City Hunter (Wong Jing-athon 3)

Back to Mr Wong Jing now, after a few days spending time in better company (and there will be another review coming up before I complete this).  This is a more straightforward Hong Kong Comedy (although inspired by a Japanese Manga) which actually is a lot of fun, but does seem to obey my new Wong Jing Theory, which is as follows:

  • A Wong Jing film will almost always star someone who has been responsible for MUCH better Work).
  • A Wong Jing Film will show a very good taste in female actresses, although they will be treated in a mysongonistic manner (albeit with varying degrees of offensiveness)
  • A Wong Jing film will have at least one moment of repulsive sexual violence, that is either the source of “comedy”, or be leering and unapologetic.
  • A Wong Jing film will have the guts of a really interesting story, but somewhere along the line forget to satisfy the plot set up in the first half of the film for loud bangs an crashes.

It also intrigued me as it has been pretty much disowned by its star, Jackie Chan, who not only thinks it his worst Hong Kong film, but actually lead to a fair bit of bad blood between the two.  I’m sure his views are coloured by his experiences, as actually the finished product is far from terrible.

In “City Hunter” our hero is Private Eye Ryu Saeba (Jackie Chan), a famous if somewhat lecherous chap who solves crimes that the Police just seem to be no good at.  He is assisted by the daughter of his dead former partner, Carrie (Joey Wang), who holds a candle for him, although she has no idea how much he actually likes her as he made a promise to his friend on his death bed that he would not touch her.  They are hired to track down Shizuko (Kumiko Goto), the wayward daughter of a rich industrialist, which eventually leaves them on a Cruise full of Hong Kong’s rich set.  At the same time Policewoman Saeko (Chingmy Yau) is also on board following up a lead about a potential terrorist action.  Of course, this lead comes to fruition, and the gang all come together to take down the evil Colonel MacDonald (Richard Norton) and his gang.  Can they save the day?  Will Carrie and Ryu get it together?  Wasn’t this sort of the plot in Steven Segal’s “Under Siege”?

Let me be up front about this – this is a real “Marmite” movie – you are either going to love it or hate it.  It tries really hard to be a live-action Manga – with silly visual jokes, comedy sound effects and some over the top acting.  It is quite frankly a silly film that you just cannot take seriously.  The opening scene sets the tone with some nice 1960’s-Batman TV Style graphics (which sadly do not make their way into the rest of the film), and that ever humorous comedy device of a Man being hit by a huge Hammer.  If that makes you smile, then you may just want to stay aboard for the ride.

Joke-wise, for me it had a reasonable balance – 50% of the gags are actually hilarious (and again, if you think Jackie Chan being hit in the face by a gun thrown to him is comedy gold then you will agree with me), and 50% are tiresome at best, and frankly unfunny at worst (one scene has a girl admitting to having haemorrhoids poolside, it serves no purpose whatsoever).  To be fair, not too many jokes are stretched out too long, and indeed a couple could have stood up to a bit of repetition (Ryu is meant to be starving, so when faced with one attractive woman he sees her ‘assets’ as Hamburgers and Chicken Legs, its a smart gag, yet never used again).  The musical number however is one of the direst things I have ever seen, and what Leon Lai’s character is meant to be adding to an already rather full cast list, I have no idea.  Chan is amiable, although it does look like he is not convinced by what he is doing.  Joey Wang is playing it with her tongue firmly in her cheek, and Chingmy Yau is actually playing it pretty straight (and the film surprisingly benefits from this).

The plot really rather lets things down, some of the blame probably has to go on the original property, but some things just make no sense.  In the initial hunt for Shizuko it is made clear that they are in Japan, and they go to Hong Kong to look for her.  Then they obviously return to Japan, but all then get on a Cruise ship in Japan again.  The villains are explained to be terrorists (they even boast that they are), but actually they are just after money, Bandits at best.  So why do they lay explosive charges all over the ship? 

It is actually rather restrained action-wise, with none of the really big stunts that Chan made his name doing.  Instead it does have a couple of actually rather clever set pieces.  At one point he takes on a couple of giant black men in an empty cinema, whilst Bruce Lee’s “Game of Death” is playing a similar scene, leading Ryu to take some tips from the great man.  The scene is actually only partially successful, as it does not work enough with the opportunity it has created.  The other scene is much better, with Chan and his rival taking on the roles from the “Street Fighter II” Arcade game.  Look away if the sight of Chan as Chun-li might disturb you, but it is not only amusing, but also terribly well observed.

The down side of the film is that it is awfully slight, it works as nothing more than a series of gags, with no character development, a messy plot, and no-one really being much more than one-dimensional.  It also has a nasty moment where the Richard Norton mid heist encourages his 2nd in command to take Joey Wang up to his cabin to rape her.  Whilst nothing actually happens, it feels out of context with the general slapstick nature of the movie.

As the final credits roll (with those Jackie Chan ever present amusing out-takes), I could not help but smile.  It was a fun and amusing ride, with a couple of moments of genuine class.  The lightweight nature of the film means is is never going to be anything more than Recommended, but it is not a terrible film by any stretch.

