The slower Jackie Chan gets in his old age, the more he has to figure out what the hell it means for him to still be making movies. He’s given everything for his art, everything to his fans. He’s broken down, beat up, and will be lucky if he can remember his own name or walk in another ten years. Chan has sacrificed himself, his family, and just about everything else. I’m not saying whether this is good or bad, worth it or not; merely that it occurred. You can play armchair psychologist if you’d like, analyzing how the fact that he was abandoned by his parents (who sold him to a Peking Opera school, where he met Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, and Yuen Kwai, among others) has driven this insatiable need on his part to be loved and accepted by fans while crippling him when it comes to close personal relationships (his marriage was a sham and his flings with sexy female starlets were constant fodder for Hong Kong gossip rags). He’s cocky and egotistical (though honestly, wouldn’t you be the same way if you were him), but he’s also nervous and humble around certain reporters and throngs of fans. If you’ve ever seen an ignored and lonely puppy desperate for attention and reinforcement, then you’ve seen Jackie Chan in interviews.
Having grown up in what’s tantamount to a school of performing arts for orphans, surrounded almost entirely by other boys and with very little exposure to women (including his own mother), Jackie’s not exactly competent with the ladies. He knows how to get them, but he doesn’t know how to treat them afterward — an affliction that’s seen him roasted (arguably rightly so) in tabloids and despised by more than a few former female co-stars. It’s also seen him abandon one marriage and child and father another child which he then tried to pretend for years didn’t happen. Emotionally, he’ll always be a child, and while there’s no excusing his behavior in these instances, it’s also not that hard to comprehend why it happens. It’s probably easier for me to forgive his transgressions, not having ever had to bear the consequences of them. The fact that I put forward a psychological theory to explain his bad behavior is in no ways meant to construe approval. Jackie’s a complex guy, one full of personal problems and accomplishments, failures and successes. In short, he’s a human, and that’s why I defend him, especially now that’s he’s probably in his twilight years.
It’s weird, but in more ways than he might care to admit Jackie really has become “the next Bruce Lee” as he was billed back in the mid 1970s. It’s pretty common knowledge that Bruce was seeing Betty Ting Pei on the sly when he was in Hong Kong. Had he lived longer, I have no doubt that there would have plenty more incidents. It just happens when you are in a setting as twisted and concentrated as the making of a film. Your emotions do not work the way they do in a more stable setting. It’s no justification for cheating — just an explanation of why it happens in these particular cases. I also have no doubt that the Hong Kong press would have eventually turned on Bruce the same way they have turned on Jackie. Both of them were perceived as “traitors” because they went to America to make films instead of concentrating only on the Hong Kong product. Bruce died early, and like JFK, was gone before his wild ways could come back and bite him in the ass. Jackie stuck around, and he had to pay the price. Like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan is a human being. He’ll mess up. He’ll do things some people don’t like (like shooting his mouth off about how Chinese people need a lot less freedom and a lot more government guidance). So it goes. If I abandoned every artist who committed wretched foibles in real life, well, I probably wouldn’t have very much to watch, read, or listen to.
At a loss for how to relate to fellow humans in a normal capacity, Jackie communicates in the only way he understands: film. More specifically, in taking the risks and sustaining the injuries he knows fans want to see. Jackie’s list of injuries is both frightening and amusing, but it should never be forgotten that he got each and every one of them trying to make us happy. There are very few, if any, film stars who have given as much to their fans as Jackie. For that, we should be grateful. Hell, if he decided tomorrow that from now on he was only doing Merchant Ivory movies about snotty people in riding coats or big frilly dresses sitting in the garden drinking tea and saying “pray tell,” (wait, do they still make those?) we should still never forget how much he’s given to us. If only he’d done a “pray tell” movie instead of The Tuxedo. The man is, without a doubt, one of a kind, and there will never be another like him.
So as far as I’m concerned, I’m happy to see Jackie going in the direction he’s heading. As a fan of his since his old kungfu films from the 1970s, I’m satisfied to see him taking it easy, slowing things down a bit, and not mercilessly abusing himself the way he did in the 1980s. Sure, I miss mind-blowing sequences like the shopping mall finale from Police Story, but that was a long time ago. In 1985, I could run five miles without losing my breath. I could play a hard-fought ninety minute soccer game without a break. Nowadays, I can run from the front of my apartment to the curb with maybe nothing more serious than a severe cramp in my calf muscle. Hell, if I can hardly get up four flights of stairs without having to set aside an hour for recuperation, then I shouldn’t expect Jackie to still be falling head first off clock towers.
