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A UK region 2 DVD review of THE PROTECTOR by Slarek
 

Five years after Jackie Chan's abortive attempt to break into the American market with The Big Brawl (aka Battle Creek Brawl, 1980), he starred in The Protector, a second and equally unsuccessful stab at exporting his considerable skills. There are a number of possible reasons that both of these films failed where Rumble in the Bronx and Rush Hour later succeeded, and chief among them is that perhaps – just perhaps – the American mainstream audience was not yet ready to accept an Asian leading man, even one teamed with a recognisable American co-star. Another altogether more popular theory suggests that it was simply because neither film was actually that good. It's been a long time since I've seen the The Big Brawl, but on the evidence of The Protector I'd say there might be something in that.

This is certainly a work that has split opinion amongst the Chan fandom. The majority vote regards it as one of Chan's weakest movies, a colossal mistake that woefully miscasts him and fails to properly showcase the very skills that had already made him such a big star on home turf. The opposing, minority opinion, represented at some length by Andrew Staton's commentary on this very DVD, believes that the fans have misunderstood an important and groundbreaking early Chan film that is ripe for re-evaluation. I find myself once again nestled oddly between the two views. I certainly don't believe it's as bad as many commentators have claimed, but I also don't think it's all that good either, and in some ways a mediocre Jackie Chan film is more dispiriting than a bad one, as you watch potentially fine scenes repeatedly bungled and are left wondering what might have been had Chan himself had complete control of the project.

The can be no argument that The Protector prefigures the commercially successful of Rush Hour in its East-meets-West buddy cop casting, its dual-nationality setting and its kidnapped girl plot. The reversal here is that Chan's character, Billy Wong, is a New York Cop of several years standing, one whose knowledge of his home city of Hong Kong makes him the perfect choice to send in pursuit of kidnappers who have fled there. Already in trouble for wrecking two boats and executing the man who killed his partner, he takes with him old friend and colleague Danny Garoni (the always enjoyable Danny Aiello) and the two are ordered on arrival to behave themselves while on Hong Kong turf. Naturally, they don't. Acting on a tip, they almost get knifed whilst checking out a massage parlour, then are attacked by the same gang when meeting a contact whom Wong believes will be able to help them. When the contact is murdered, his daughter Soo Ling and their American friend Stan reluctantly agree to help the pair locate the kidnapped girl.

All of which is well and good – the plot may be by the numbers, but with action cinema allowances are usually made as long as the film delivers on the set-pieces. Except it never really does. On the commentary track, martial arts cinema expert Andrew Staton argues that one of the strengths of the film is that it represents a diversion from Chan's normal comic acrobatics and furious combat, and this is fair enough. But if you're going to cast Chan in a film that includes action sequences, then you'd better make damned sure they're up to his usual standard, otherwise why hire him at all? If your intent is to showcase his talents to a new market, then showcase them at their best, dammit, and this is what director James Glickenhaus (best known for his 1980 revenge exploitation flick The Exterminator) almost completely fails to do. The fights are a long time coming, are over in a flash and never come close to Chan's Hong Kong work (Chan himself was not allowed to choreograph the action sequences, and it shows). The chases are striking for their stodgy pacing and the absence of any real excitement – one lazily shot and edited sequence that has Chan pursuing the bad guy through a harbour plays like a run-through for the real thing, with Chan casually trotting rather than running, pausing to check the safety of stunts, and three big leaps (one on a motorbike, one on a bamboo pole and one off of an improvised springboard) are captured in ultra wide shot and the slowest of motion, rendering them dramatically sterile. A final fight on a platform being dangled from a crane is similarly ineffective, with too many wide shots, too much box-throwing, and never a sense that the height and location represent any sort of danger for the characters or performers.

Glimpses are provided of Chan the action superstar and charismatic actor, but their brevity leaves you aching for more and wondering if Glickenhaus and company really understood what they had at their disposal. Brief moments are nonetheless memorable: Chan's sudden shooting of the would-be robber (wrestling star Big John Stud, whose name suggests a career in porn awaits) in a bar toilet, a neat move that flips a gun into the air and into his hand in the blink of an eye; some nifty fist and foot work following the massage parlour ambush; a hauntingly prophetic tilt down from the Twin Towers to a police funeral. But it's not enough. The dialogue is weak, the music annoying, nudity is thrown in for cheap titillation, and any motorised vehicle that comes into sudden contact with another object instantly explodes. Dramatically the film just doesn't engage as it should, despite the best efforts of Chan and Aiello. Take a step back from the presence of its star, and The Protector plays like any other pedestrian and largely forgettable 1980s police actioner, something that was reflected in its complete failure to establish Chan as a viable US box-office draw.

