that if the film’s tone was serious, they could have created something to rival Jackie’s pair of screen fights with Benny the Jet. Daniels is really that good; it’s a shame he never became a huge star. If nothing else, he should’ve done another film with Jackie! Wait… there’s still time, guys! Do it!
Amidst the comedy and the clever choreography, there are a lot of jokes involving violence directed towards women. None of it feels mean-spirited or malicious, but if you’re sensitive it’ll probably raise your hackles. Women are punched across the room, routinely dropped by Jackie, etc., but honestly, so is everyone else in the movie. Within the confines of the film, the jokes work well. None of the characters are hurt by any of this, because it all fits within the cartoon aesthetic, and the women are also given ample opportunity to beat up the dudes too (Ken Lo really gets it!). If it wasn’t live action, I don’t think I’d even have noticed. So while these moments might be alarming, in terms of City Hunter I think they add to the film far more than they detract from it.
I really loved City Hunter, and I found it an interesting companion to Jackie’s previous film, Crime Story. The films feature opposite extremes, and as such are far more similar than they would appear on the surface. They both take Jackie into new territory and prove that he is more than capable in both capacities. It would be easy to write off City Hunter as dumb and without merit, but that would be neglecting the amount of talent and skill necessary to pull off something this stupidly sophisticated. If you like Chinese comedy (which is definitely a unique, acquired taste), or if you’re open-minded to trying such things, City Hunter is quite an entertaining film.
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan is the one, the only: Drunken Master II! See ya then!
Aha, I’m working on a book about Gary Daniels at the moment. You’re right he really is an underrated action star. I’d recommend checking out Rage (1995) or Riot (1996) if you get a chance.
Good write up. Really enjoying your Jackie Chan reviews.
Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll definitely check those out when I get a chance. And I’m so glad you are enjoying the Jackie reviews. They’re fun films to re-visit and write about. I haven’t seen most of them in a long time.
You know, I’ve never gotten around to the anime version of this series (it has way too many adaptations whose order is never clearly spelled out, so I’ll have to put in some research to figure out where to start and if the beginning is even available), but the trailers I’ve seen for the anime always seemed very hard-boiled and serious in tone. Hearing that the live action film is slapstick comedy is a very odd reversal of my expectations.
Maybe those trailers were just lying, but I doubt they lied that much. It has increased my curiosity for the series though, just to see how one story could be taken in such completely different directions.
I’ve only seen pictures of the anime so I have no idea of the tone. To hear that it might be serious sounds very strange to me! It’s hard to imagine. If you ever watch the anime, definitely watch this one too! I think you’d dig it.
One of the first JC films I ever saw (got a 3-disc box set with this, Story of Ricky, and Dragon From Russia… all mental). I haven’t watched it in about 10 years, but it’s impression is firmly stamped into my brain. Unlike most OTT films I think the bonkers elements are what makes this so enjoyable – and of course, Jackie Chan’s endless charisma.
I haven’t seen Dragon from Russia but if it’s paired with those two movies, it must be well worth it. I’ll have to add it to my list of stuff to check out. You should watch City Hunter again. It really holds up.
Speaking of Dragon from Russia, the director wanted to do City Hunter instead but Sam Hui wouldn’t have any of it.