Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Junesploitation 2022 Day 21: Jackie Chan!



  1. Woo-Ping Yuen's DRUNKEN MASTER (1978, TUBI, 111 min.) and Chia-Liang Liu's DRUNKEN MASTER II (1994, Amazon Rental, 102 min.), both for the first time.

    One of my blind spots in Jackie Chan's lengthy filmography are his two "Drunken Master" movies, which were so iconic and successful they inspired a ton of copycat imitators (ala "Django," "Max Max," etc.). They're also interesting representations of their eras (the 1970's kung-fu cinema boom versus the big-budget 1990's historical epics) and markers in the difference between a rising martial action star putting his great fighting/comedic skills at the service of a great premise (fighting in a unique kung-fu style that requires being more drunk to get better) versus a superstar using his clout to get the premise to be secondary to action set-pieces.

    To my surprise I like '78 "Drunken Master" better than its sequel, which has a better reputation among kung-fu aficionados. It suffers greatly from almost every character (including "Jacky" Chan still developing his cinematic clown routine) being a boorish jerk, supporting characters (the father, the aunt, the fellow classmates, etc.) acting/behaving like idiots, or lengthy set-pieces (the restaurant scene) just not being funny when the filmmakers think they are. It takes until 38 minutes for a teacher to finally show up, and 78 minutes for the drunken gods/techniques to finally be introduced. It's uneven as hell, but the parts that work (the fights with 'Bamboo King' Hsia Hsu, Jeong-lee Hwang's stached assassin, etc.) combined with Chan's youthful energy and the camera loving his goofy faces and physical poses make for one hell of a final fight worth the wait. It's rare for the climactic ending of an action movie to satisfy as (a) a father learning to respect his son and viceversa, (b) a master teacher seeing his pupil reach his full potential, (c) a revenge story (the bully getting his comeuppance after the bullied person trains hard), (d) a bad guy being defeated (off-camera) and (e) just an amazing display of martial arts skill by a future superstar. 4 BOUNCERS NAMED 'GORILLA' (out of 5).

    "Drunken Master II" came 16 years later, when Jackie Chan was at the height of his pre-USA stardom international popularity. There's still alcohol-fueled fighting, but it feels perfunctory and closer to the spinach cans in a Popeye cartoon than the vehicle for character-centric comedy it was in the prequel. British baddies who steal valuable China artifacts (and the Chinese henchmen who sell out to help them) feels like a poor substitute for the drama, however lowbrow it came across, of OG "DM" having a jerk son come to his lowest point to seek out the teachings of a new master. It doesn't help that Chan's Wong Fei-Hung de-evolves into a bigger fool than he was in '78 despite being much older looking (while his father de-aged!)... until the very end, when "Drunken Master II" dresses Jackie in a great garb and unleashes a hell of a final 20 minute showdown between the videogame equivalent of "Streets of Rage" bosses and our hero. An epic brawl between dozens of goons and the heroes in a two-story restaurant (a clear inspiration for a similar scene in 2000's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") also stands out. So this sequel reaches higher peaks than its predecessor during a handful of excellent fight sequences, but the whole (including a younger-than-Chan stepmother that is a comedic ally to our hero) feels very mixed and uneven. There was tension between Jackie Chan and director Chia-Liang Liu while filming, and that comes across in a story/character level that feels inconsistent rather than OG "Drunken Master" feeling of a piece from shaky start to glorious finish. And whether you're watching the original '94 Golden Harvest or 2000 Dimension cut, the English dub for "DM2" is horrific across the board. 3.5 GINSENG ROOTS IN YELLOW BOXES (out of 5).

  2. Skiptrace (2016)

    Jackie is joined by fellow goofball stuntman Johnny Knoxville to do the movie he did a few times ten years earlier. It's not quite as tight as those, and believe it or not it gets a little too silly, but it's still exactly what you think it'll be.

  3. Thunderbolt (1995, dir. Gordon Chan)

    Jackie plays a race car mechanic/driver who is harassed by a local illegal street racing crew. This is an excellent Jackie movie, containing lots of his trademark fight scenes, but also with more vehicular stunts than normal. There is also a wild scene where a container home is demolished by crane with it's inhabitants still inside. My only complaint is some of the races/chases are artificially sped up. Glad I finally caught up with this one. Highly recommended.

