"I was making movies before you were born, son."—Jackie Chan
City Hunter is slapstick farce to the Nth degree. Imagine a Chinese Looney Tune brought to life aboard The Love Boat and you'll be close. City Hunter is so patently zany that it doesn't even threaten to take itself seriously. Jackie Chan believes that City Hunter is his worst movie, and most critics agree.
I don't know what's wrong with me. In spite of my disapproval, I laughed out loud several times.
Facts of the Case
City Hunter is based on a popular Japanese anime comedy. A detective named City Hunter prowls the streets in his slick ride, looking for lovely ladies and ham sandwiches. His assistant, Kaori, is the sister of his dead partner. He's forbidden to woo her, but she is interested in the buffoonish City Hunter.
City Hunter smirks and flirts his way through adventure after adventure in search of a businessman's stray daughter. He offends Kaori, who departs on a cruise without him. Somehow, City Hunter, Kaori, and the missing daughter all end up on the same cruise…along with an American terrorist and his army. Hilarity ensues.
The enjoyable bits in City Hunter work in spite of the movie. I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it. Live action cartoon translations are always suspect, but this one takes the cake. Is there anyone who finds the "girl hits boy over the head with a massive hammer" gag funny? Jackie Chan points out that in Chinese cinema, action comes before story, visual effects, or anything else.
Garish colors, abstract sets, surrealistic action, and wacky antics left me in a state of subdued shock for about 10 minutes. It took my brain a while to absorb this strange new form of sensory input. Just about the time my brain caught up, the first major action sequence arrived to distract me. City Hunter finds the missing girl and goes after her on a skateboard, pursued by a gang of skate rats. He careens through windows, over cars, and down stairs. Though not exceptional, the sequence had enough juice to command respect.
Around that time, the movie lapsed back into its zany-lame humor rut. Imagine classic comedy standbys like eyeballs popping out at pneumatic breasts, wilting looks of mock embarrassment upon getting caught, geeky sidekicks with whiny voices, overproduced rap numbers by gaudy posers, sitting down on tacks and hopping around holding your butt, things like that. These interminable stretches of consequence-free juvenile mayhem were interspersed with occasional moments of interest, such as the charismatic card sharp (his cards are sharp, get it?), lovely ladies who kick butt, and the periodically funny gag. Throw in a handful of overhyped but underwhelming action scenes, and you have the gist of City Hunter. It is too outlandish to describe adequately. As a novelty, it quickly wears thin, but certain scenes are worth watching repeatedly. The unfortunate truth is that City Hunter contains enough wit and action to tenuously adhere your eyeballs to the screen, waiting for that next morsel of reinforcement.
Lackluster audio does not help the cause. Technically this is a 5.1 mix, but I would have rated a stereo mix higher. When the surrounds showed weak signs of life I was startled, as though an intermittent short plagued the back speaker wires. The subwoofer kicks in at inappropriate times but fails to show up for the main events such as explosions or gunfights. The audio is simply not good.
Nor is the plot. Minor point: hijackers take over the boat, but for no apparent purpose. They're there to have opponents to fight. The plot is indecipherable, which is good because it is clearly the last thing on anyone's mind.
The movie is lapped by an impressive volley of extras. Savvy DVD connoisseurs will get a good feel for the extras by simply reading the list. Do you need me to tell you about trailers and photo galleries? Probably not.
The trio of interviews is the real story. No glossy, back-patting, promotional fluff here! These are actual interviews asking truly interesting questions. Even better, the interviewees answer honestly. Jackie Chan speaks to great length about his acting personae. He reveals bitter disappointment at his Hollywood inauguration. Jackie arrived in this country a Chinese star but an American unknown. After his grind through the calloused Hollywood machine, Jackie came home humble. Years of successful Asian films followed, until Hollywood came calling again. This time, Jackie was able to call the shots. Perhaps most telling is Jackie's reluctance to dwell on City Hunter. He makes a valiant try to focus on the positive aspects, but he never made another film in this vein.
Wong Jing comes across as a gangsta-pimp-director type. He makes many bold statements, as though used to sparring with the media. His lukewarm praise for Jackie Chan confirms the suspicion that these two didn't like each other. The interviews conclude with action director/stunt man Rocky Lai, who gives hair-raising but authoritative accounts of the reality of stunt work in Hong Kong.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
City Hunter gets three things right: Joey Wong Cho-yin, Kumiko Gotoh, and Chingmy Yau Suk-ching. Wong Jing's finely honed exploitative instincts are on full display. These ladies are stunning, from the troublesome innocent to the jaded mercenary to the pining young comrade. They could clip their nails and I'd sit and watch. Fortunately they do much more. I can't say it's tasteful, but it isn't R territory either.
The video quality is surprisingly good. Although the film stock seems washed out, the colors are stable and sharp. No detectable edge enhancement is present and artifacts were infrequent. The video style is inconsistent, as though different units shot under different lighting conditions, but this is not the fault of the transfer. This is not a reference transfer, but given the genre and budget it is better than you'd think.
Two noteworthy action set pieces had me in stitches. The first is a surreal fight in a theater with Bruce Lee fighting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar onscreen. Jackie is taking on a massive black thug at the same time. He continually references the movie to glean strategy tips. The real showstopper is one of the latter battles. I recommend that you recharge before it comes on. Go make a sandwich, water your plants, reacclimate yourself to the real world. Then the absurdity of Jackie Chan morphing into Street Fighter II characters will stun you anew. The funniest moment is either when Jackie becomes Chun Li or when the combatants start hurling fireballs at each other. The translation of Street Fighter II to celluloid is remarkably accurate, too easy to write off as more City Hunter zaniness.
I probably shouldn't even mention this, as my credibility is dangerously undermined with this review. Here goes: Jackie has his hands tied, but escapes into a corridor. He encounters an ally, who throws him a gun yelling "here, catch!" His hands are bound, so the gun smacks him in the face. I rewound this at least five times.
For every gag that works, there are 15 that do not. Most of this movie is painfully stretched out, with each scene about one-third too long. Perhaps a modicum of continuity or logic would have improved matters.
City Hunter does have moments, but the real draw is the extras. I've never witnessed a more candid discussion of Chinese cinema, American diplomacy, and political influence in filmmaking. If you are a Jackie Chan buff or have interest in Hong Kong cinema, it's worth taking a look. Otherwise, let these words guide you: Zoink! POW! Wakka, wakka, wakka…BOING-boing-BOING-boing-BOING! Conk!
Jackie Chan, the jury finds that you have rehabilitated yourself since these misdeeds. You are free to go. The rest of you…back in the pen while his honor ponders this dizzying evidence.
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