[I have one more Wong Jing to look at, but I will be taking another detour into K-Horror (via K-Pop) and a little Singaporean thriller before I return]

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Nekoneko says:

    Haven't seen this one yet. That's saying something too, given that I've seen about every Jackie Chan film ever made.

    Can't imagine a better fit than Wong Jing and Jackie Chan… both have such a good grasp of “popular marketing” Asian film wise. What exactly was the crux of the problems between them? Some sort of clash of egos? I could totally see that happening if it were the case.

    For me… I've always thought of Wong Jing as being HK's “Roger Corman”. He's basically a filmmaker cut from similar cloth… and makes the movies he knows will have audience appeal and marketability. If that means making a Period Comedy… then he makes a Period Comedy. People want to see horror, he'll do horror. If Sci-fi is hot, Wong will be there to get his piece of the action. It makes his output look spastic and all over the place, but then look at Corman's work here in the West… same thing basically. I don't so much think it makes Wong a bad filmmaker…. just one that knows it's a job first and art secondarily. (If he's even worried about that… Hehehe.)

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  2. ElPeevio says:

    I've been struggling to find out any details about the “rift”, but everything seems to be 3rd hand, along the lines of “they didn't get on”. I am sure you are right about ego's just rubbing against each other. However, Wong Jing did follow this one up with Jet Li in “High Risk” where Jackie Cheung plays a movie star who 'supposedly' does his own stunts, but actually spends all his time drinking and womanising. I think you can see what he was trying to say there.

    ANd I totally get what you are saying – in turns of chasing the audience and giving them commercial fodder, he is the go-to guy – and he brings money into the industry. Quotes such as “Only rubbish people would call my movies rubbish. What qualifies them to have an opinion? Critics are not God, and it’s not for them to judge what’s good or bad; the audience should decide. It’s easy for anyone to use a pen to dismiss others. If I was to pick up my pen, they would lose 99 per cent of the time. I’ve never, ever heard a member of the audience call my movies rubbish.” hardly endear him to me though 😉

    I do see the Roger Corman link, but Corman has always worked on the periphery of the American Film industry, unashamedly pushing exploitative stuff (and giving people like Scorsese, Demme, Howard, Bogdanovich and Dante big breaks), whereas Wong Jing is firmly in the driving seat of big box office.

    Some of his stuff is of course good (and I hope I have been a bit balanced so far), but would ANY W-J film make it onto my desert island DVD collection….?

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  3. joekuby says:

    After doing extensive reading, I found out that Jing was a replacement for Ricky Lau – a director of whom Chan prefers over Jing.

    Chan likes Ricky more (Ricky was the cinematographer for a lot of movies where Sammo Hung was the fight choreographer). Like some people in Hong Kong, Chan thinks that Jing only got where he is due to nepotism.

    By having Jing in charge, it guaranteed the movie would come in on time and within the set budget. He was considered a hotter property than Chan due to the success of God of Gamblers, the sequel (which was also a sequel to All for the Winner) and the Royal Tramp movies which starred Stephen Chow.

    Jing isn't much of a Chan fan. As suggested in High Risk, Jing thought that Chan was past his prime as a martial artist. He also thought that the emphasis should be on the comedy because it was Chan's comic talent that made him stand out in the first place. Chan wanted the sexual elements to be toned down.

    Jing thought that Chan's sense of humor was too conservative (i.e. family-friendly). God of Gamblers and Stephen Chow's movies showed that Hong Kong audiences wanted edgy humor, which is why Jing was the one responsible for Hung's Pantyhose Hero.

    Jing's humor is like South Park whereas Chan's humor is like Simpsons.

    Also, Chan wanted more martial arts action and a less comic tone but Jing made a point that City Hunter is supposed to be a Manga adaptation and not a Chan movie. Chan was hoping that there would be, at least, one moment of seriousness.

    Naturally, the two had to learn how to compromise.

    Chan is someone who prefers being a perfectionist whereas Jing is someone who will improvise if things don't go according to plan. Jing has mentioned that he will not get into arguments with anyone no matter what differences they have.

    Chan is someone who does tend to get into arguments. With the exception of Stanley Tong (Supercop) and Hung (Mr. Nice Guy), Jackie clashed with his H.K. '90s directors.

    Regardless of creative differences, Chan would have preferred it if City Hunter was directed by someone who he fell out with during the making of Dragons Forever – Hung (who was too busy working on Moon Warriors).

    As can be seen in High Risk, Jing thinks that Chan is too harsh with the stuntmen (did anyone watch Jackie Chan: My Stunts?) and would constantly remind him that they can't get things perfect immediately.

    According to a witness, Chan smoked a lot. Jing thought that it would hurt his martial arts ability (along with drinking alcohol). Chan got a bit too foul-mouthed.

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  4. ElPeevio says:

    Wow, thanks for this. This all makes sense to me – and is probably just a case of two personalities that don't get along. Jing and Chan just don't appear to be a good fit. Which is ironic, as actually the film was quite fun!

    Like

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