  4. Wheels on Meals (1984 – Sammo Kam-Bo Hung)
    A eastern set in Spain, which is a nice setting for a movie like this. Maybe it was the German dub in which I’ve seen the movie, but it is full of racial stereotypes and offensive sexism by Jackie’s character, which was a bit hard to watch. Besides that, and the thin plot, the fight sequences were fun enough, especially the fight between Jackie himself and Benny Urquidez. They developed such a speed, it’s really impressive. Good movie overall, great Junesploitation theme. Since Chan has so many movies, you will never run out of new stuff to watch.

  5. Wheels on Meals (1984, dir. Sammo Hung)

    I'll be honest, I've never been a fan of Jackie Chan's comedy stylings, and this movie has a lot of that. But it helps that the final fight between Chan and Benny Urquidez is spectacular.

  6. Armour of God (1991)

    Jackie Chan nearly died to make this movie for you. It wasn’t even something wild. He jumped from a tree to a ledge, the branch snapped and he cracked his skull. Most people would hide that this happened. Jackie put it in the bloopers at the end, a trick her learned from Burt Reynolds, except that instead of Burt laughing it up with his co-stars, we see people freaking out that the star of the movie just smacked his head off a rock and part of his skull went into his brain, leaving a permanent hole in his head that he now fills with a plastic plug.

    Jackie plays Jackie, known as the Asian Hawk, but really just Jackie playing Indiana Jones if Indiana Jones did some of the most ill-advised stunts you’ve ever seen. He was once a singer in a band called The Losers with Alan (Alan Tam) and Lorelei (Rosamund Kwan). The band was also a love triangle and like a three-member Fleetwood Mac in Hong Kong without lyrics like “I’ll follow you down till the sound of my voice will haunt you.”

    Jackie has reinvented himself as a treasure hunter, Alan is a rock star and Lorelei is a fashion designer. He’s forgotten them both — as much as he can — as he steals the sword of the Armor of God from an African tribe and sells it to May Bannon (Lola Forner, Miss Spain 1979 who is also in Project A and Meals on Wheels as well as White Apache and Scalps, two Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso movies that were made back to back), the daughter of the super-rich collector Count Bannon, a man who has most of the Armor.

    Alan comes into the picture again as a cult of devil worshippers wants the Armor so that they can take over the world. He knows that Jackie is the one person who can help him and together, they visit the Count and try to steal the pieces that he has. The story of losing his girlfriend gets to the Count, who allows him to take his pieces to the cult, as long as his daughter is in charge of the mission.

    The cult knows they are coming, so they brainwash Lorelei, who does the same to Alan, assembling the full Armor of God. Jackie saves them by batting four Amazons in high heels — Cynthia Rothrock was going to play one of them but the schedule changed due to Jackie’s injury — and the entire cult — who have already machine gunned an entire room of people in the movie just to show how serious they are — while wearing a vest covered with dynamite, then base jumping — Jackie actually dove from an airplane for this which is even crazier — onto a hot air balloon as the Armor is forever trapped in a cave-in.

    This is actually the first Operation Condor movie but was released as the second in the U.S. because, well, Miramax just did whatever they wanted. The Golden Harvest Hong Kong release is nine minutes longer than the version they released.

    Jackie Chan. Treasure. Amazon devil worshippers. Crazy flashbacks to the darkest of ages. A car that turns into a mini car designed just for Jackie. Yeah, this really has so much to love and was followed by 1991’s Operation Condor which has Jackie looking for Nazi gold and 2012’s Chinese Zodiac which sends him on the hunt for twelve treasures.

    1. Nice Silver Springs reference, one of my favorite Mac songs. They did Stevie so dirty by keeping it off Rumours.

  7. Shanghai Noon (2000) dir. Tom Dey

    I had big hopes of finally cracking into the Police Story films today, but a looming deadline means splitting my attention between Jackie Chan and a whole lotta text layout, so no to subtitles, and yes to Owen Wilson. I’m sure I’ve seen this, or at least part of it, on cable, but I don’t really have any attachment to it, and I feel a little baffled watching it now- the 2000s were a crazy time. If you can get past the requisite early oughts racial insensitivity (and the slightly lesser crimes of wasting Lucy Liu and Walton Goggins), this is a pretty fun watch overall- An obvious recycling of the Rush Hour formula, and if you can’t get Chris Tucker, than the obvious next choice is.. Owen Wilson? It kinda sorta works in that both Chan and Wilson are so likable that it’s fun to watch them together- but I feel like you can sense Chan holding himself back to not overpower Wilson in a way he just didn’t have to with Chris Tucker- especially in anything resembling action. It’s basically the opposite of what you make a Shanghai Noon for, but I’d be happy just watching Chan and Wilson just hangout in late 19th century Nevada gambling and shooting the shit without all the plot bloat and halting action bits- though I suppose wanting to turn a mostly acclaimed big budget success into a low-key hangout movie is why I’m not a Hollywood producer.

