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City Hunter Reviews

AIRPLANE (1980) meets DIE HARD (1988) on an ocean liner--with beautiful women and Jackie Chan. The results careen from wildly entertaining to painfully puerile; overall it's one of Chan's slightest modern films. Private eye Ryu Saeba (Jackie Chan), known as the City Hunter, is hired to bring back a wealthy magnate's runaway daughter, Kiyoko (Kumiko Goto). But he has also been entrusted with caring for his dead partner's beautiful cousin Kaori (Joey Wang), with the stipulation that he not seduce her. When Kaori, who has a crush on Saeba and is jealous of his womanizing, runs off with her cousin on board a cruise ship, Saeba abandons his case and follows her. Coincidentally, Kiyoko happens to be aboard the same ship; as is a gang of ruthless killers bent on hijacking the boat, as well as a female crime-fighter, Saeko (Chingmy Yau), and her assistant bent on foiling the hijacking, and a gambler, Tramp Kao Ta (Leon Lai), with a lethal deck of cards. When the criminals take over, the heroes divide into revolving cliques and run around the ship trying to stay alive. After Taiwanese commandos board and begin mopping up the bad guys, it's up to Saeba to fight criminal mastermind MacDonald (Richard Norton) one-on-one to prevent him from blowing up the ship. Ultimately, MacDonald is killed by his own bombs By the early 1990s, Jackie Chan was showing signs of aging, and was clearly looking to change his grueling action formula. Wong Jing (GOD OF GAMBLERS, NAKED KILLER) was an ultra-prolific (and hugely successful) writer-director-producer of wild, over-the-top, anything-goes action-comedies, including several hit franchises of gambling movies. Together, they aimed for the Japanese market with this adaptation of a popular manga and anime, featuring Japanese actors, including model Goto. The large ensemble cast--which also includes popular HK DJ/rap singers-turned-actors Eric Kott and Jan Lam (aka the Hard and Soft Team, or Soft/Hard) literally jumping into the story to perform what amounts to a misplaced music video--is unusual for a Jackie Chan movie, and indeed, the film is more Wong's than Chan's. Most of the magic is in the camera tricks rather than the stuntwork, and Chingmy Yau (Wong's regular leading lady at the time, in films and in life) is nearly as prominent as Chan, even coming to his rescue on occasion. Meanwhile, Wong adds his ubiquitous charming gambler (played here by actor-singer Leon Lai) dispatching his share of villains by using cards like ninja throwing stars. (John Woo has since revived the trick for his BLACKJACK 1998.) Even Chan's skateboard chase sequence (recalling his earlier WHEELS ON MEALS, 1983) relies more on editing than physical prowess, although this is likely due to his injuring his leg filming the sequence. Often criticized for a lack of cohesiveness, the bulk of Wong's films play like collections of sketches, ranging from grim melodrama to outlandish slapstick, frequently in adjacent scenes. But the individual elements are always inventive, and the sum total completely unpredictable. CITY HUNTER is no exception. Opening with a stark, stylized intro, complete with "Batman" TV-series type effects, characters mugging into the camera, and a cheesy spy theme song, it's instantly telegraphed that this is going to be a live-action cartoon. (Albeit a decidedly non-PC one--the overseas export print is actually trimmed of most of the offensive gay and AIDS jokes.) It's the kind of movie where Chan is seen lusting after a woman s breasts--but only because he's starving and they remind him of hamburgers. In one notable sequence, Chan battles two giant thugs in a darkened theater and is soundly beaten until he notices Bruce Lee onscreen and takes some pointers from the film. At another point, in the film's most notable break with reality, Chan and a foe (Gary Daniels) are transformed into characters from the video game STREETFIGHTER II, complete with authentic costumes and sound effects (Chan licensed the rights), and appropriately outlandish action choreographed by Ching Siu Tung. Even the excellent final fight scene with Richard Norton (previously Chan's foe in TWINKLE TWINKLE LUCKY STARS, 1985; later the chief baddie in MR. NICE GUY, 1997) has more than its share of wire-enhanced stunts and comedy. On the other hand, a scene of Chan racing down a corridor as doors explode just behind him is ample reminder that Hong Kong's insurance-be-damned method of filmmaking is capable of generating far more genuine thrills than Hollywood's blue-screen matte versions of the same. Made at almost the same time as CITY HUNTER, with Chan at times racing from one set to the other, was the film's exact opposite, CRIME STORY, a grim and utterly humorless police semi-procedural. Chan has since expressed his disdain for both films, but reserved particular scorn for CITY HUNTER, which performed weakly even in Japan. Wong Jing returned the insult by making HIGH RISK, about a lout of an action superstar who pretends to do all his own stunts. (Violence, sexual situations, profanity.)