Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991)

operationcondor_1Armour of God II: Operation Condor [飛鷹計劃] (1991)
AKA Operation Condor

Starring Jackie Chan, Carol Cheng Yu-Ling, Eva Cobo De Garcia, Ikeda Shoko, Vincent Lyn, Jonathan Isgar, Dan Mintz, Bozidar Smiljanic, Aldo Sambrell, Ken Lo, Ken Goodman, Winston G. Ellis, Wayne Archer, Bruce Fontaine, Steve Tartalia, John Ladalski, Nick Brandon, Chen Chi-Hwa

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Very High. This has always been one of my favorites.

fourstar


Armour of God is one of my favorite Jackie Chan films, and in my opinion this sequel sits right alongside it. It exemplifies everything Jackie had been working to refine over the course of his directorial career in the ’80s, to the point that he didn’t direct another film until 1998’s Who Am I? To be fair, I don’t actually know if that’s why Jackie handed the reins over to other directors in the ’90s, but it makes sense to me. He calls Miracles his favorite of his films, and it represents a real culmination and sophistication of his talents behind the camera. Jackie takes all of that wit and style and applies to it a more traditional Jackie film; the result is the stunning and incredibly fun Armour of God II: Operation Condor. After something as triumphant as that, why not take a break from complete control to see what direction others might push him in? This would ultimately result in his collaborations with Stanley Tong, arguably some of the most entertaining films of his entire career.

After another “Jackie tries to steal artifacts from natives” opening scene, we learn that Jackie’s mission this time is to find a cache of hidden Nazi gold. Like the first film, he picks up a few traveling partners: Elsa (Eva Cobo De Garcia), Ada (Carol Cheng Yu-Ling), and Momoko (Ikeda Shoko). These three women contribute significantly to the success of the film, enhancing the comedy of the film and playing off of Jackie quite well. They each get their individual moments to shine, but they are never better than when they come together towards the end to fight one of the henchmen.

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Half a Loaf of Kung Fu (1980)

halfaloaf_4Half a Loaf of Kung Fu [點止功夫咁簡單] (1980)
AKA Karate Bomber

Starring Jackie Chan, James Tin Jun, Doris Lung Chun-Erh, Kim Jeong-Nan, Kam Kong, Lee Hoi-Lung, Ma Ju-Lung, Miao Tian, Lam Chiu-Hung, Dean Shek Tin, Julie Lee Chi-Lun, Lee Man-Tai

Directed by Chen Chi-Hwa

Expectations: Interested. I remember this one being good.

twohalfstar


Originally shot between Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin and Magnificent Bodyguards, Half a Loaf of Kung Fu was shelved by Lo Wei after screening it and deeming it unfit for public consumption. But a few years later, when Jackie Chan shot to superstardom, Lo Wei didn’t care so much about it not being up to his standards. When it was released, it was a pretty good hit, even outgrossing Jackie Chan’s far superior film from earlier in 1980, The Young Master. But while I can understand the intent of Jackie Chan and Chen Chi-Hwa with the comedy of Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, I’m honestly more on the Lo Wei side than I would’ve thought I’d be prior to re-watching this one for the first time in probably 15 years.

Half a Loaf of Kung Fu is not a traditional kung fu film, it is an active attempt to parody and make light of the stoic seriousness that the genre is generally built upon. It does a fair job of that, but at the same time it’s also fairly subtle in how it does this. The plot points are essentially the same as they are in many other similarly themed films: a highly sought-after treasure (here it’s the Evergreen Jade and the Elixir of Life) is being transported by a security bureau across the country, and every bandit on Hong Kong’s side of the Mississippi is out to claim the treasure for themselves.

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Top 5 Jackie Chan Films from the 1970s

Due to there only being 14 Jackie Chan films during the ’70s, I figured a Top 10 list would be a bit much, especially considering that a good lot of those 14 aren’t all that worthy of making a list. I toyed with a “Top 7” for a while, but I’m going with a Top 5 as it felt like everything beyond these films were non-essential, and filling up a list “just because” seems counter-productive. If you’re curious what’s just shy of the cut, I made a list on my Letterboxd account that ranks all 14 in my order of preference. As always, lists are subjective, so definitely see the films and judge for yourself!

So without further ado, here’s my top five Jackie Chan movies from the 1970s!