A lot of people were up in arms about Jackie’s films during the 1990s. I agree that some of them were pretty bad. City Hunter was awful, Rumble in the Bronx was just plain silly (a multi-ethnic, neon-dune-buggy-driving gang from the Bronx? Someone watched too much Warriors). Police Story III was dull as dishwater thanks to a shoddy directing job by Stanley Tong, who for some reason could never figure out the proper way to film Jackie or pace a movie despite having so many resources thrown his way. Gorgeous, despite featuring sexy Hsu Chi and the equally sexy Tony Leung Chi-wai was excruciating, and not because I “didn’t get what I expected.” I knew it was a romantic comedy, and I actually have a pretty high tolerance for such films, owing to my slightly unhealthy appreciation of old Doris Day “bedroom comedies.” Even that didn’t prepare me for such a bland and irritating film.
Other than those few exceptions, and maybe that movie where he plays an evil melting king, I think Jackie’s films have at their worst been amusing, and at their best they’ve been astounding. People were pretty hard on films like First Strike, but I thought it was a lot of fun. Same with Mr. Nice Guy. Shanghai Noon was tremendous fun, and the follow-up Shanghai Knights wasn’t tremendous fun, but it was still fun. Who Am I was also a great deal of fun for me, and it was pleasing to see Jackie return to the final fight scene climax after shying away from it for so long. In the 21st century, as he moved into the role of elder statesman, Jackie showed he still had a lot to offer. Little Big Soldier was one of his best films, Shinjuku Incident was a bold and successful departure from expectation, and even 1911 Revolution was ambitious, even if I didn’t like it. In this day and age where everyone tries to be edgy, it was great to simply sit back and enjoy an old fashion action-comedy where the stars actually seemed to have some chemistry together. Yeah, they had their weaknesses, but I still had a good time. So Jackie wasn’t delivering the next Project A — big deal.
Cut the guy some slack. For all intents and purposes, he should be dead. If you’re a fan of Jackie, then you shouldn’t be pulling for him to kill himself trying to pull off some stunt. He did that. Hell, he actually did kill himself when he cracked his skull open during a botched stunt in Armor of God. It’s time to adjust your perception of Jackie. He’s not the machine he once was. If you keep that in mind and you still can’t stand his more recent movies, well there you go. Nothing wrong with that. There’s this stuff called taste, and everyone’s is slightly different. If, however, you do adjust your thinking, you might find that his newer films are still worthwhile, even if they are not the classics he was making in the 1980s.
The Accidental Spy, pairs him up with Vivian Hsu. I should point out that in this movie, Jackie Chan attempts to outdo is formerly sometimes nude female co-star by featuring prolonged exposure of his own bare ass. Longtime fans of Jackie Chan films are, of course, already acquainted with his bare ass, which if I recall correctly made its film debut in Project A. I think this might be its longest appearance yet, and also its first action scene. For some of you, extended scenes featuring Jackie Chan’s bare bottom may be enough to scare you away. For others, it may get you even more fired up about seeing the film. For me, as a seasoned veteran of movies that feature Jackie Chan and naked rumps, I simply nodded at Jackie’s naked butt and said, “Hey man, long time no see. Good to have you back.”
I always look forward to a new Jackie Chan film regardless of bare ass content. It’s always something fun and exciting, which is cool since very few movies get me fired up these days. Even if it disappoints me, I probably still got a lot out of it. What makes me sad is that I really miss seeing them debut on the big screen. Back when I was in college in the 1990s, we used to time trips to New York City to coincide with Chinese New Year, which in turn meant the debut at the Music Palace of a new Jackie Chan film. Rumble in the Bronx didn’t seem nearly as stupid sitting in the balcony of the theater alongside hundreds of cheering, shouting, rowdy Chan fans. Seeing the premiere of Drunken Master II was positively electric. The theater was a complete nuthouse. People went insane. It was far and away the most fun I’ve had attending a film that was not at a drive-in movie theater.
