The following review is for Shout! Factory’s Jackie Chan Double Feature, which contains 1993’s Crime Story & 1985’s The Protector. To see detailed credits for each title, as well as additional reviews, please click on the links provided within the review below.
When Jackie Chan finally made it big in the United States with 1995’s “Rumble in the Bronx“, it stands to reason that he did it on his own terms – with a movie that was shot in his native language and displayed the full range of his comedic talents – since previous attempts to shoehorn Jackie into the Hollywood mold had failed miserably.
Back in 1980, Jackie teamed up with Robert Clouse, the director of “Enter the Dragon,” for “The Big Brawl,” a film that should have been Jackie’s emergence into the mainstream, except that Jackie wasn’t allowed any input into the fight scenes and Clouse was too intent on portraying Jackie as the next Bruce Lee. “The Big Brawl” failed miserably at the box office.
Five years later, another Western filmmaker seemed intent on repeating Clouse’s same mistakes. Low-budget exploitation director James Glickenhaus was handpicked by Jackie’s handlers at Golden Harvest for another try at introducing Jackie to the American market. The result was 1985’s “The Protector,” a buddy-cop action flick that was Jackie Chan by way of “Dirty Harry.” The film flew in the face of Jackie’s personal value system: Glickenhaus filled the movie to the brim with gratuitous nudity, excessive swearing, and bloody violence.
In an interview on Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray release of “The Protector,” director Glickenhaus remains defiant about the film. He admits the only reason he made the movie was to visit Hong Kong and to try and emulate the Bruce Lee movies he enjoyed. He knocks Jackie by suggesting he was not a ‘real fighter’ like Bruce Lee and that Jackie’s comedic brand of kung fu would not have traveled well to Hollywood circa ’85. In all fairness, he might be right about this last point but one has to imagine American audiences would have been more receptive to a film like “Wheels on Meals” than the dour and depressing affair that is Glickenhaus’ American cut of “The Protector.”
Fortunately, Jackie knew better. Back in ’85, he returned to Hong Kong and assembled a few key players – including American Karate champion Bill Wallace and ‘Girls With Guns’ icon Moon Lee – to shoot new footage in Hong Kong. Jackie edited these new sequences into the film, while dubbing “The Protector” into Cantonese (and thereby removing the frequent f-bombs) and cutting all the nudity out. Jackie’s personal cut of “The Protector” was the version released throughout Asia and the film ended up doing decent business, although it did not perform as well as Jackie’s usual Hong Kong output.
Jackie’s version of “The Protector” has never been widely available in America but that all changes with Shout! Factory’s release. For better or worse, the HK version of the film is included on the same Blu-ray disc as “Crime Story“/”The Protector” and is only available in Standard Definition. The picture quality is, to put it bluntly, abysmal; but if you’ve spent decades watching Asian films on worn out VHS tapes or Tai Seng DVDs, you probably know how to deal with it by now.
The difference between the two cuts is night and day; Glickenhaus’ version moves slow as molasses in comparison, while Jackie’s cut has the kinetic energy of his 80’s Hong Kong work. The reshot bout between Bill Wallace and Jackie is arguably one of Chan’s finest fight scenes. The American version of “The Protector” wallows in its own sleaze and violence for the sake of it, whereas Jackie’s cut is strictly about the action. Though it’s admittedly a little strange to see Danny Aiello dubbed in Cantonese; and it’s a shame that Moon Lee doesn’t get much to do in either versions of the film, but this was two years before her breakout action role in 1987’s “Iron Angels.”
Also available on Shout! Factory’s Jackie Chan Double Feature is Kirk Wong’s 1993 effort “Crime Story.” Wong pitched the film to Jackie as a way for the popular funnyman to stretch his dramatic chops in a more serious and sober-minded crime thriller. Jackie was initially onboard for the idea but ultimately box office pressure got the best of him; Jackie was worried the public wouldn’t accept him in a more psychologically tormented role, so he scaled back his character’s inner conflict and injected a bit more of the prop-heavy action one expects from a Jackie Chan movie. The final result is something of a mixed bag: one senses that the film is not the harrowing crime saga that Kirk Wong had in mind, but “Crime Story” is still one of Jackie Chan’s more interesting career diversions.
Although he’s been inactive during the last 12 years, Kirk Wong was always one of Hong Kong’s finest journeymen directors. From the “Blade Runner”-esque dystopic kung fu of “Health Warning” to the period actioner “Gunmen,” Wong tried his hand at several genres but always knew how to bring the action. “Crime Story” differentiates itself from other Jackie Chan films through its stunning visual palette; the sets are frequently awash in neon colors and several sequences feature some truly bravado crane shots. It’s perhaps not surprising that master stylist Andrew Lau (“Infernal Affairs”) served as one of four cinematographers on “Crime Story.”
Once Jackie decided that “Crime Story” wasn’t the venue to deconstruct his onscreen persona, Kirk Wong likely had no choice but to focus on the rote mechanics of the film’s kidnapping plot. The film is somewhat front-loaded with action: the story opens with a violent and daring shootout in the middle of the streets of Hong Kong, followed shortly thereafter by a jaw-dropping car chase. The screenplay loses momentum during its third act, particularly when Jackie becomes trapped inside a seemingly bottomless sea freighter and then later rescues a small child from an exploding building. Regardless of the lull in pacing, “Crime Story” is likely to satisfy those who are looking for the usual JC action as well as viewers interested in a more ‘serious’ Chan outing.
The good news is that the picture quality on Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray is above-average for Hong Kong films of this era. Bonus features for both films include an interview with Kirk Wong (“Crime Story”) and an interview with James Glickenhaus (“The Protector”). Whether you’re a longtime Jackie Chan film or simply looking to explore the hard-edged films in his catalog, the Jackie Chan Double Feature is an easy purchase to recommend.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 9/10