He's fallen from tall buildings, hung precariously from the side of buses and can disarm 20 ninjas with nothing but a ladder and a selection of garden furniture. He's Jackie Chan, the pint-sized Hong Kong action god, whose sheer martial arts mastery makes Van Damme look like a wuss - - you can't kill anyone by doing the splits. In his latest adventure (First Strike for those of you who've never heard of him, Police Story 4 for those that have), Chan rises above his little guy cop origins to become the James Bond of the East. True to form, First Strike is a fast-paced action adventure with fantastical stunts and some clever visual comedy.
Like most Jackie Chan films, the plot in First Strike is merely a convenient backdrop for a set of highly inventive chase and fight sequences. For example, as the diminutive detective pursues the missing nuke across the globe, he snowboards off a cliff to catch onto the skids of a helicopter, fights on ten-foot stilts, and even indulges in a dizzying display of kick-boxing under water, grabbing gulps of air from the tanks of his outclassed enemies. Silly? Yes, but Chan has achieved cult status by being both original and comic. He may go one-on-one with a killer Great White Shark - - escaping as it chows down on an enemy henchman - - but he'll make sure that the big fish burps to get a laugh afterwards.
Strange then that First Strike is less of a martial arts showcase than fans of his films have come to expect. The originality and the little touches are still there - Chan excels in a scene where he swirls a ten-foot ladder to defeat a horde of bad guys. But when compared to his Hong Kong efforts and films like Police Story, Armour Of God and Drunken Master 1 and 2, the acrobatic butt-kicking takes second place to the farcical comedy and Chan's facial grimacing. For the US market, Jackie Chan has toned himself down.
Mostly this doesn't matter. Both Chan and Rumble In The Bronx director Stanley Tong keep the pace brisk and taut, while the feature's dubbed English doesn't detract much from the action on-screen. The stunts may be tame, but Chan fans can seek comfort from the fact that everything they see, every punch, kick and fall, was done for real. The lead's global popularity (apart from, it still seems, in America) stems from the fact that he will snowboard off a cliff and try to hang on to a hovering helicopter. He may not get it right the first time (and it may hurt), but he'll get it in the end. That's the appeal of Jackie Chan.
Yet more of the same, as Chan runs, jumps, leap, kicks and wields ladders against the evil hordes of a megalomaniac villain. First Strike has some of the best martial arts action you'll ever see in modern film - unless you seek out Chan's Hong Kong originals.
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