Dragons Forever (1988)

DragonsForever_1Dragons Forever [飛龍猛將] (1988)
AKA Cyclone Z, Action Hunter

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Deanie Ip, Pauline Yeung Bo-Ling, Yuen Wah, Roy Chiao, Crystal Kwok Gam-Yan, Benny Urquidez, Billy Chow Bei-Lei, Lee Ka-Ting, Phillip Ko Fei, James Tin Jun, Tai Bo

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: High. Can’t wait to see the Jackie/Benny the Jet re-match again, and find out about all the stuff I completely forgot about.

threehalfstar


Dragons Forever is the final film to feature the Three Brothers (Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung & Yuen Biao), and in many ways it feels very knowledgeable of this. It often pits the brothers against each other (to wonderful results), perhaps bringing on-screen the off-screen tension due to creative disputes. It sees the return of the Wheels on Meals heavy, champion kickboxer extraordinaire Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, for a re-match. Its title has nothing to do with the movie, instead referencing the brothers themselves and their enduring friendship. Dragons Forever is a victory lap for the fans, sending off the brothers’ film collaborations at the height of their careers. As a fan you can’t argue that they didn’t deliver enough after so many movies throughout the ’80s, and since they were all capable of headlining their own films at this point in their careers, the idea of “One more Three Brothers film!” is a wonderful way to say goodbye to a very fruitful relationship. Would I like them to get back together and do another? Yeah, I wouldn’t mind that in the slightest, but there is something to be said for exiting the game at the top.

Jackie Chan plays Jackie, a sleazeball defense lawyer who handles cases for despicable criminals and womanizes every chance he gets. Sammo is something of a con-man. We first meet him selling weapons out of a duffel bag, but soon Jackie directs him to set his sights on the owner of a fishery (Deannie Yip). Jackie’s client owns a chemical factory that is polluting the fishery’s water, and he’s hoping to discredit her in any way he can to win the case. Yuen Biao is Jackie’s crazy friend, who he employs to place a bug in Miss Yip’s apartment, again to gather information to help build his case. Against type and tradition, the three brothers are all on the wrong side of this tale, so initially you can’t really root for them like you normally would.

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Project A II (1987)

ProjectAII_1Project A II [A計劃續集] (1987)
AKA Pirate Patrol 2, Project B

Starring Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Rosamund Kwan, Carina Lau, Lam Wai, Bill Tung, Kwan Hoi-San, Regina Kent, Wong Man-Ying, Chris Lee Kin-Sang, Tai Bo, Mars, Ben Lam Kwok-Bun, Ken Lo, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Wang Lung-Wei

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: The only thing I remember is the redone Buster Keaton stunt. I don’t even remember if I liked the movie or not!

threehalfstar


The perennial question, “Is it better than the original,” always surrounds any discussion of a sequel. In the case of the Project A films, this is not an easy question to answer. The two films are markedly different from one another, with the most defining difference being the absence of Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao from the sequel (they were off making the awesome flick Eastern Condors). This allowed Jackie to branch out the sequel’s story in wildly different directions than the original film, and in a lot of ways it makes for a better, more diverse piece of entertainment.

The choreography is certainly more refined and representative of the “Evolved Jackie” that took shape in Police Story and emerged fully formed in Armour of God. There are certainly instances of Jackie’s defined style earlier, but starting with Police Story the elements come together to create the earliest examples of the quintessential Jackie Chan film. In Project A II, the fights are funny and almost constantly thrilling, without a single moment of wasted movement, and the circumstances under which Jackie finds himself fighting are truly inspired (such as the incredible sequence when Jackie is handcuffed to Chun (Lam Wai)).

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Police Story (1985)

PoliceStory_1Police Story [警察故事] (1985)
AKA Police Force, Jackie Chan’s Police Force, Jackie Chan’s Police Story

Starring Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Bill Tung, Chor Yuen, Charlie Cho Cha-Lee, Kent Tong Chun-Yip, Mars, Lam Gwok-Hung, David Lau Chi-Wing, Kam Hing-Yin, Wan Fat, Fung Hak-On, Tai Bo

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: It’s Police Story! It’s awesome!

fourstar


To make this review more exciting, listen to Jackie’s dope Police Story theme song while you read!

Police Story is one of the most influential and important Jackie Chan films, and it was always one of my favorites during my teenage obsession. But I hadn’t seen it in 15 or so years, and to be completely honest I found Police Story to be less thrilling than my memories of it. Part of my problem was that I incorrectly remembered that a bunch of stuff from Police Story 2 was in this one, but the root of my disappointment stemmed more from forgetting that Police Story, like most Jackie Chan films, contains a lot of humor. Those are my problems, though, and they shouldn’t sully the legacy of Police Story.