  8. DRAGON LORD (1982)
    Jackie plays an athlete who fights to protect his small village from bandits. This is allegedly the first movie Jackie directed after being in Cannonball Run, and he brought that Hollywood experience to this in hopes of making a huge blockbuster. The fights and stunts might not be as huge as the ones in Police Story, but they're still thrilling and impressive. This is also a sports movie, devoting a lot of time to a game IMDb calls "shuttlecock soccer." It has nothing to do with the plot, but it's kind of hypnotic to watch. Super fun movie! Definitely recommended.

    Bonus Lloyd Kaufman-sploitation, TALES FROM THE CRAPPER (2004)
    Lloyd co-directs and hosts this anthology film, allegedly made of footage from various unfinished Troma projects. It's set up like a horror-comedy, but leans way more into the jokes and gets sillier and sillier as it goes along. Kaufman's on-screen shtick as "The Crapkeeper" wears itself thin real quick. Julie Strain gets a prominent role, although the filmmakers are more interested in her being statuesque than her acting. But she can certainly do statuesque. Overall, though, you can go ahead and skip this one.

  9. PROJECT A (1983, dir. Jackie Chan & Sammo Hung)

    The bar fight is one of my favourite Jackie Chan action scenes. It's big and chaotic and full of little character moments. The rhythm of the hits play out like a dance number and it's edited together so coherently without losing the kinetic feeling of it all. Love love love it!

  10. Police Story (1985)

    First time viewing. This has always been a huge blind spot for me, and it's one of the reasons I'm so grateful for Junesploitation to force me to catch up on movies like this. The final set piece in the mall is obviously insane, but there is a scene where Jackie Chan is alone in the police station and juggling phone calls that is INCREDIBLE. Every time I watch Jackie Chan in something, I'm always struck by how essential he is - that he provides a perfect mix of action and physical comedy that no one else can replicate.

  11. Police Story (1985)

    Another rewatch for me this month! I'm finding it difficult this Junsploitation to watch new to me stuff, but honestly I'm having a good time watching good movies.

  12. Rumble in the Bronx (1995)

    Jackie comes to New York (and we've got some nice stock footage to prove it) for the wedding of his uncle who's just about to sell his supemarket in the Bronx. He decides to stay a little longer than planned when it turns out that the new owner is Anita Mui (understandable), but almost immediately runs afoul of a surprisingly multicultural gang of biker shoplifters. It's not hard to guess what happens next: elaborate fights, exciting chases, crazy stunts and all the extreme property damage you can want from a Jackie Chan movie.

  13. CRIME STORY 1993
    Dir. Kirk Wong

    Solid crime thriller as Inspector Chan fights kidnappers through car chases, police house brawls, bamboo scaffolding, the bowels of a freighter and explosions, lots and lots of explosions! This movie should be mentioned in the same conversation as the Police Story franchise. The burning building climax alone is why Crime Story is one not to miss.

  14. TWIN DRAGONS (1992, dirs. Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark)

    To be honest, it was the combination of directors that drew my attention to this film. I am trying to watch more of their work. With Twin Dragons relying heavily on Jackie Chan’s slapstick style, though, I am not sure this was the wisest choice. I still warming up to his style. Twin Dragons has Jackie Chan playing identical twins brothers separated at birth an action sequence. Almost thirty years later, they run into each other at a hotel and a comedy of errors quickly ensues. One brother is a mechanic in trouble with gangsters, and the other is up-and-coming conductor. Although the goofiness of the plot is a little more than I can handle, the action scenes are well staged. Kudos again to those crazy Hong Kong stuntmen. The final fight is fun, but it does not outdo the finale of Police Story. If you like Jackie Chan, you should get some enjoyment out of Twin Dragons.

    1. "separated at birth by an action sequence."

      I should add that the English dubbling for the Dimension release is not my preferred way of watching stuff like this. It did sound like Jackie was voicing his own parts, though.

  15. Drunken Master (1978, dir. Yuen Woo-ping)

    I found this movie a little tiresome at parts, as the humour was a little overdone, and Jackie Chan is more of a bully at first. But then it really picks up. Once the villain (who I had completely forgotten) shows up again in the final minutes, I realized this was more of a "training" movie than anything else.