Thunderbolt | aka Dead Heat (1995) Review

"Thunderbolt" International Theatrical Poster

"Thunderbolt" International Theatrical Poster

Director: Gordon Chan
Producer: Chua Lam
Cast: Jackie Chan, Anita Yuen, Michael Wong, Thorsten Nickel, Ken Lo, Chu Yuan, Yuzo Kayama, Annie Man, Daisy Woo, Chin Kar Lok, Hon Chun, Michael Ian Lambert, Bruce Law, Michael Lui, Eguro Mari, Rebecca Penrose, Paul Rapovski, Kenya Sawada
Running Time: 107 min.

By Raging Gaijin

“Thunderbolt” is the only Jackie Chan film from the 90’s that never saw wide release in the US, whether on DVD or at the theatre. After watching it, I still don’t know why. It’s great! Sure, it’s rather dark and serious for a Chan flick, but hey they still put out “Crime Story” here. Okay, it has quite a bit of car racing (not something that Chan is particularly known for) but it’s all a lot more exciting than when he rode a bulldozer at the end of “Mr. Nice Guy”. Besides, the fight sequences are fantastic! Somebody needs to buy the distribution rights to this movie and get it out on video store shelves. This is a must see for any self-respecting Jackie Chan fan.

So what makes “Thunderbolt” so great? For one thing, it’s pretty unique among Jackie’s films. Case in point: Jackie smiles maybe once the entire movie. It manages to be serious and sober without being overwhelmingly grim. I love Jackie’s blend of comedic hijinks and action just as much as the next fanboy, but I have to admit that I enjoy it when he does a darker movie every so often. It’s just a good change of pace. And Jackie really gets put through the wringer in this one: his family is tortured and nearly killed, then kidnapped, and Jackie has to fend off dozens of opponents and drive in a Japanese acing tournament just to get them back. Can he do it? Well, come on now… he’s Jackie Chan.

As a director, Gordon Chan is either hit (Fist of Legend) or miss (The Medallion). Fortunately, he does an adequate job filming “Thunderbolt”, although that may be due more to Jackie’s interference than his own talent. Either way, the fight scenes and racing sequences are all handled very well. There are two fights in particular to watch for: one in Jackie’s car shop and another in a Japanese casino. Both scenes are absolutely incredible and rank as some of Jackie’s very best fight scenes. The casino fight is extremely long and even has Jackie up against some members of the Yakuza. For Asian cinema buffs, this is something like a dream come true. Jackie Chan vs. the Yakuza… all I can say is “hell yeah!”

You might expect that putting Jackie in NASCAR-style races just wouldn’t work. It’d come off as “Days of Thunder” with Jackie instead of Tom Cruise. But these aren’t your typical racing scenes… these are done Hong Kong style. What does that mean? It means Gordon Chan has seemingly sped up the footage to make the cars look even faster. As a result the racing scenes are so fast that there’s a car crash at least every twenty seconds. Naturally, they’re pretty exciting to watch. Look for the part where a car flies off the track and crashes into a watchtower as a helpless bystander leaps out of the way.

So what marks the film down? No offense to Anita Yuen but her character is positively annoying and seems to add very little to the story. She plays a driven news reporter who trails Jackie’s every move and often puts the lives of others at risk all for the sake of getting a news scoop. Whenever Jackie is onscreen fighting or racing, the movie is great. Whenever he has to deal with Anita, the movie just drags. Also, there’s a twist during the third act that is completely out of the blue. It somewhat makes sense and it’s not that big of a deal but… let’s just say there’s a character in the movie for all of thirty seconds who shows up an hour later, out of nowhere, to save the day. Far-fetched but it thankfully doesn’t ruin the movie.

To sum things up: if you love Jackie Chan, chances are you’ll enjoy “Thunderbolt”. It’s a little darker than the usual Chan fare but in my book that’s a good thing. It’s got action, suspense, a cheesy gweilo villain, and Jackie Chan doing what he does best: fighting bad guys across the globe. Not even Michael Wong’s presence can ruin this movie.