I moved to New York when the Music Palace was in its decline. The collapse of the Hong Kong film market hit the theater hard. No one wanted to go see Wong Jing’s latest piece of junk, which would no doubt have a title like Raped By an Angel XXV: Raping the Lesbian Rapist Raper yet would still manage to feature very little nudity while, at the same time, being non-stop hateful, misogynistic, and god-awful boring. Annual Jackie Chan films became a thing of the past as American studios nabbed the rights to his films. The Music Palace countered this downturn in business by trotting out classic Hong Kong films, which again is something I was incredibly fond of. For a couple years, I could amuse myself on a Saturday afternoon with a six dollar double feature on the big screen of films like Zu, Dragons Forever, and Swordsman. The theater wasn’t nearly as packed, but there was always a decent sized crew there, mostly older. As I did for every movie I ever saw at that run-down, wonderful place, I sat in the front row of the balcony. No matter when I went, no matter what movie I went to see, I seemed to always sit in front of the eight-hundred year old guy who would chain smoke and erupt into nerve-shattering fits of phlegm-choked coughing. I wonder where he is now.
The beauty of the Music Palace was also its ugliness. As long as you didn’t bring a forty-ouncer of Colt 45 in with you, you could do pretty much anything you wanted. Actually, you could probably bring in beer if you wanted. No one cared about much of anything. You want to bring in snacks? Hell, the Music Palace would let you walk across the street and bring back a whole roast pig if you weren’t enticed by their concession stand selection of M&M’s, gummies, and dried cuttle fish niblets (not all mixed together, though I would not put it past Chinese candy). If you wanted to stay all day and watch the same two movies over and over, they were cool so long as it wasn’t overly crowded — and it never was. Thus, it became a refuge for homeless guys who needed a couple hours out of the cold or old Chinese dudes with nothing better to do than sit back, smoke, and watch some kungfu.
The audiences were always fun as well. This was no hush-hush affair. People were loud and vociferous. Noise during a movie doesn’t really bother me if it is enthusiastic and directly related to what’s happening onscreen. People cheered, clapped, hooted, hollered, and if the movie stank, they booed and heckled the images on the screen with a smattering of barbs and jabs in English, Cantonese, Vietnamese, or Spanish. It was always a mixed ethnic crowd. The movies may have been from Hong Kong and the theater may have been in Chinatown, but the people who came did so simply because they loved the films. Everyone left with smiles on their faces, either because they’d enjoyed the film and the experience, or because they’d enjoyed ripping on the film or groping their date when the lights went down. I like my action movie-going experience suitably rowdy. If I was seeing a serious film with lots of drama, then sure, the gab would be out of place and downright annoying. But hell, when I’m watching things blow up or people jumping off a building and kick someone in the head, then I think cheering, booing, eating, and back row sex are all essential parts of the overall experience.
Unfortunately, the Music Palace could only sustain itself so long on the memories and nostalgia. In 2000, it finally shut its doors for good while all around it new DVD stores sprung up (and subsequently went out of business themselves a decade later). It was a great loss. New York has very few offbeat theaters full of that much character and energy left. Where we were once unique, now we’re just another collection of AMC and Lowes’ cineplexes. The old Chinatown movie theater on the corner of Bowery and Canal that showed Category III pornos all day is now a big Buddhist temple, and the Music Palace sat for years a little ways down the block, vacant and echoing with boisterous laughter and yelling until it was finally demolished. New Jackie Chan movies are still fun, but man alive do I miss the experience of seeing them on the big screen with hundreds of other rabid fans on opening night.
So, in the most roundabout way ever, it all finally brings us to the movie at hand, Jackie Chan’s big Hong Kong film for 2001. Like I said, I enjoyed most of films from that period even if they were flawed. I really enjoyed Who Am I, which this film is very similar to. One thing’s for certain: as much as Jackie exploits his ability to hire cute female co-stars, so too does he still flex his considerable muscle to score all sorts of exotic location work no other Hong Kong film maker could ever dream of getting. Accidental Spy bounces from Hong Kong to Turkey, giving the film a real international, James Bond type feel, which is fine by me. Most of his films since Armour of God have featured a fair amount of globe hopping, and while some people have complained about the “international spy” feel of the films, I dig it, what with me being a fan of spy films and all.