The film opens in amazing fashion, as Jackie and a team of cops are tasked with staking out a shantytown where a drug lord (played wonderfully by the great Shaw Brothers director Chor Yuen) is making a deal. The tone is immediately very serious and the film feels markedly different from all the Sammo Hung-directed films that Jackie had been in previously, even Heart of Dragon (which is actually a great bridge between the two tones). The feel is also distinct because Jackie is a very different style of director than Sammo, crafting films that are less visually exciting (from a framing/camera placement/editing standpoint), but yet, thanks to the incredulity of the stunt work, are also intensely more visually arresting. I think these days I prefer Sammo’s style, but Jackie is more of a visionary dreaming up insane stunts to consistently push himself and that is worthy of major respect. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Jackie — at least up to this point — was a director more focused on the planning and staging of elaborate spectacles, where Sammo was more down to Earth and traditional.

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Project A (1983)

projecta_9Project A [A計劃] (1983)
AKA Super Fighter, Pirate Patrol, Mark of the Dragon

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Wong Man-Ying, Dick Wei, Tai Bo, Mars, Kwan Hoi-San, Lau Hak-Suen, Wong Wai, Lee Hoi-Sang, Hon Yee-Sang

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Super high. I haven’t seen this in forever, and I remember it as one of my favorites.

threehalfstar


While there were a few great Jackie Chan movies before Project A, this film marks the beginning of the true “Jackie Chan-style” Jackie Chan movies. Jackie’s movies are known for featuring incredible stunts & amazing fight choreography tied together with a fun, comedic bow, but none of the films prior to Project A truly exhibit this in the way that later films have made us expect it from him. So, even if it was just an OK movie, Project A would be notable. But it’s not “just OK,” it’s a load of fun with some of the most impressive stunts you’ll ever see.

It’s the early 1900s or so, and pirates are a constant threat off the coast of Hong Kong. The coast guard has been unable to capture the pirates, and their efforts have cost the police force much of their budget. On the eve of the coast guard’s full-scale assault on the pirates, the rapscallions blow up their ships. Somehow these wretched pirates must be stopped! It’s a fun premise, and it allows Jackie, Sammo and Yuen Biao tons of opportunities to shine. The setting is unique and makes the film feel fresh and very different from other Hong Kong films.

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Winners and Sinners (1983)

WinnersandSinners+1983-255-bWinners and Sinners [奇謀妙計五福星] (1983)
AKA Five Lucky Stars

Starring Sammo Hung, Richard Ng, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, John Shum Kin-Fun, Charlie Chin Chiang-Lin, Cherie Chung Cho-Hung, Jackie Chan, Cecilia Yip Tung, James Tin Jun, Pat Ha Man-Jik, Tai Bo, Lam Ching-Ying, John Cheung Ng-Long, Fung Hak-On, Yuen Biao

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: High. Can’t remember if I ever saw this one or not.

threehalfstar


Winners and Sinners is a film that could easily be disappointing for someone expecting a true Jackie/Sammo movie like their later collaborations. This is much more of an ensemble movie, and Jackie is but a minor supporting character that happens to have a couple of outstanding action sequences. But this isn’t cause for alarm; Winners and Sinners is a clear winner of a movie.

Winners and Sinners isn’t the type of movie where each moment adheres to a strict plot, instead it’s more concerned with being as funny and engaging as possible. The film opens by introducing us to the main characters one-by-one, each one attempting some kind of thievery and getting caught by the police. In prison the five cons strike up a fast friendship and open up a cleaning company when they are released. It sounds kinda boring and uninteresting just listing the plot details, and it really doesn’t evoke the sense of raw fun that is on display in every moment of the film.

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Dragon Lord (1982)

DragonLord+1982-54-bDragon Lord [龍少爺] (1982)
AKA Dragon Strike

Starring Jackie Chan, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Suet Lee, Mars, Tien Feng, Paul Chang Chung, Tai Bo, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Anna Ng Yuen-Yee, Cheng Mang-Ha, Wu Jia-Xiang, Fung Fung, Ho Gaam-Kong, Whang In-Shik

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Moderate, but hopeful. I’ve somehow avoided seeing this until now.

twohalfstar


Every review of Dragon Lord written years after release probably calls it “the transitional film,” but I don’t care. Dragon Lord is Jackie Chan’s transitional film, bridging the gap between his early wuxia/kung fu comedy period and the death-defying stunts that would define his later work (and career). The end fight of Dragon Lord is really one of the first glimpses of the Jackie Chan that everyone knows, i.e. incredible choreography that seamlessly integrates the environment, crazy stunts that make you gasp and good ol’ fashioned fightin’. It’s just that Dragon Lord, being the transitional film, isn’t all that great on its own.

The main reason is that its story is a disjointed mess. So when I read that they began shooting the film without a script, and only a slight story gestating in Jackie’s head, it made perfect sense. A good portion of this movie is unrelated to the other parts in terms of story, so it’s best to try and watch the scenes for what they are instead of what they aren’t. For instance, there’s an extended sequence of Jackie and his buddies playing Jianzi, an Asian shuttlecock game played without hands like soccer. Being a Jackie movie there’s tons of fun choreography mixed into the game, and it’s an interesting scene to watch just on a human movement level. Does it relate to anything in the story, though? Nope, not really at all. But it does have the distinction of inspiring Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer, so that’s something.

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