Raging Gaijin’s Rating: 7.5/10

By Mairosu

Foh (Jackie Chan) is a trained race car driver who is now working as a mechanic in Hong Kong. His life will turn upside down when a renegade street racer Krugman (Thorsten Nickel) comes into the town – two of them quickly meet each other in a chase through the city in which Krugman gets arrested, the event earning Foh a big deal of media coverage and praise. Soon after, Krugman is busted out and he sets his sights at revenge – by demolishing Foh’s house and kidnapping his two sisters. In order for them to come back in one piece, Foh must travel to Japan and race with Kougar, with his sisters’ lives as a stake.

Thunderbolt, aka Dead Heat, is an entertaining, if not a bit atypical, Jackie Chan action flick from his latter stages of Hong Kong career. Shot in 1995. in Hong Kong and Japan, Thunderbolt benefits greatly from involving a racing aspect to the already trademark kung-fu shenanigans and martial arts – though this time, “shenanigans” turn a bit evil at the times.

As I said above, it’s an atypical Chan fare, most notably because it’s devoid of his trademark slapstick, down to the point that it can be considered as a “serious” action film. There are no trademark Chan grimaces here, or his off the wall (literally) kicks and punches – those are replaced by more no-nonsense fight sequences and an unusual (for Chan) number of on-screen deaths and mild violence spruced with some bloody close-ups. The villain, in this case “Cougar” Krugman, is not the usual pompous-wannabe-world-leader-tyrant goof, he is a really devious character who gets his kicks from aggressive driving and street races – the sole form of comic relief comes from the character of Amy Yip (Anita Yuen), an opportunist journalist who follows Foh determined to make him the next media darling of the Hong Kong populace.

The action sequences – both fighting and racing – are very well done. The races – notably the first Foh/Krugman chase and the final showdown in Japan – are exquisitely shot and choreographed, with some fine camerawork and an interesting effect of slowing the picture down, then letting it go in fast forward for about few seconds. Fight scenes don’t appear as frequent as we’re used with Chan, but the scene in which Foh thrashes a pachinko parlour, decimating the local Yakuza branch to rubble in process, is a definitive standout.

The issue with this film is a muddled character interaction and communication. The film intertwines Cantonese, English and Japanese with mediocre success – Foh’s driving instructor talks sometimes in Japanese, sometimes in English to him, a Interpol police officer switches from Cantonese to English literally sentence after sentence, Foh himself is addressed as Foh and “Jackie” throughout the film, which is nothing new as Chan’s characters are, probably intentionally, called “Jackie” in majority of his films regardless of his on-screen name, but at the ending credits Chan is credited as “Alfred Tung”, leaving me in state of total confusion. Also, Chan is a talented polyglot here, understanding all three languages and responding in all three without particular logic (when addressed in English by the Japanese characters, he responds in Japanese and when addressed in English by Chinese characters, he answers in Cantonese…?!). Now it might be of course I got a dodgy dub-undub copy on my hands (see Drunken Master Columbia Tri-Star disc which “fills” Cantonese voice track gaps with English), but I doubt that as there is a fair number of non-Hong Kong characters who are supposed to speak other languages in the film. Also, this movie can get slow at the times, but that is a minor remark as the fast-paced action sequences pick up the tab for the rest.

Anyhow, Thunderbolt is a fairly good action film and well worth seeing, if nothing then for the fact that this is probably one of the best Chan films from his late HK period. Just don’t rent this awaiting something similar to Operation Condor and you’ll be fine…oh, and the opening/closing credits theme song, a delightful slice of Cantonese (I presume) pop, is horribly catchy.

Mairosu’s Rating: 8/10

By Vic Nguyen

Ah, here is another addition to the long line of mediocrity starring Jackie Chan, which consists of Rumble in the Bronx, Thunderbolt, First Strike, and Mr. Nice Guy (I’m surprised New Line hasn’t released a box set yet). Thunderbolt has possibly the worst plot ever contained in a Jackie Chan film. It has as much imagination as a porno. The villains have absolutely no personality (the person that plays the bad guy gives possibly the worst performance in a film, ever) , and they appearently have no motive for what they do. The “heroes” are no better. Amerasian Michael Wong Man-Tak gives another half-assed mediocre performance, mostly because he relies on his English much more than his Cantonese, something that does not belong in this, or any other Hong Kong film for that matter. Jackie is surprisingly bad in his usual underdog role. That is not his fault though, he isn’t given a decent script (or anything resembling one) to work with.

