A Movie With Kick
By Mark Jordan
JULY 28, 1997: When Bruce Lee died mysteriously in 1973, a lot of film fans thought the martial-arts film was gone with him. There was, after all, no other actor on the scene at the time who could match Lee's raw charisma or who was as viable a star to American audiences. Well, it has taken almost 25 years, but U.S. martial-arts fans seem to have finally found a successor to Lee, albeit one with a completely different sensibility -- a smiling, affable everyman kind of hero, in stark contrast to Lee's dark, brooding kung-fu master.
Jackie Chan actually started making martial-arts films before Lee, beginning in 1960, and has since become one of the biggest film stars in the world. It wasn't until 1993's Super Cop, however, that Chan, riding in on a wave of interest in Hong Kong cinema, really started to make a dent in the U.S. market.
His newest U.S. release isn't really a new release at all; Operation Condor, which Chan also directed, was originally released in Hong Kong in 1990 as Armor of God II. But as with his other recent releases -- Super Cop and Rumble In The Bronx -- Condor has found new life in the states as film studios rush to sate the public's newfound hunger for Chan films.
Condor is the type of light, fast-action fare international audiences have come to expect from Chan. The plot, such as it is, wastes little time in setting the star up as a secret agent on a mission to recover a cache of gold plundered by the Nazis and stashed at the end of the war on a hidden army base somewhere in the North African desert. Accompanying Chan on his mission are another agent (Carol Cheng) and the granddaughter of the commander of the German army unit that hid the gold (Eva Cobo De Garcia). Chasing them are a mysterious group of black-clad baddies and a couple of bungling middle-eastern thieves who serve no real purpose other than to give Chan something to hit and provide a little comic relief when necessary.
At this point you have to realize that a Jackie Chan movie isn't filmmaking the way Western audiences are accustomed to seeing it. Taking their cue from literature, Western films have always been narrative-driven. What happens to the characters to get them from one point to the next?
A Chan film, on the other hand, isn't about story or characters; it's about movement, choreography, and spectacle, not unlike a Busby Berkeley musical or the films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
In fact, the comparisons between Chan and the great physical comedians of the silent-film era have been frequent to the point of cliche. Well, Chan doesn't have the pathos of a Chaplin; there is little to no emotional depth in his films. But like those film giants, Chan has over his career managed to forge an on-screen persona -- the hapless, occasionally bungling wise guy who is at his most graceful when he has a dozen thugs charging after him -- who charms audiences and holds their attention during the brief interludes between action sequences.
It is in the staging of those action sequences, however, that Chan really excels. A necessary element to the enjoyment of any Chan film is the knowledge that he performs all his own stunts. And though Condor isn't as spectacular as Super Cop, it keeps up Chan's reputation with some truly memorable action bits, including a sequence in which Chan turns a warehouse into a jungle gym while a half-dozen of the bad guys' cars swarm around him with balletic precision, and another highly comic brawl in a wind tunnel.
It's not giving away much to say that at the end of the movie, Chan walks off into the blazing Sahara sun with his two female companions (plus a third he somehow acquired along the way) in tow. It's also probably not a real surprise that anyone looking for a politically correct action film should stay home; though not nearly as blatant as most American action films, some characterizations in Condor could be easily be construed as sexist and/or racist. But anyone applying socio-political theory to such a light-hearted vehicle is only cheapening their stance. Jackie Chan is nothing but pure energy, not directed toward a goal or an ideology, but captured on film solely so the world can marvel at its exertion.
IF YOU SWING INTO A TREE IN the middle of a forest and no one is laughing, does the lifeless thump of your career hitting rock bottom make a sound? What is the sound of no hands clapping? Ask Brendan Fraser, star of George of the Jungle. His latest project as an incomplete-sentence-uttering nincompoop forces us all to wonder, wasn't Encino Man enough? Learn some lines, please.
In this film, inspired by the 1960s cartoon, George rescues a rich twit on safari in the jungle from a bloody death by lion. After becoming increasingly attached to her newfound buddy, who shares her lack of vocabulary, Ursula ditches her obnoxious fiancé, played by Thomas Haden Church, and whisks George back to the city with her. Throw in 1) some parents who don't like George and 2) a reason for George to run back to the jungle, and you have a "rollicking, live-action epic." At least that's what the folks at Disney call it. (Note to Southern Baptists: Don't feel so bad about missing this one.)
Holland Taylor, of The Naked Truth, plays the role of Ursula's over-protective, wealthy mother in a completely unoriginal way, though one can hardly fault her for the wretched lines she must have been forced at gunpoint to deliver. The best acting in this movie comes from Tookie, the toucan, and that's because he doesn't say anything.
A single point of light can be found in the film. George gleans from television that coffee is the only way to a woman's heart, and while Ursula is away, proceeds to shovel her instant coffee into his mouth, dry, cupfuls at a time. Of course, instead of letting the amusing scene play out naturally, the powers that be decided that putting George on "fast forward" would be just hilarious! Ho ho, slow down George! That sure is funny.
Fraser's second role as a grunting freak is one that he should have passed along to someone more (or rather less) worthy. At least if Chris Farley had been running around in what is referred to in the movie as a "butt-flap" (oh, tres amusante!), the audience would have had one thing to laugh at. But alas, the only amusing part of this film is how completely un seriously it was taken by everyone who participated in its making. (Hint: One of the uninspiring villains, Abraham Benrubi of ER fame, gets in a fight with the narrator.) Instead of being cute or amusing, the constant references to off-screen personae are simply reminiscent of Christian Slater's asinine remarks to the audience in the box-office blockbuster Kuffs.
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