The action begins in Turkey with a bunch of villagers and tourists getting mowed down by masked men wielding machine guns. Nothing like a little mass slaughter to get things going. Obviously, that’ll all come into play later, but the film quickly jumps to Jackie, who for the first time since I can’t remember when, does not play a guy named Jackie. This time he’s Buck Yuen, acclaimed salesman of all things gymnasium related. The bit with an over-zealous Jackie…errr…Buck trying to sell a rich couple on fancy exercise equipment is pretty funny. He resorts to doing flips on the trampoline and bouncing around on the exercise ball (the one piece of equipment he has ever been able to actually sell). This being a Jackie Chan film, none of this has much to do with anything, and of course Jackie is still an ex-cop. Jackie’s been a cop or an ex-cop in pretty much 98% of the films he’s made in the last twenty years. I think even in movies set during China’s feudal past, he still somehow played an ex-1980s Hong Kong cop.
While on his lunch break in the mall, Jackie foils a bank robbery. Of course, where some people would just punch someone or trip someone up, Jackie’s attempts to foil the robbery result in a giant crane smashing through a glass building while Jackie dangles from the arm. And you thought you were daring on your lunch break because you took an extra fifteen minutes. Jackie becomes a big celebrity as a result of costing ten times as much in damages as he probably saved by foiling the robbery. His fifteen minutes of fame bring him into contact with a disheveled private eye played by the always (well, often, or at least sometimes) delightful Eric Tsang (is every private eye in the world named Manny). You might know him as Blockhead from the old Lucky Stars movies, or you might know him as the host of a long-running Hong Kong variety television show. Or maybe you know this silly little guy as what he actually turned out to be: one of the most influential and powerful men in the Hong Kong entertainment world. Go figure. Eric Tsang is a powerful producer and his fellow Lucky Star and goofball slapstick comedian John Shum was one of the most important pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. What a weird world. Together they are the equivalent of Bud Abbot and Larry Fine wielding great business and political sway. I suppose you really can’t judge a book by its cover. Any day now, someone will discover that in America, Don Knotts had been calling the shots all along.
Tsang is seeking out male orphans born in 1958, which Jackie, err Buck, happens to be. I guess since he took the time not to call himself Jackie in this movie, I shouldn’t call him Jackie in this review. I guess his reasoning for always naming himself Jackie makes perfect sense. When you look up at the screen, you don’t see Buck Yuen or anyone else. You just see Jackie Chan, playing essentially the same everyman (albeit an everyman with incredible kungfu skills) Jackie Chan character he’s always been. Tsang has been hired by a dying Korean man seeking his long lost son, who ended up in an orphanage in Hong Kong. With the promise of an all expenses paid trip to Korea, Buck agrees to at least go meet the guy. No sooner does Buck get to Korea than he is confronted by an American-Korean reporter named Carmen (Min Jeong Kim). She is working on a story about the man who might be Buck’s father, Mr. Park. Turns out he was once an infamous North Korean spy who defected to the South while in Turkey. Jackie seems mildly interested in all this, but since he doesn’t even know if the guy is actually his father he doesn’t have much to say. Park meets with Buck and challenges him to a little game of hide and seek. He has something of great value hidden, and Buck needs to find it. Unfortunately, the guy won’t say what, though it soon becomes apparent that others want it as well, whatever it might be. When Buck goes to visit Park one evening, he finds a load of hitmen in the room. Jackie deals with them through creative use of kungfu and a defibrillator.
Something to note right away: one of the things people complained about most in regards to Who Am I (and I do not share their outlook) was that there wasn’t enough action, or at least not enough kungfu action. Who Am I basically had three extended fight scenes, but Accidental Spy opts instead to deliver a lot of shorter but more frequent action sequences. It’s a similar formula to Jackie’s 1980s films, and I think it works well. It keeps the film from ever slowing down. It’s also worth noting that for the first time in forever, some of the action scenes are not based around Jackie running away from people. Jackie’s run away from more adversaries than I can remember. Some of his best fight scenes came as a result of trying to get the hell out of town. Accidental Spy finally strikes a balance between “I’m going to run away and hit you with random things” and “I’m going to just stand here and hit you with random things.”