The film also has a very uneven pace to it. The most logical explanation would be because so many different units worked on a piece of the production. Gordan Chan Kar-seung (who is previously not known for action films) directed the dramatic scenes (if they are any). Frankie Chan, a heralded composer and actor, was brought in to direct the racing scenes. Jackie Chan directed some of his scenes, and Sammo Hung Kam-bo took control of the good ole fight choreography. How did he do? It is explained in one word, amazing. If one man can direct and choreograph an incredible fight scene, it’s Sammo. The first nock down, drag out fight scene is held in a body shop, and is a spectacular display of power on Jackie’s part. Here, he literally wipes the floor with his opponents in a series of stunts, split kicks, spin kicks, and head bashing.

The second noteworthy encounter is undoubtebly the best, and most imaginative scene in the film. It takes place in a Japanese packinko parlor. It starts off slow with some exchanges in dialogue, but when Jackie instigates the encounter by stealing a mallet from a game, it leads to a fight to the finish. This action scene is pure Sammo. He uses all the goods in his filmmaking artillery; acrobatics, wire work, extreme camera angles, and pure, adrenaline pumping choreography. What I like most about the fight though, is the use of environment in the traditional widescreen scope. The Japanese parlor provides the perfect backdrop for this type of fight, and with Sammo at the helm and Jackie as the featured combatant, it is even more perfect.

You cannot give all the on screen credit to Jackie though, because it is not him fighting nearly half the time. The double for Jackie on some of the more difficult moves is a Sammo discovery, Chin Kar Lok. Although he has appeared in numerous films, he has not made a name for himself as a box office champion as of late. Despite this, he is a wonderful talent, both acting and martial arts wise. His best films include Operation Scorpio and Martial Arts Master: Wong Fei-hung while as an actor, Ringo Lam’s Full Alert and Derek Yee’s Full Throttle. You also have to give credit to the combatants that fight Jackie. The two featured fighters are Ken Sawada, and our favorite high kicker Ken Lo Wai-kwong. I have never seen a Ken Sawada film before this one, so this is my first taste of his skills. He is very talented and gives Jackie (or Chin Kar-lok) a run for his money.

Ken Lo is pretty disappointing in the film, but still gets to show off some of his trademark bootwork. The movie should have ended after this amazing fight, but the filmmakers probably thought that the film needed some more zest, so they added a terrible, incredibly disappointing racing finale that is better off gone. Although some of the stunts are impressive (the car through the tower bit), that is basically it. The cars are so sped up that it reminds me of the old Speed Racer shows (I actually found myself humming “go speed racer, go speed racer, go speed racer go). And of course following the feature is an outtakes reel, which features a catchy tune and some classic moments. Overall, the only thing to recommend to this film are the fights, choreographed in pure Sammo fashion, and a tune that you can’t get out of your head. There is little else to recommend.

Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 5/10

By Ro

Alfred? Alfred? They named him ALFRED!!!! Oh no, no, no, no – Alfred it Batman’s butler, he’s the guy in Mad Magazine, he is NOT a Jackie Chan character! What DID I like about this movie? I liked that fact that he actually has a family life and he’s a complete person – work, home, play. The relationship with his father and sisters worked for me. I liked the house wrecking incident, even though it was too long. I liked the way he came to defend his sisters’ honor after a whistling construction worker grabbed one of them. The shootout in the police station was great (even though only the policemen bled – not any of the bad guys). and I LOVED tha fight scene in the car shop – pure Jackie!

What didn’t I like? Forget the lack of plot – that’s only to be expected. However, in return, I expect humor and fights and stunts. There was almost NO humor in this movie! And OK, I knew the cars were the main action, but the fight in the pachinko parlor – the main BIG fight was filmed so badly it would have been better to leave it out entirely. It looked as though they tied a camera to a stunt guy and threw him into the fray! Between the fast cuts and the motion of the camera that blurred the action, I was so frustrated I wanted to strangle the director (if I could figure out which director was responsible)! And the use of wires! I like to ‘wonder’ if a wire is being used, I don’t like seeing the actors flying around like Superman (shades of Lo Wei! Or do I mean, Lo Wei’s shade?). These are tricks for action directors who have stars that can’t fight, not for Jackie and his stuntmen. I kept getting glimpses of a great punch or kick and then the camera would cut to something else – and Ken Lo was doing some great stuff, I could tell – but I couldn’t SEE!!! What a tease! And the trampoline – MY GOD, the possiblilities of that trampoline! Just wasted! And, lastly… I can’t belive they named him ALFRED!

