The Accidental Spy [特務迷城] (2001)
Starring Jackie Chan, Vivian Hsu Jo-Hsuan, Wu Hsing-Guo, Kim Min-Jeong, Eric Tsang, Murat Yilmaz, Alfred Cheung Kin-Ting, Lillian Ho Ga-Lee, Cheung Tat-Ming
Directed by Teddy Chen
One of the great things about going through an actor’s complete filmography is discovering films that passed you by at the time of their release. By the early 2000s, my initial passion for Jackie Chan had faded due to my distaste for his American films and the films of the early 2000s in general (thanks in part to the rise of CG). I would love to say that The Accidental Spy is a wonderful film, offering untold delights, but it’s actually quite a mediocre film all things considered. Where it excels is its action, offering up a pair of incredible sequences that recall everything you’ve ever enjoyed about the films of Jackie Chan. They aren’t enough to pull the film out of mediocrity, but they are wonderful and very welcome in an otherwise underwhelming film.
The film begins oddly, as journalists drive through a village in Turkey afflicted with a deadly pneumonia outbreak. They are quickly assaulted and murdered by terrorists, and we are whisked away to the South Korean embassy in Istanbul. A spy is called in to investigate, but before we get too deep into this serious plot line, we are abruptly taken to Hong Kong where Buck Yuen (Jackie Chan) is doing his best to sell some exercise equipment by giving energetic demonstrations. His real test of fitness comes a few minutes later, though, when he daringly thwarts a bank robbery as only Jackie Chan could. The media coverage attracts the attention of Many Liu (Eric Tsang), a private eye looking for orphans about Jackie’s age, which consequently drags Jackie into an international struggle.
Jackie’s character background as an orphan once again puts him into a position of having a missing identity. He never knew his parents, and while he seems to have done well enough for himself, he wants to know where he came from. His dream of becoming a cop remains unrealized, perhaps due to his economic situation during his school years. They never address this, but I can assume. He clearly had the time and dedication to study kung fu, but for whatever reason he ended up selling exercise equipment and not policing the streets.
The Accidental Spy doesn’t do much in terms of actually revealing the character’s back story, but it does see Jackie fulfill his dream of becoming a force of good against the injustice of the world. Jackie’s character answers this call to action through personal risk and the help of some mentor characters, painting a somewhat extreme example of how one must engage in a degree of self-parenting in order to achieve your goals. The film’s handling of this theme is slight, if anything, but as someone who continues to appreciate the contribution of self-parenting and risk to one’s overall makeup, I liked that it was here at all. Jackie doesn’t just play a character who accidentally becomes a spy, he’s discovering and executing his calling in life.
The film’s action runs the gamut from OK, derivative material to fantastic, top-shelf Jackie choreography. Perhaps on a re-watch the “OK” scenes would play better, but in this go-round they felt over-edited (closer to an American style), leaving the choreography without much of a fighting chance. An early fight in a hospital room involves Jackie using a defibrillator and other medical items to thwart to bad guys, which is clearly a fun, great idea, but the editing often kills the flow to the point that I had a hard time enjoying the scene. This same thing could be said of the editing throughout a good portion of the movie overall, too, although The Accidental Spy won Hong Kong Film Awards for its editing and choreography, so what do I know? 🙂
Thankfully, the film features two standout action scenes that every Jackie fan should take a look at. The first starts in a Turkish bath where a bunch of dudes armed with knives attack Jackie while he’s naked and vulnerable. Sounds a bit like that famous (and excellent) scene from Eastern Promises, no? But while you may have seen that one first, The Accidental Spy was a full five years before Eastern Promises! Anyway, the scene merely opens here, before morphing into a thrilling chase through a street market (with Jackie naked the whole time, doing his best to cover up). It’s the kind of fun, comedic action scene that Jackie built his name on, delivering on multiple levels of entertainment simultaneously.
The film’s lengthy finale is even better, though. It’s more of an action/stunt sequence than fight-based, but they go big and they go hard and it is absolutely breathtaking. It is a constantly evolving car chase that seemingly escalates the tension with every moment. It also manages to do something unique: the scene actively engages and deals with the collateral damage wrought by a huge “only in the movies” action scene. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the sequences ends with one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in a movie, Jackie or otherwise. I’m sure that’s over selling it, but whatever, it’s so awesome!
If you’re like me and you missed The Accidental Spy the first time around, I’d definitely recommend it to Jackie fans. I watched the original Hong Kong cut, which is about 20-some minutes longer than the US version, so I can’t vouch for how that shorter version holds up. I do know (thanks Internet!) that they completely changed the plot and re-dubbed the movie even though about half of it is already in English. Gotta love those horrible US hack jobs on Hong Kong films… actually, no you don’t! It’s crazy that they’re still a thing!
Ardent Hong Kong film fans will want to keep their eyes peeled for a couple of small cameos from director Vincent Kok (Gorgeous), JC Stunt Team member Bradley James Allen, Scott Adkins, and longtime Hong Kong star Teresa Ha Ping (who you might recognize from a number of Shaw Brothers films including her role as Devil Grandma in Chor Yuen’s The Magic Blade.)
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan is his first US sequel: Rush Hour 2! See ya then!
I did a recent re-watch of this. You say that his background is unexplained, but I thought I read him saying that he got into the police academy, but the teacher/chef was someone who used to bully him at the orphanage so he never passed the exam to be a cop.
Great review. Big fan of Accidental Spy.
Thanks for reading! Now that you say that about the bully, I do kinda remember something like that! Well, I guess they explained it a little more than I thought. Thanks for the heads up.