Buck Yuen ponders the small number of clues left by Park, and eventually discovers a coded series of digits that winds up being the telephone number for a bank in Istanbul. Some of Buck’s detective work comes to him pretty easily, and Jackie communicates hard thinking by furrowing his brow. The narrative explains it all away by pointing out that he’s very intuitive about a lot of things. Hell, I’ve let worse things slide. With the $10,000 left to him by Park, Buck hops the next plane to Turkey. There, Buck finds a safe deposit box stuffed full of cash, which makes him mighty happy, at least up until the point where the same guys who attacked him back at the hospital in Korea show up again. More fighting and flying in and out of car windows ensues as Buck fights to protect his life and his new suitcase full of wealth. Turns out the assailants weren’t all that interested in the money, though. When the cops arrive, they split, leaving the whole pile of cash untouched.
Jackie checks into a posh hotel that was once a famous hang-out for spies, and he soon meets Yong (Vivian Hsu), the associate of a Japanese gangster named Mr. Zen (Wu Hsing-kuo of Green Snake fame). Jackie, being a sucker for a purty girl, arranges a dinner date with her then promptly gets attacked by those same guys again, this time in a Turkish bath and in one of the film’s funnier sequences. Jackie and his opponents slip and slide all over the place before Jackie escapes the building, losing his towel in the process. What follows is the copious amount of bare Jackie butt I alluded to earlier. The fight scene is pretty funny, not to mention more than a bit remarkable. If you thought it was clever how Mike Meyers strategically covered his privates in Austin Powers, you should see it done while the guy is back-flipping and kicking and jumping over tables. I’m guessing there were some pretty good bloopers from this scene, although they were left out of the end credit blooper reel we’ve come to know and love.
Jackie makes it to his meeting only to get attacked again by those guys demanding “the thing.” They might get farther in life if they were a bit more specific. The thing? What do they want? The guy from the Fantastic Four? Mothra’s egg? That disembodied hand from The Addams Family? The head with spider legs from John Carpenter’s The Thing? I mean, history is not short on things. Maybe these guys would be better off if they clued everyone in on exactly what thing they were looking for. I’m guessing they saw Jackie’s thing during that last action sequence, but apparently that wasn’t good enough for them.
Buck and Yong are captured and taken to a seaside village where they beat Jackie up more and demand the thing. To be honest, at this point it’s beginning to all sound a bit silly. Maybe there is a cooler vague word in Chinese, but since all of this dialogue is in English, they go with the thing, which just starts to sound funny, like one of those old jokes that takes twenty minutes to tell and then ends with a really stupid punchline like, “and then he was hit by a car.” While getting beat up, Jackie manages to at least figure out that the thing is a new strain of Anthrax, which would be slightly less fatal than a new album by Anthrax. Turns out Park was supposed to sell the virus to Mr. Zen but decided against unleashing such death upon the world. Now Zen wants it because, you know, he’s evil, and these angry Turkish guys want it because it was tested in their village — thus that opening scene of mayhem! See, it’s all coming together. The beating of Jackie is interrupted when the same masked men from the beginning of the film show up and start killing everyone. Buck and Yong make their escape after managing to destroy the entire town. This is Jackie Chan, after all. Or rather, it’s Buck Yuen.
While afloat in a little makeshift boat, Jackie notices track marks on Yong’s arm. Mr. Zen keeps her under his control by addicting her to heroin. It’s a really weird and tragic little subplot that seems out of place in a Jackie Chan film, to be honest. There’s really no point to it. It’s not like we needed more reasons to hate a guy who slaughters whole villages and wants to terrorize the world with biological weapons. That he addicted a perfectly nice young girl to heroin is just sort of icing on the cake. Jackie, of course, wants to help her because he knows she is an innocent caught up in things bigger than herself, and she is an orphan like him. As fate would have it, just as she is about to freak out from withdrawal, along comes Zen in a lush yacht. Incidentally, “along comes Zen in a lush yacht” is probably one of the most un-Zen things anyone could say. After plucking Buck and Yong out of the drink, he makes Jackie an offer: turn over the anthrax, and he’ll let Jackie keep the money (which it turns out was payment from Zen to Park for the virus) and take Yong away. The one hitch is that Jackie still doesn’t know where the virus is hidden. Of course, he eventually figures it out, and in what has to be a cinematic first, the evil villain does not get the merchandise then try to kill the hero. In fact, he takes the virus then lets Jackie leave with Yong just as he promised. Hey, he may force cute women to shoot up, and he may want to control the world’s supply of anthrax, but at least he is a man of his word.