Ro’s Rating: 5/10 (would have been 6.5 if they’d filmed the pachinko scene properly!)

By Steve Lawson

This movie seems to cause mixed opinions – some people love it and others hate it. Well, I’m a bit of both, I love parts of it and hate others!

First of all I saw the original synch-sound Cantonese version, and I must say the acting and drama scenes are excellent. Jackie plays a real character for once, and isn’t called “Jackie” (well, for most of the film he isn’t called Jackie, but at the end when he goes to Japan suddenly everyone calls him Jackie – it’s really wierd!), and his romance with Anita Yuen is well done.

What I don’t like are Sammo Hung’s fight sequences, which don’t fit with the style of movie and use too many wires and fancy camera effects. I suppose all this was to hide the fact Jackie used a double for the fights, but it doesn’t work cos you can spot from a mile off when it’s Jackie and when it isn’t. If Jackie couldn’t fight they should have just done some smaller fights with easier moves he could do himself and then had more car chases or something to make up – if I want to watch a stunt-double flying around on a wire I’ll watch a Jet Li movie!!!

The car stunts in the movie are good but are too speeded up to be taken seriously, so basically it boils down to: good drama, characters and music, but silly action scenes. New Line are gonna have great fun chopping this up for the US market.

Steve Lawson’s Rating: 6/10

By James H.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this film, scanning the other reviews on this site, I noticed a lot of 5’s & 6’s, with some 7’s and 8’s. But when I popped the tape in and heard the theme song, I knew I was going to like it. It is sung by Jackie and is very catchy and upbeat. “Thunderbolt” is Jackie Chan meets “Days of Thunder” with great results. Unfortunately, there are only two fights in the film. The first one is very entertaining and whets the appetite for more. The second is even better. There is even a kick-ass shoot out about half way through the movie.

When you have a movie about a mechanic/race car driver, you have to have car chases. The chase at the beginning is just superb. The direction in this movie is great, as is the cinematography. The only time that this film falters is at the end, which is why I didn’t give it a higher rating. The end car chase is nothing compared to the one at the beginning. It is rediculously sped up and boring because it is on a fixed track; it’s predictable.

I think I’d have to stick this film in the same pile as “Crime Story.” It is not the usual “fight-every-ten-minutes” deal. If you want that rent “Mr. Nice Guy” again. If you want something a little different, pick this one up.

James H’s Rating: 7/10

By Marcia

As of this writing, I’ve only seen Thunderbolt once. My gut reaction was that it was pretty good. The points that several other reviewers make about the poor plot and “boring” race finale are valid, but I didn’t find them distracting when I was actually “watching” the film. In retrospect, perhaps it wasn’t so hot, but at the time I enjoyed it quite a bit. I guess Jackie wanted to do something like this because of his great fondness for stock-car racing, but that will likely leave most of his fans with a bad taste in their… um, eyes. Aside from the questionable slo-mo camera work, the fight scene in the pachinko parlor with Jackie doing some almost-sumo moves against the well-tattooed Yakuza was probably my favorite part.

Marcia’s Rating: 7/10

By Silent Fighter

This is a hard movie to approach. The fight scenes are dis-jointed, the stunts are relatively low tech and usually in slow motion. The story makes no sense and the direction is un-even. What we have here in Thunderbolt is a confused Jackie Chan. In wanting his picture to be more American, the film loses focuse on what makes a Jackie Chan’s movie so unique. In the American action films, slow motion fight scenes and car chases are common. But the sight of unbelievable and inspired action is largely absent. Thunderbolt is better than most American action movies, but it falls short, way short, of a true Jackie Chan movie. The American actors used in the movie are horrendous, the fights seemed either ultra-slow or unbelievably fast.

