Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Jackie Chan Season #1: City Hunter (Jing Wong, 1993)

城市獵人 (Sing si lip yan)
Based on the hardboiled manga by Tsukasu Hojo, City Hunter is something of an oddity in the Chan canon. The original comics, published in the Weekly Shōnen Jump (an anthology magazine still in publication today, by Shueisha Inc.), told the story of Ryo Saeba - a private detective on a mission to rid Tokyo of crime. The series ran for six years (1985 - 1991) and Sunrise Studios adapted the material for an animated TV series in 1987, currently available on R1 DVD. Most UK viewers probably won't have any knowledge of City Hunter in either comic or anime form, but some will have been lucky enough to pick up this kooky crime comedy on the Hong Kong Legends series. It's no forgotten masterpiece, but it's surely an energized, exciting start to a season celebrating one of the greatest movie stars in the world...

Ryo (Chan) is hired to track down the runaway daughter of a publishing tycoon and inadvertently stumbles into a terrorist plot. The runaway boards a luxury cruise liner which a group of hijackers are planning to take over. Ryo and his sidekick Kaori (Joey Wang) board the ship where sexy cops Saeko (Chingmy Yau) and Shizuko (Kumiko Goto) are tracking down the terrorists. The plot is basically non-existent - an excuse for slapstick, cleavage shots and some impressive action sequences. This both helps and hinders the film.

To get an idea of tone, the film opens with Ryo sleeping and dreaming of a sexy female chorus surrounding him while he swims. Kaori tries to wake him for an important client meeting but he won't budge - even after she kicks him in the face. She ties Ryo to the top of the car, drives to the meeting and continues the trek by wheelchair. Comedy has always been a big part of Chan's cinema - even when the fight sequences bruise they normally have an element of slapstick to them. City Hunter takes a slightly different approach by focusing on the comedy rather than the action. This is Chan channeling Chaplin, making the most of his flexible body and farcical facial expressions. An early chase sequence sees him running from the ships cabin crew - he manages to get above the dopey sailors by clinging onto the bars surrounding the horn. One cutaway later ("there's another ship ahead!") and Chan has been permanently deafened - his face screwed up into a comic ball as he falls backward off the rails and slams onto the deck. That this chase has been focused around a piece of bread for the constantly hungry Ryo only adds to the oddness of it all. In fact, most of the gags/fights in the film are based around Ryo's desire for either women or food - or both. While searching for the runaway in the ships indoor swimming pool he encounters Shizuko, skimpily dressed, who has the intention of chatting him up. Ryo's jaw hits the ground as his gaze moves downwards towards her breasts - which soon become tasty hamburgers. Equally, now salivating, Ryo imagines her legs to be fried chicken.

So comedy is the name of the day. This isn't to say that City Hunter doesn't have its fair share of action however - one scene in particular sees Chan pay loving homage to screen legend and martial arts master Bruce Lee. Chased into an onboard cinema screening The Game Of Death (Robert Clouse, 1978) Ryo is faced with a replica of the enemies Bruce faces onscreen - and copies his moves to take them down. Another scene, heavily inspired by Street Fighter (the videogame; Steven Souza's awful adaptation came a year later) sees Ryo facing off against terrorist leader MacDonald's main henchman, played by Gary Daniels. This may be an exciting prospect for fans of the kickboxing champion and movie star, but the scene is played as another tongue-in-cheek loving homage à la Bruce. Chan and Daniels are kitted out in various Street Fighter attire and given all the powers of their respective characters - which means energy beams and stretchy legs are flying all over the place between some nifty edits and average (yet cheesy) effects. This scene is most interesting for fans of this years Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright) - which would appear to owe something of a debt to City Hunter. Knowing Wright's passion for and knowledge of cinema, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he had this film in the back of his mind when shooting his own comic book adaptation. The fight scenes have a retro gaming feel with flashy effects that go for the aesthetic of a console beat 'em up. Sadly it also means that the sequence is more of a gimmick than a smackdown, so fight fans hoping for a Chan/Daniels showdown will have to resort to their wildest dreams. MacDonald himself is played by Richard Norton, turning in a wooden performance but impressing in the final fight - which is much more in the traditional Chan mode, albeit with plenty of visual gags. The fight is mainly weapon based, but Chan and Norton have a superior fistfight at the end of Mr. Nice Guy (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, 1997), an action spectacular that sees Chan as a TV chef.

So fans of Chan's traditional period work or cop sagas will be disappointed, but City Hunter doesn't entirely deserve its bad reputation. It's competently made and stylish with some visual flourishes that are not only inventive for their time but impressive in a post Scott Pilgrim world. I was left wanting a proper fight sequence, and even though it's a furiously paced and inventive film with lots of action, none of it is particularly rewarding. The comedy works well most of the time and if you've got 95 minutes to spare, this slapstick adventure could prove an entertaining diversion. Check it out...

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