“City Hunter” – Jackie Chan Experience at Lincoln Center Review

When “City Hunter” was released 20 years ago, rumors circulated that the film – based on a popular Japanese manga by the same name – was lead actor Jackie Chan’s least favorite work to date.  At first glance, it’s difficult to ascertain why.  After all, the movie has plenty of hyperkinetic fight scenes, not just involving Chan but also now-retired femme fatales Joey Wong and Chingmy Yau, the Australian martial arts veteran Richard Norton, and even Leon Lai as a suave card-tossing assassin.

Perhaps it was because Wong Jing, and not Chan himself, was directing the film.  Wong was also at the helm of many early Stephen Chow slapstick comedies such as “Fight Back to School III,” “God of Gamblers III: Back to Shanghai” and “Tricky Brains,” and his style in all these films can best be described as an amped-up, mind-blowing series of parodies on steroids from all aspects of pop culture, some of it very specific to Hong Kong.  In “City Hunter,” Wong Jing’s signature touches are ever so slightly muted.  They focus on a main character (Ryo Saeba, played by Chan) who is a bit of a lovable idiot, storming through scenes awash in Technicolor 10 times over.

“It’s a cartoon film.  Maybe ridiculous,” Chan himself admitted in an interview included in a 2003 Fortune Star DVD release of the movie.  ““City Hunter” is one of those Jackie Chan movies – it’s good?  I don’t know.  Bad?  I don’t know.  You look at it, you tell me.”

Well, there is a reason that “City Hunter” made the cut as one of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 14 selections – out of a possible 100-plus choices – for Chan’s upcoming retrospective: it is enormously entertaining silliness to the nth degree, yet chock-full of outrageous stunts that could only be performed by Chan in his prime.

Chan as Saeba is “City Hunter,” although none-too-bright, and often more interested in chasing women than bad guys.  His dutiful assistant Carrie (Joey Wong) puts up with his antics because she has developed a bit of a crush on Saeba, but unbeknownst to her, Saeba had agreed to the warning of his late partner-in-crime (and Carrie’s cousin) years earlier to never date her.  Enter the assignment that is the crux of the story, which is Saeba’s mission to find the missing daughter (Kumiko Goto) of a Japanese media mogul and bring her home.  From Hong Kong to Japan, most of the story unfolds on the Fuji Maru cruise ship sailing in-between, aboard which an intersecting second plotline involving terrorists unfolds.

Numerous fight sequences including broken glass, bombs, firearms, punches, kicks, and references to the “Street Fighter” video game as well as Bruce Lee’s “Game of Death,” serve as breaks and much-needed balance to the dialogue and antics involving Saeba and a whole slew of secondary characters.  Ultimately, “City Hunter” takes its place in Chan’s repertoire as an outlier that dared to not only adapt a comic, but imitate that world as much as possible, even if the end results for some villains are implausible in real life.  Couple that approach with Chan’s impressive showdown with Norton, and the answer to his question is more than “good.”  It’s great.

“City Hunter” screens at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York as part of the Jackie Chan Experience retrospective on Tues., June 25 at 1:30 p.m., and Wed., June 26 at 9:15 p.m.  Tickets are available at filmlinc.com.  The retrospective follows Chan’s Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award honor and precedes the New York Asian Film Festival.