Thunderbolt does have its moments. The battle in the car factory is pure Jackie. But the poor directing, combined with the very un-exciting finale leaves you wanting more. Had Dimension films released a new version of Thunderbolt, the film could have been better, and possibly a success in American markets due to its Hollywood feel. This film was completed after Rumble in the Bronx and was schedule to open in the states. The bad press surrounding the making of Thunderbolt (Jackie Chan reportedly used stunt doubles in key areas of the film due to the production’s relatively short schedule) is a key factor in why this film was never released.

Silent Fighter’s Rating: 5.5/10

By Jim Carrey

I review here today to bring you a commentary on a masterpiece which is usually not appreciated. “Thunderbolt” is on my top 10 Jackie list and I’ve seen all his films, with the exception of ones he has only cameos in. Talk about a great movie, it manages to mix action, martial arts, stunts, emotional drama, suspense, and MultiEthnic themes without it seeming to be a lousy everything to everyone flick like “Mr. Nice Guy”. Not only that, for the first time since “City Hunter”, which is also in my top 10, Jackie goes back to being a big filmmaker instead of being too self-indulged with himself to cast more than 3 other stars.

The cast includes Jackie Chan, Anita Yuen, Michael Wong, Dayo Wong, Ken Lo, Cho Yuen, Chin Ka-Lok, Henry Sanada, Corey Yuen Kwai, & Shing Fui-On. Many complain that there is no plot – well here it is to prove them wrong: The film starts off with possibly my favorite Jackie song during the opening credits. Jackie works as a test driver for Mitsubishi and is about to go back to his family and auto shop back in Hong Kong. Right before he leaves, there is a funny bit about him helping find the ear ring of a daughter of one of the heads of the Mitsubishi corporation, she slams his hand. Anyways, next we see this anglo racer who is also wanted internationally for drug dealing, and they had to fit Michael Wong in there somehow. Next stop for this bad anglo is Hong Kong, he obviously has yet to find an opponent to equal to his racing abillity. Jackie works with his father and has two sisters, they own an autobody shop. He and his father also work as car inspectors for the police in their spare time.

One night while inspecting cars, they see this maniac racer go by and strike a policeman in the process. Also, on the scene is a pesky TV reporter, Anita Yuen and her cameraman, Dayo Wong. Now comes Michael Wong, an interpol agent after the blonde anglo racer who’s name is Cougar. One night Jackie and co. run into Anita and her jackass cameraman cause their car broke down, the jackass forgot to fill her up. While Jackie is testing the car from the inside to make sure it runs good, along drives the wanted Cougar, without hesitation Jackie chases after him in the car he was repairing, not remembering that Anita is still inside. A great car race ensues, which involves great maneuvering and excitement coreographed by Car Stunt Director Frankie Chan Fan-Kei. Jackie wins this race of course and they put Cougar in custody, but Michael can’t arrest him because he has a fake passport from Libya, so they have to let him go because Jackie couldn’t positively recognize him from when he struck the cop the night before. Cougar, impressed by Jackie’s racing skill, challenges him to a race, but Jackie declines so he sends goons over to Jackie’s autobody shop.

Jackie kicks their asses out of his shop in a great fight scene that is like the one he has sliding through railings in “Dragons Forever”. This obviously pisses Jackie off, so he then tells Michael that Cougar was the man who ran into the policeman. Cougar gets arrested, then eventually breaks out but his girlfriend dies in the process, so now he’s really mad. He then trashes Jackie’s house and autobody shop with a crane and challenges him to a race in Japan. For insurance, he kidnaps Jackie’s two sister so Jackie can’t call the cops again. Jackie realizes he must race this gwailo bastard to get him thrown in jail and get back his sisters. At the same time there is a subplot about Anita trying to get an interview with him. She is the one that gives him money to build a car for the big race.

After this long summary, you watch the rest to find out what happens.There is barely any comedy in the film, but Jackie gives one of his greatest performances on screen and this film has my favorite Jackie Chan fight scene of all time in the Pachinko Parlor. It only helps that this is the only film he used wires for, and he utillizes them great with his style of fighting. This proves that he is much better than Jet Li, although, you have to give Sammo credit for chhoreographing the fights, which I think is his best coreography scene of all time. This film is also directed by a truly great director names Gordan Chan Ka-Seung, who also directed “Fist of Legend”. “Thunerbolt” is a must see.

Jim Carrey’s Rating: 10/10

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