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Save Us Jackie, Save Us!

By Stacey Richter

JULY 28, 1997:  TO ENJOY A Jackie Chan movie is to surrender. You, too, may feel your critical faculties slipping away, your logic receptors growing soft and spongy, as the collective weight of poorly dubbed dialogue, shot-gun karate kicks and improbable plot twists pummel your brain to oatmeal. Why is that foxy hippie girl strolling alone through the middle of a desert wasteland? "You live, and then you die," she explains, sort of. And why does she have a pet scorpion? How can it be that all these people all over the world speak perfect English? P.S. What is that damn airplane doing in the middle of an air vent?

Don't ask, is the answer to these and other questions posed by Operation Condor, the latest silly, exuberant motion picture from action hero Chan. He's been called the Buster Keaton of Hong Kong action films, but he might be said to resemble the Roadrunner fleeing Wile E. Coyote just as closely--he's a tricky, fast-moving victim, innocently slaughtering very determined enemies. And, like a Saturday morning cartoon, no one actually dies in Operation Condor despite the non-stop violence. In fact no one even bleeds. Falls are taken; folks bounce. Chan himself merely asks, "Why did you have to hit me so hard?" when one of his associates knocks him on the head a few dozen times with a log. He shakes off. More fighting ensues. Hurrah!

It's unclear why Operation Condor is called Operation Condor; there are no condors. Instead, Chan plays some sort of agent for Spain; he's sent to Africa in hopes of uncovering a vault of gold cleverly squirreled away by the Nazis during WWII. It's a very important mission and he's therefore accompanied by a fetching administrator in a pink suit. Joining them is a young German girl who usually wears a towel; if not that, a tight sweater. Her grandfather, apparently, was one of the Nazis on duty when the gold was stolen, and she wants to go along in order to absolve her Nazi grandfather of any wrongdoing in this matter. No, I am not making this up.

Thwarting Chan and the girls in their endeavor to uncover the gold are roving bands of unaffiliated bad guys. For a while, I tried to keep track of the different factions; then I wised up and realized there was no point. The bad guys were simply thugs, racially stereotyped at that: Some are Nazis, some are Arabs, some are malicious tribesmen, and a few seemed to be bad seeds working freelance. They pop out of the scenery, speaking in poorly dubbed English, kicking Chan in the face and slapping the girls. (Chan has picked up quite a harem on his journey: three beautiful girls, young and helpless, crying "Save us Jackie, save us!" over and over and over.)

Absurd as it all is, the effect of this jumble of cultures and plots and stereotypes is oddly pleasing. It reminded me of flipping the channels to Telemundo and coming across a Howard Hawks western dubbed into Spanish. It's familiar yet strange. Operation Condor contains shades of the Indiana Jones movies, westerns and B-grade adventures. Hong Kong action films borrow Hollywood conventions but have little use for the sophisticated levels of plot and character development American audiences are used to. The result is a curious hybrid that values action and physical movement above all else.

So, in a Jackie Chan movie, the stunts look great. Chan is famous for performing his own, and multiple camera angles are often presented to prove that a particularly chilling dive is authentic. Even while the banal dialogue washes over you, the kicks and jumps remain spectacular. The best parts of Operation Condor are the elaborately choreographed fight and chase sequences, one of which involves a motorbike, a boat, and thousands of boxes of bananas. Dedicated Chan fans need to know, however, that the hijinks in Operation Condor never match the impressive stunts in Chan's previous American release Supercop, though it's more exciting than his Rumble in the Bronx. But in a sense, it doesn't matter. After 10 minutes, the brain rot sets in. After an hour and a half, you too may find yourself chanting, Save us Jackie, save us.

Operation Condor is playing at El Dorado (745-6241), DeAnza Drive-In (745-2240), and Century Park (620-0750) cinemas.

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