Carmen eventually resurfaces and reveals she is actually a CIA agent, exactly like the girl from Who Am I. No one seems all that surprised, though they do consider the whole trading anthrax for a girl thing to have been rather stupid, especially when it turns out Yong was injected with the anthrax. And now it’s time for a bit of advice: don’t do things that will result in Jackie Chan seeking revenge on you. The finale is another in the long line of big stunt pieces that rely on smashing up vehicles more than smashing up people, as Buck, Zen, assorted thugs, and a truck-driving family all find themselves speeding down the highway in a variety of vehicles, including posh sedans, goofy looking motorbikes, and a burning petrol tanker. You may think it’s zany, but it’s just another daily commute for a guy like Jackie Chan. The finale is pretty fun even if it isn’t kungfu. I figured we’d gotten our fair share of kicks throughout the film, so a big exploding gas truck flying off a bridge was perfectly in order. Ever notice how all these out of control heavy vehicles always get out of control near highway construction and half finished bridges? Just once, I’d like to see someone have to drive a hundred miles before they are able to jump out and drive the truck off a half-finished bridge or something.
After that, the movie ends about five times in the course of a couple minutes. There’s the epilogue involving Buck and Eric Tsang’s character, who is of course revealed to be more than he initially let on. This also fulfills Jackie’s requirement to end some of his films with a really tasteless disease joke. In Drunken Master II we had to endure the stupid “blind retard” ending to what was an otherwise amazing film. This time it’s a joke about snorting the ashes of a man who died of cancer. Ha ha. Those Hong Kong people! What cards! But the movie doesn’t end there. Oh sure, the credits roll, and we get the prerequisite bloopers, but then the movie starts back up again with Jackie getting offered a spy job, traveling to Italy, and riding around while wearing a fake “mama mia that’s a spicy meat-a-ball!” mustache. So I guess he didn’t take his old job at the fitness store back. Anyway, if this is his way of saying, “If this movie does well, I’ll make a sequel,” then that’s cool with me. Like I said at some point way up there, a lot of people have been lukewarm or downright negative about this film, but I thought it was pretty good.
The film’s main drawback is the Sammo Hung-esque schizophrenia in its tone. I mean, for a good hour we’re treated to very typical and enjoyable action-comedy, and then all of a sudden there’s this whole depressing heroin subplot out of nowhere. The movie turns deadly grim for a while, then decides to get all slapstick again for the final scene. The hell? It reminded me of Pedicab Driver directed by and starring Sammo Hung (who was famous for changing the mood of his films in the blink of an eye). Like Accidental Spy, that movie starts out as a slapstick action comedy, then turns into a fairly devastating, dark, and angry tragedy. It’s cool to keep people off balance, but it doesn’t entirely work in Accidental Spy. Instead of raising the intensity, it just detracts from the overall enjoyment. It’s almost like it was just some sort of an afterthought. Additionally, it’s somewhat disappointing to see the main villain, especially one as vile as Zen, get dealt with in such an offhand manner. His handling during the finale is an anticlimactic let-down, though it beats the finale of Thunderbolt where Jackie bravely teaches the Julian Sands-esque villain a lesson by causing him to get his fancy pants race car stuck in some gravel.
Other than that — and I can live with it — I thought the movie was fun. It’s got plenty of action, and just about all of it is great. The script is harmless, which is about the best we can expect from a Jackie Chan film. It doesn’t try to be too clever, and that’s good. The location work is great, and the movie’s budget is on the screen. It’s almost like Jackie intentionally set out to reclaim his spot as Hong Kong’s most expensive film maker — a title he had held on and off ever since the globe-trotting shenanigans of Operation Condor. You didn’t think Jackie was going to sit back and let Storm Riders keep that honor, did you?
