New York NewsDay

Jackie Chan's Global Flick

by: John Anderson

ALTHOUGH THE TITLE "hardest-working man in show business" has been in James Brown's possession for a long time, the title may really belong to Jackie Chan. The gifted comic actor and Hong Kong martial-arts star, who never uses a stunt double, has broken most of the bones in his body, still has an unclosed hole in his skull (a memento from a stunt on a Yugoslav film set) and isn't a kid anymore. You can tell.
   At the same time, "Jackie Chan's First Strike" (Why first? No idea) is the kind of pure entertainment Hollywood hardly makes anymore, an engaging, exciting and amusing romp through several continents, with some amazing fight choreography that may not surpass Chan's best work but certainly equals a lot of it.
   The latest in his "Police Story" series,which included last year's re-release "Supercop," "First Strike" finds Chan as Jackie, a Hong Kong police detective being used by the CIA and Russians to retrieve a nuclear warhead. As often happens, Chan's character is carried along by an accelerating series of uncontrollable events, leaving him bemused and frantic, as fight scenes, locales and whatever's lying around is used to comic effect. Chan's films have consistently used found objects around which to build their martial-arts ballets - the major-appliance battle in "Rumble in the Bronx" was a good example -- and "First Strike" contains at least one first rate fight sequence, choreographed by director and fight coordinator Stanley Tong.
   The scene: Having been framed for the murder of Chinese mobster Uncle Seven (Terry Woo), Jackie seeks out his daughter, Annie (Chen Chun Wu), to explain his innocence and is waylaid by her friends. The ensuing melee is in a catering hall and employs broomsticks, tables and an aluminum ladder, around and through which Chan travels while fending off his lethal opponents. As has become standard for a Jackie Chan movie, outtakes from the action scenes are shown during the closing credits and indicate just how painful so much of this stuff can be.
   The plot isn't much. Jackie is used and misused by a variety of people Chinese mobsters, Russian mobsters in a variety of settings -- Ukraine, Russia, Australia -- while chasing and being chased. It's Chan's on-screen appeal. He's often been compared to Chaplin and Keaton as a physical comic. And the individual action sequences make the films special: a snowboard snowmobile shootout across a frozen Ukrainian mountainside; Chan hanging off a soon-to-be detonated helicopter (hanging off helicopters is another Chan speciality); a lethal pursuit that involves a Chinese funeral and an Australian shopping mall and finds Chan kick-boxing on stilts. And, of course, the climactic car chase, with Jackie piloting a sports car onto a pleasure boat.
   So much of the actual circumstances within Chan's movies are the same that it's remarkable how they manage to keep one's interest, but they do. It's a tribute to Chan's perfectionism, and that of Tong, and the enormous energy they expend making the shortest moments on film so fluid and comic. At least the outtakes serve to make Chan seem mortal: At one point; he's stopped in his tracks by a bloody nose. Bloody nose? Jackie Chan? Who thought he bled? Who thought he'd have any left? Or that the hardest-working man in show business is also a tortured artist?.

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