What good fun this movie is. My colleague loaned me his copy of the film–I have to confess I wouldn’t have sought this out on my own. But it brought me back to those heady days of 1992-1993, when Hong Kong cinema was the rage in L.A. This film captures that national cinema at its absolute peak. It’s so full of energy. I recall how excited I was by Kung Fu Hustle a few years back, and how a few weeks ago hearing from a professor from Hong Kong, who knew I admired Stephen Chow’s film, a variation on the “you ain’t heard nothin’ yet” line: “you sure have missed a lot.” He listed off title after title that he considered superior to Kung Fu Hustle (though he admires that film). Particularly 1994’s Hail the Judge–which I had never heard of. Anyway, I feel there is much for me to discover about Hong Kong cinema. I suppose I’ve known this all along, but it’s perhaps out of laziness or…I don’t know what…that I’ve not delved back into that area of cinema that enchanted me, for all too brief a period, some 16-17 years ago. Everything that follows I owe to a colleague of mine (not that what follows is good, but that I have something at all to say about Hong Kong cinema).
The film is based on a character, not of Jackie Chan’s making. “City Hunter” is Rao Saeba–a manga character created by Tsukasa Hojo. He’s basically an asshole–a loveable one, of course. A detective with an insatiable appetite for 1) ladies, and 2) himself. The film, which is directed by Wong Jing, doesn’t do much to establish Rao’s history (which, from what I understand, is complicated). The film begins with Hideyuki, Rao’s partner, getting killed. Just as he dies, Hideyuki asks Rao to take care of his sister, Kaori–on the condition that Rao does not seduce her. But this whole episode, something of an overture, plays out like the “Girl Hunt Ballet” from Vincent Minnelli’s The Band Wagon. It’s totally abstract, choreographed as if by Michael Kidd. The scenes are bathed in purple and green light, with comic book-like choreography (Batman meets Fred Astaire).
The film really gets underway when a plot is introduced: Kaori drags Rao to a meeting (he is still sleeping–stuck in a dream in which he is swimming with two dozen beautiful women) with a powerful Japanese newspaper man who is worried that his runaway daughter, Shizuko, is in danger. Ryo somehow bumps into Shizuko in a park, skateboarding with a bunch of teenage boys. This is one of several moments in the film that defies logic. But who cares? It sets the stage for the film’s first great set-piece: a skateboard chase through the streets of Hong Kong.
I’m not sure what happens next. But Rao, Shizuko, Kaori all end up on a luxury cruiser, but not together. Rao hasn’t eaten a thing for the whole film, and basically Jackie Chan plays this bit like he’s Chaplin or one of the Marx Brothers in Monkey Business. There are some fantastic scenes on this cruiser. Even the “relief” bit starring the rap duo Softhard is enjoyable. But the great moment comes well after we have learned there’s this other plot, hatched by the Thunderbird gang, to hijack the cruiser (which is why yet another female to catch Rao’s eye is on board: police officer Saeko). Rao wanders into a movie theater, where Game of Death, starring Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul Jabaar, is playing. Two very tall Thunderbirds find Rao in the theater, and they begin to fight while the movie plays behind them. Rao is clearly over-sized and over-matched, but he manages to beat his opponents by mocking Bruce Lee’s moves onscreen.
There’s also a good sequence where Rao gets trapped in a Street Fighter arcade game and fights Gary Daniels. But the best sequence of all is when Rao confronts the big dog of the Thunderbirds, Donald (Richard Norton). It’s more traditional that the previous action sequences (skateboards, arcade games), but it’s still the best. And Jackie Chan is wonderful–even though he’s responsible for many, really bad jokes througout the film. And there are many.
Good fun. Highly recommended.