#5 Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin (1978)
Directed by Chen Chi-Hwa
Reviewed April 23, 2013

snakeandcrane

Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin isn’t a perfect kung fu movie, but it’s highly entertaining and chock full of great, inventive fights. Looking back, the choreography might not be as refined as later Jackie films, but that shouldn’t change the fact that the choreography is AMAZING. Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin is a total blast.

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Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin (1978)

Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin-2Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin [蛇鶴八步] (1978)
AKA Arts of the Snake & Crane, Shaolin Kung Fu

Starring Jackie Chan, Nora Miao, Kam Kong, Kim Jeong-Nan, Lee Wing-Kwok, Lau Nga-Ying, Miao Tian, Lee Man-Tai, Miu Tak-San, Tung Lam, Wong Gwan, Liu Ping

Directed by Chen Chi-Hwa

Expectations: Moderately high.

On the general scale:
threestar

Just in terms of action:
threehalfstar


Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin opens with an incredible martial arts display by Jackie Chan, first showing off his solo staff work and then battling two staff wielders while armed with a sword and baton. This five-minute intro alone is better than To Kill With Intrigue, but let’s do our best to forget that film and focus on the greatness before us. Jackie’s staff work is incredible, and the mock fight offers up a great way to whet your appetite for the film at hand. These kinds of pure martial arts displays didn’t survive into the modern era of kung fu film (unfortunately), so it’s a real treat to see Jackie strut his stuff so cleanly and without distraction. Even if the film offered up nothing more than this intro, it would still be a notable early Jackie release. I’m not saying anything bad about the overall quality of the Lo Wei period in Jackie’s career (OK, maybe I am), I’m just trying to illustrate just how much I loved the intro.

The film kicks off proper as we fade into the story of eight masters coming together to pool their talents and create the hybrid kung fu style, The Eight Steps of the Snake and the Crane. They entrusted the book of this style and the Badge of the Nine Dragons (an emblem denoting the leader of the entire martial arts community) to their appointed leader, who, after a quick martial arts display and fight, vanishes along with the rest of the eight masters. Dun dun duhhhhh! The martial world is in frenzy mode, and we are introduced to Jackie’s character on the bank of a snowy river, attacked by some ruffians who believe he holds the precious book. Turns out he does have the book, but he quickly dispatches with these petty villains. 10 minutes in, and already two martial arts displays and two fights (and they’re all good). If you’re sensing a pattern emerging, you’re correct… and the hits just keep on comin’.

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Shaolin Wooden Men (1976)

Shaolin-Wooden-Men_bcfa0519Shaolin Wooden Men [少林木人巷] (1976)
AKA 36 Wooden Men, Shaolin Wooden Men …Young Tiger’s Revenge, Shaolin Chamber of Death, Wooden Man

Starring Jackie Chan, Kam Kong, Doris Lung Chun-Erh, Chiang Kam, Cheung Bing-Yuk, Miu Tak San, Liu Ping, Li Min-Lang, Weng Hsiao-Hu, Miao Tian, To Wai-Wo

Directed by Lo Wei (per the credits)
Actually directed by Chen Chi-Hwa

Expectations: Moderately high.

threehalfstar


I’ve always enjoyed Shaolin Wooden Men. I generally stayed away from most of the early Jackie films during my youth, because I had grown tired of wasting money on sub-standard prints of sub-standard movies. But Shaolin Wooden Men was always one of the good ones to me, and going back to re-watch it was a great experience. I liked it more than ever, and it’s baffling to me that this one doesn’t have a better reputation. But people’s perceptions are what they are, and I won’t try to break down why they didn’t like it, I can only comment on why I did. And really, there’s so much here to like.

Shaolin Wooden Men opens in thrilling fashion featuring five masters of Shaolin sparring with Jackie Chan in a darkened room, lit only by candles. They spar for a good long while, showcasing different animal-style kung fus (and no, that doesn’t mean a messy kung fu with grilled onions, In-N-Out fans), and when Jackie defeats them all he tries his luck with the chamber of the wooden men. There’s just something about these wooden men that makes me smile, but they have the opposite effect on Jackie in this scene. He tries his best, but his best barely gets him past the first couple of wooden men. He is defeated… but then he wakes up! He is but a lowly, mute student of Shaolin, still early in his training. He has far to go before he will reach the chamber of the wooden men.

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