The acting is passable to good, with Min Jeong Kim’s Carmen being the one big exception. It looks like this was her first role, so I’ll cut her some slack, but she was pretty bad. I know traditionally the English language acting in Hong Kong productions has not been very important, but when over half the movie is actually done in English, you need to pay closer attention to who is doing the talking. Min Jeong Kim sounds like she’s reading her lines for the first time in several scenes. The other people who do their acting in English are okay, but that’s because they are either Jackie Chan, angry young Turks, or the black CIA guy whose only job is to grimace and say, “You really screwed things up!”
Vivian Hsu does alright. I didn’t expect much of her, but she actually made me care to some degree about her character, though she could use some work on conveying certain emotions. She accomplishes her withdrawal scenes by sniffling a lot. Maybe she should have watched Gene Hackman freak out and scream about the Lakers during his detox scenes in French Connection II (did that actually happen? I reference it all the time, and even people who have seen the movie don’t remember it. Maybe it was me who was detoxing and screaming about the Lakers). Hell, I’d pay good money to see cute, sad looking little Vivian Hsu screaming incoherently about basketball while she rolls around on the floor. Min Jeong Kim is a bad actress, and Vivian Hsu is just sort of there, but at least neither of them grated and annoyed. When it comes to female sidekicks in a Jackie Chan film, about the best you can hope for is that they won’t drive you insane, and neither of the gals here ever got that bad and whiny.
The director of the film, Teddy Chan, is someone whose work is hit or miss with me. With films like Purple Storm and Downtown Torpedoes under his belt — both of which I thought were solid efforts — he seems heading down the right path, but then he’ll go and make something really terrible just to keep us guessing. In Accidental Spy he shows the most skill at figuring out how to direct Jackie since Sammo Hung or Jackie himself. Stanley Tong was amazing at making Jackie seem dull and lackluster, which must take a lot of work. Benny Chan did pretty good with Who Am I, which I’ve already pointed out is very similar to this film. The film has good pacing, and Teddy knows when to lay off the “directing” and just let Jackie do his stuff. He manages to use the camera to augment Jackie’s skills while covering up the fact that the guy is slowing down and can’t perform like he used to.
Also of note is the script writer, Ivy Ho — hey, a woman! While I’ll never forgive her for the insipid hack writing job that was Gorgeous, she proves herself here, just as she did with the highly acclaimed 1996 Maggie Cheung vehicle Comrades, Almost a Love Story. It’s obvious that unlike a lot of Hong Kong writers in the past, she’s actually putting effort into developing a reasonably deep story and characters — which probably explains the whole heroin subplot. It may not have worked, but it was at least an attempt to lend depth and sympathy to a character who under normal circumstances would have nothing to do but yell “Jackie, help me!” The gals in Jackie Chan films are almost always goofy, paper-thin shrieking machines who serve no purpose other than to purty things up and get kidnapped. While the handling Vivian Hsu’s character here may have been a bit heavy handed, it’s still an admirable attempt to do something a little more complex with the women in a Jackie Chan film. Ivy Ho doesn’t always succeed, but given how one-dimensional most action film characters tend to be, and how completely absurd or non-existent most Hong Kong action film plots tend to be, it’s good to at least see her trying something unique. Plus, let’s face it. It’s just cool to see the ladies getting involved behind the scenes as something more than make-up women and set decorators. What we need now are some boss female directors to really shake things up.
It’s popular to bash Jackie. I’m not one of the people who thinks it’s fun, especially given how much this guy has given to us. I think some of the reviews of Accidental Spy are heavily influenced by the trendiness of smacking Jackie around (as if he doesn’t smack himself around enough as it is). Sure, plenty of people have valid reasons for disliking the film. That’s a matter of taste, and you can’t argue that. Or rather, you can argue it all day, but in the end it boils down to subjectivity. And in my subjective opinion, Accidental Spy was a great deal of fun. Perfect? No way, not by a long shot. Like Bruce Lee, like Jackie Chan, the film has its flaws. It aims for something a little higher than it ever attains, but what the hell? Accidental Spy is a damn good film to give a fair shake to. Look at Jackie not through the eyes of someone who judges him against the skills he had sixteen years ago, but as someone who in middle to late-middle age is still managing to impress.