Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Live-action anime month part 2: City Hunter (1993)

I've got to be completely honest I've never really watched or read much City Hunter anime or manga so unlike the previous review I'm coming to this film almost completely fresh. City Hunter was made in 1993 around the same time as Jackie's Supercop (aka Police Story 3) and though it's nowhere near as good as that flick there's still a lot to recommend about it. Famously, Jackie had a very public falling out with the director, Jing Wong, which led Jing to do a mean-spirited parody of Chan in Meltdown, a Jet Li movie, two years later.
The film sees Jackie Chan play Ryo Saeba (aka the City Hunter) who runs a private detective agency with Kaori, the daughter of his former partner. At the beginning of the film Ryo is hired to track down the wayward daughter of wealthy businessman. Ryo and Kaori find her about to get on a cruise liner and board it just as it is about to leave. However, though they find the daughter quickly they also discover that Colonel MacDonald (Richard Norton) and his band of mercenaries have also stuck on board and plan to take all the passengers hostage. It's up to Jackie to once again save the day.
Having watched almost all of Jackie Chan's back catalogue this isn't quite at the bottom but it's nowhere near the top either. Though there's very little stunt work there are some highly memorable fight scenes to recommend, particularly one that takes place inside a cinema that's playing Bruce Lee's fight against Kareem Abdul Jabbar in Game of Death up on the big screen. In a clever bit of meta-commentary Jackie Chan is also fighting two enormous black guys and uses Lee's techniques from the film to win his fight.
Another bit that the film is famous for is a surreal five minute section in which Ryo is thrown into a Street Fighter II arcade machine which somehow magically turns him into various characters from the game from E Honda to Guile to even Chun Li. And there in lies the problem with the film, it tries desperately to translate the goofy antics of the manga comic book into live action but it just doesn't work. The problem with comic books, particularly Japanese manga, is that it's a completely different visual language to film. The only way this could have worked is if the look was stylised like a comic book a la Sin City.
Essentially the film plays out like 85% Die Hard on a Boat and 15% Goofy physics-defying slapstick. They really needed to pick one or the other. Or at least even up the balance. As it is the film feels at times like you're watching an action film but someone keeps flipping the channel to Cartoon Network. Anyway, when the action does come it's pretty good. B-movie stalwarts Richard Norton and Gary Daniels (again!) put in excellent performances. It's just a shame that Daniels one on one with Chan is mostly him dressed up as Ken from Street Fighter doing wire work. It would have been nice to see the two men go toe to toe in a proper fight.
There's also a very cool character called Kao Ta who appears about halfway into the film with absolutely no fanfare, sporting a giant bow tie and precedes to nearly steal the show from Chan by taking out bad guys left, right and centre using playing cards as shiruken. Though the character is very cool he's also emblematic of the film's schizophrenic storyline and tone.
I'm not entirely sure why Chan chose to play the lead in this film. From some cursory research I know that the character of Ryo doesn't suit his sensibilities. Ryo is too much of your classic horny, violent manga hero (see: Lupin III) which doesn't jibe with Chan's classic well-meaning everyman persona (see: Police Story).
All in all, City Hunter is a pretty unessential Jackie Chan flick but those who have seen most of his other stuff it's not a complete failure. There's a lot of great scenes and characters it's just a shame they are lost in this movie.


  1. That scene with Jackie Chan as Chun Li is a big WTF moment for me! I dont necessarilly love this one, but watched it anyways, I thought it was too goofy, but I guess that has to do with its manga roots.

  2. Yeah, this kind of "non-fantasy/science fiction" anime is tough to transfer to live-action. They should have either full embraced it or played it straight but they half hearted try and do both and it doesn't work.

    Still not a complete loss - Jackie Chan still puts a lot of effort into the fight scenes.

  3. With so many movies, so little time, thank you for the warning and I think I'll pass on this one. But I'd love to see that Street Fighter montage sometime though!

  4. Yeah, you're not missing a whole lot. Jackie's made a lot of way better movies. If you just want to see a couple of cool scenes:-

    City Hunter - Street Fighter scene

    City Hunter – Game of Death scene