Having somehow managed to go most of my life with seeing only a single Jackie Chan movie in its entirety, fate finally intervened to correct this error with the discovery of a 2-disc, 8-film DVD collection in the possession of a friend. Seeking to take advantage of this opportunity immediately, we proceeded to devote a whole evening to pirate kings and buried Nazi treasures. The results were more than worth it, although for varying reasons.
Project A (1983)
Project A is a delirious, chaotic, hilarious, physics-defying action comedy in which 19th century Hong Kong is subjected to a series of increasingly ridiculous confrontations between cops, the coast guard, gangsters, gangsters on bicycles, and pirates. The dubbing is a thing of periodically insane beauty, with the British and Australian characters especially benefitting from some of the most absurd displays of the English language ever recorded. Fight scenes go from 0-100 in under a second, and although this is probably old hat for anyone with a modicum of exposure to Chan’s filmography, it’s worth repeating here: every single action sequence in this movie puts the past two decades of Western superheroics and gritty action movies to shame. There is no shaky-cam-riddled grappling, no ‘realistic’ krav maga or plodding exchanges of blows in sight. When a fight happens a good half of it will take place up in the air (without the use of wires), and anything even remotely in reach of the combatants, whether it’s pots, chairs, bicycles, innocent bystanders or an abundance of hand grenades, will be utilized in some fashion.
The film begins with tensions mounting between the coast guard and local police, as efforts to defeat a band of pirates have proved repeatedly unsuccessful and hugely expensive, taking funding away from their meagre paychecks. Chan plays a member of the coast guard named ‘Dragon’ (which is relatively normal compared with what happens to his name in Operation Condor). A series of unfortunate events result in most of the coast guard being conscripted into the police instead, Dragon included, and from there they attempt to take on local gangsters with ties to the pirates. A scheme involving illegal arms dealing brings in an old “friend” of Dragon’s, joyfully played by Sammo Hung. Along with Yuen Biao, as the police officer nominally in charge of the coast guard conscripts, the three of them carve a path of outrageous devastation through the narrow streets of Hong Kong. The evil pirates don’t actually appear until at least an hour into the movie, but the final confrontation with the rascally Pirate King himself is more than worth the wait.
The plot is really just the framework of the film; the meat is the endlessly creative stunts and choreography. The whole film is an absolute joy to watch, earnestly played by all involved no matter how silly it gets. Everyone and everything gets thrown about in wild abandon, as though we have stepped through to an alternate dimension where cartoon physics apply. And while the dubbing certainly helps, the dialogue itself is genuinely funny. Imagine Gilbert and Sullivans’ The Pirates of Penzance, only instead of singing, the characters spontaneously demolish the stage while repeatedly hurling themselves across the room. It’s an immediate favorite and one that makes it very clear why Jackie Chan became such a big deal.
Operation Condor (1991)
Operation Condor is a… different kind of movie. To begin with, as we discovered only afterwards, it’s actually the second film in a series that was released in the U.S. in reverse order and with the names switched. This fact makes about as much sense as anything else that actually happens in the movie.
Compared with Project A, Operation Condor obviously has a much bigger budget and tries to hew more closely to Western-style action movies – specifically the Indiana Jones series, although this is set in the present day of the 90’s. Unfortunately, this different approach is… not an improvement.
Continuing the confusion of the title, Jackie Chan plays a character named, according to the credits, ‘Asian Hawk.’ However, you would be forgiven for not knowing this, as not once during the entire movie does anyone refer to him by that name. At one point, his boss – referred to by my friend as ‘Budget Pierce Brosnan’ – calls him Condor. Everyone else just calls him Jackie. I decided this meant his name was ‘Jackie Condor’, which in my defense would be perfectly appropriate given the kind of movie this is.
The movie opens with an… homage, let’s say, to the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Jackie Condor flies up to a remote jungle mountain cave in some sort of flying parachute device, steals a couple gems and encounters some “natives” whom he then has to flee in this thing, which he apparently had been keeping in his pocket the whole time.
None of this is ever referred to again afterwards.
After some totally rad intro credits, we cut to Spain, where Budget Pierce Brosnan tells Jackie Condor that the U.N. wants him to go find a bunch of Nazi gold that was left in a secret base in the middle of the Sahara. Along the way, he manages to pick up not one, not two, but three ditzy ladies that require repeated, constant rescuing. Much of said rescuing also involves getting said ladies naked. There is no other apparent reason for them being in the film.
Who are they being rescued from? Well, it’s not entirely clear. The back of the DVD case describes them as “treasure hunting terrorists,” which, sure, let’s go with that. There’s a pair of bumbling, Team Rocket-esque goons who are totally incompetent but also don’t seem to have anything to do with anything, they just… keep showing up. There’s also a group of military-looking thugs led by a former Nazi, who just piddles about in his wheelchair being villainous until he suddenly becomes a good guy in the last ten minutes with no real explanation. According to the credits, his name is Adolf.
Nothing in this movie makes any goddam sense, and a fair amount of it is casually racist, sexist, or just plain stupid. There’s a few fun action sequences but Jackie Condor is clearly meant to be the star of the show, and while he could hardly be accused of holding back, there just isn’t the same energy that Project A had. Where that film was genuinely great, Operation Condor is firmly in the ‘entertaining if you trash talk it with your friends the whole time’ category. Oddly enough, Condor does share almost the exact same ending shot as Project A, but where in that film it was a funny callback to an earlier plot point, in Condor it’s just a sort of bizarre end note that leaves one hoping all the characters died shortly after the credits roll.
A sequel/”sequel” night is planned, with Project A Part II and Operation Condor: Armor of God (aka Armour of God, the actual first movie in that series) slated. I don’t know that I’ll get around to reviewing them, but if either film is half as good or as bad as their predecessor, relatively speaking, it should make for an… interesting experience.