Chan himself apparently did not get on with director Glickenhaus and had issues with some of the movie's content (swearing, gratuitous nudity), and negotiated a deal to shoot extra footage and recut the film for a Hong Kong audience, a version that would have been nice to see included here alongside this US cut. There's no doubt that despite his unhappiness Chan took some inspiration from the project and for that we can only be grateful – the very same year he made the superb Police Story and showed those responsible for The Protector just how it should be done.

sound and vision

The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is solid enough but hardly reference quality. Contrast and sharpness are good, while the colour is sometimes a few notches wide of true. There is some grain visible throughout, but it is not intrusive. The print, as ever with Hong Kong Legends, is virtually spotless. Once again this has been released under the Ultrabit banner, which since Magnificent Bodyguards is no guarantee of premium picture quality and the only thing you can be certain of is that you'll be getting precious little in the way of extra features.

The original English stereo and an English 5.1 remix are included. The dialogue is not as crisp as on more recent titles and a little fluffy in places, but the surrounds are quite well used for location atmospherics and some sound effects, which are occasionally misdirected to the rear.

extra features

Audio Commentary by Andrew Staton
Hong Kong Legends' new voice of martial arts cinema once again delivers a distinctly mixed and often irritating bag, with some interesting background information offset by the amount of time he spends complaining about the negative reaction to the film and unconvincingly arguing its merits and influence on later works. A big fan of the film, Staton is clearly besotted with Jackie Chan the performer, to the point where he over-praises even the smallest thing that Chan does (an expression, the way he moves, how fast he gets on a table) and repeatedly gives him and the film credit for more than they deserve, which becomes increasingly easy to shoot down as the commentary progresses. Particularly shallow is his dismissive attitude to Parkour co-inventor and District 13 star David Belle, whom Staton describes almost contemptuously as "that French guy," suggesting either a lazy lack of research on his part or a childish pretence that he cannot recall the name of someone so insignificant in his eyes. His suggestion that the limply executed harbour pursuit here is somehow superior to the high octane opening chase in District 13 is frankly laughable, and his claim that "a lot of things have been done in this movie that you will see in other movies" completely ignores the fact that a good number here have been recycled from earlier films that Staton either turns a blind eye to or perhaps just hasn't seen. He complains, for example, that the high speed climbing and leaping feats of "that French guy" are simply copied from Chan, based on the fact that Chan climbs and jumps in this movie. But this conveniently disregards cinematic predecessors such as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks, or even Crimson Pirate-era Burt Lancaster, to name but four. And the very same argument could easily (and equally inaccurately) be used to paint Chan as a Bruce Lee imitator (there's actually a moment when a black-dressed Chan enters a drug factory through an overhead air-vent in the manner of Lee in Enter the Dragon) – after all, Lee was doing all this high speed punching and kicking long before Chan made his name. The sort of encyclopaedic information on the performers that Bey Logan used to deliver is sorely missed here and reserved solely for Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, who has a small role as bad guy heavy Benny Garruci and only seems to get special attention because Staton met and worked with him. If Hong Kong Legends are going to provide so-called 'expert' commentaries rather than filmmaker ones, then at least get someone who's going to give us the facts rather than shower us with one-sided and poorly argued opinion.

The usual promotional trailers are also included.

summary

One, perhaps, for the Chan fans only, and a fair few are them are going to have problems here, but if you are a follower of the young master's work and are back-tracking to those earlier films then you should certainly give it a look, although this is definitely a try-before-you-buy recommendation. The disc itself unfortunately provides further ammo for those who are cynical about the Ultrabit label – there's nothing wrong with the picture, it's just that there are a fair few mid-80s titles out there that equal or better it, despite having shaved the bit rate to add some extra features.

The Protector

Hong Kong / USA 1985
91 mins
director
James Glickenhaus
starring
Jackie Chan
Danny Aiello
Roy Chiao
Moon Lee
Kim Bass

DVD details
region 2
video
1.85:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
Dolby 5.1 surround
languages
English
subtitles .
none
extras
Andrew Staton commentary
Trailers
distributor
Hong Kong Legends
release date
12 March 2007
review posted
9 March 2007

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See all of Slarek's reviews