Jackie Chan's First Strike (1996)

D: Stanley Tong
S: Jackie Chan, Chen Chun Wu

Characteristically frantic entertainment from Jackie Chan and Stanley Tong which lands Jackie in the midst of James-Bond style action in a series of exotic locales. He plays a Hong Kong policeman assigned to assist the CIA in tracking down an arms smuggler. Though his task is initially a routine shadowing job, he finds himself quickly knee deep in the snows of the Ukraine before being plunged into icy waters in a semi-frozen lake as a series of double-crosses and misunderstandings land him right in the heart of a major shoot out. From here he finds himself involved with shady local security forces who turn out to have links to the Russian Mafia, and arrives in Australia, where his pursuit of the nefarious arms dealer bring him into contact with the man's pretty sister who works at a shark-infested aquarium. This provides the film with an underwater climax with slow motion kicks and punches delivered in between frantic puffs grabbed from enemy breathing apparatus.

The film moves at a swift pace, omitting such irritating details as narrative development in favour of getting to a series of eye-popping action scenes. This is just what Jackie's fans expect, of course, and there are certainly several excellent martial arts moments to savour, including an incredible battle using a stepladder which is as graceful and balletic as the fan dancing scene from The Young Master, and the aforementioned underwater battle which seems impossibly dangerous but offers some splendid acrobatic kicks only possible because of the buoyancy. Perhaps less expectedly, but no less welcome, is the high standard of general action set pieces throughout the film. It is well produced and very slick, mounting convincingly intricate scenes of military-themed action in which the James Bond references are absolutely explicit. It even throws in a ski chase, and with Peter J. Robinson's score mimicking John Barry's compositions for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it all works on the level of parody.

Jackie is not an action hero in the western mould, and never has been. His likable, upbeat persona has served many of his more conventional films very well (including Dragons Forever). He is not as proactive or controlling as a traditional western hero, and thankfully, he does not try to be anything of the sort here. He manages to maintain the impression of being a hapless innocent blundering from crisis to crisis, surviving only through improvisation and sheer skill. The result is a much less macho affair than this genre is prone to produce, and on the whole it is more agreeable as a result. There is also a notably chaste relationship with the film's leading lady which has resulted in a suitably low threshold certification, with the only nudity featuring Jackie himself, and then for purely comic effect.

Films of this sort demand little concentration but offer a great deal of entertainment if you are in the right mood. It is not the best of its type, and not the best of Chan's career. It is a bit too cartoonish for its own good, and the dialogue relies too heavily on a willingness to excuse it amid the noise and haste. It would make an excellent time filler for the undemanding viewer predisposed to its peculiarities though, and children would probably find it better entertainment than its straight-faced equivalents. Even non fans should take a peek, if only for that amazing ladder scene (painful outtakes from which are shown over the closing credits by way of warning to undiscerning and impressionable youngsters or inebriate elders).

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.