Thursday, June 24, 2004

Jackie Chan

Change of plans. I'll tackle Kwanzaa another day. The new Jackie Chan movie "Around the World in 80 Days" just came out, so it's an excellent time to talk about Jackie.

This isn't a rant against Jackie. I love the guy. How could you not? He's funny, he's wholesome, and his theatrical ability as a martial artist is completely unique. Completely unparalleled. When he's in a well-choreographed fight scene, it's like nothing you've ever seen. It's mesmerizing, it's awesome. He's our Buster Keaton.

So why, oh why, do the movies constructed around Jackie have to suck so very, very much? Why can't they demonstrate basic competence? Why can't they even be passable as thrillers, or action-comedies?

I love to watch Jackie do his thing. When he takes on 30 bad dudes with nothing but a ladder and a chair, it's worth every penny of admission. But the penalty for this 5 minutes of brilliance is 115 minutes of laughably bad boilerplate action movie, complete with sub-George-Lucas dialogue, nonsensical plot and terrible characters.

This isn't just one incident. The pattern of terrible Jackie Chan vehicles spans decades. His fervent, die-hard fans (and there are many) will not concede this. To them, anything with Jackie is pure genius. Folks, the truth must be faced. And here it is: The average Steven Seagal bone-cruncher or Jean Claude Van Damme buttock-flexer is a better movie on balance than the average Chan vehicle. Yep. It's true. The reason for this, ironically, is that Seagal and Van Damme aren't nearly as talented as Chan. Seagal can't wow the masses with a fight scene like Chan can; therefore he is forced to offer a movie that is slightly more entertaining in order to compete. Don't believe me? Let's review the evidence.

Project A
Twin Dragons
Rumble in the Bronx
Mr. Nice Guy
Jackie Chan's Who am I?
The Accidental Spy
The Tuxedo
The Medallion
The Vampire Effect

I've only seen about half of these, but I feel confidant giving the raspberry to the whole bunch. I mean, must one actually SEE the Tuxedo before giving it the thumbs down? Rumble in the Bronx and Mr. Nice Guy are two of the worst movies I've ever seen. Again, each one has 5-10 minutes of glorious Chan-choreographed balletic action. But those scenes are buried in a miasma of shit.

Why can't Jackie Chan, the Buster Keaton of our age, be in an actual GOOD movie? Wouldn't that be awesome? It would be a revelation. Sadly, he's pretty much past his physical prime, so the opportunity is fading. I mean, Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis are a couple of meatheads, but they've both made some pretty good action movies. Why does Chan, more talented than both combined, have to make such swill?

Ah, you say, what about Rush Hour? What about Shanghai Noon? Don't delude yourselves. These movies are both deeply mediocre. That they rose above incompetence to mediocrity is why they're so cherished among the Chan fans.

Let me approach it one more way. Do you remember the Eddie Murphy - Owen Wilson action-comedy "I Spy" from a few years ago? How about the Chris Tucker - Charlie Sheen buddy comedy "Money Talks"? Of course not. They sucked and you didn't see them. THOSE ARE JACKIE CHAN MOVIES. With the single difference that they do not include a Jackie Chan ass-kicking scene.

Now I'm not knocking his early work. All those 70s movies with names like Fearless Hyena where he flexes on river banks and fights Gods, that's part of a cinematic tradition that's just alien to me. If that's your thing, then God bless. Same goes for all those Police Story movies. Hong Kong action is its own genre. I can't really jump in and criticize it from my western perspective.

All I'm saying is that it would be nice for the Chan worshippers to admit that The Medallion sucked. Because hey! It did!


Anonymous said...

Oh, it's true. They suck. But, when they stick to the Hong Kong vision of what an American movie is like, they suck in their own addle-headed way, with starrier eyes than a Steven Segal or Gran' Damme movie... Rumble in the Bronx, come on: fighting a gang of toughs on candy-colored mopeds with racing numbers on them? It's just such a wrong idea about what toughness is, it's beautiful.

But I agree that when Jackie tries to do plain Hollywood, and uses Hollywood resources, so far the products mostly blow. I enjoyed Shanghai Noon a lot, but otherwise they're just crap movies with one or two great sequences.

But those few minutes are better than nearly everything else being turned out by the entertainment industry. Siiigh.

Rowsdower said...

Jackie? Is this you?

Yeah, there was a funny quality about the FAME-casty bad guys from Rumble. They're like some grandpa's vision of a street gang. Normally though, Chan fights a disproportionally large # of bad guys in well tailored suits. So you get both ends of the bad guy spectrum there.