The Protector Review
By the 1980s Jackie Chan was already an established star in Asia, so had his sights on breaking into the lucrative American market. This was to prove more of a challenge than expected, with his first attempt, Battle Creek Brawl (1980), being only a moderate success. This came as a surprise to studio Golden Harvest, who were expecting a sure-fire hit, especially with Robert Clouse at the helm, who had previously struck gold with Enter the Dragon (1973). A silly cameo followed in The Cannonball Run (1981) and its equally lame sequel (1984), where Chan was cast as a Japanese (!) racing car driver. This did little to raise his profile, where he was forced to play second fiddle to Burt Reynolds - plus a large ensemble of familiar US stars.
It was decided that if Chan was ever going to triumph at the US box office, he should ditch the slapstick and adopt a tough guy persona. With this in mind, Golden Harvest hired director James Glickenhaus, who had found great success with brutal revenge thriller The Exterminator (1980), convinced that he was just the person to give Chan’s next film that requisite harder edge.
The Protector (1985) sees Chan cast as Billy Wong, a no-nonsense New York cop who, in best movie tradition, disrespects authority and is more likely to shoot first and ask questions later. In a standard issue plot, a wealthy businessman’s daughter is snatched at a fashion party by a bunch of masked assailants, so Wong and his loyal partner Garoni (Danny Aiello) are assigned to track her down. The case takes them from the mean streets of New York to Hong Kong, and on the trail of notorious crime boss Harold Ko (Roy Chiao), where they stumble across a major drug smuggling operation.
This is far removed from any other film in Chan’s back catalogue – though not necessarily in a good way. Determined to make The Protector his way, replete with bloody violence and other exploitation elements, Glickenhaus manages to stifle Chan’s undeniable talents in the process. Much of the visual inventiveness and lightning fast choreography that became the star’s trademark style is regrettably absent for much of the time, replaced by slow and predictable fights. A showdown with kickboxing champ Bill “Superfoot” Wallace – which should be a highlight - is too abrupt and poorly edited.
A terrible script by Glickenhaus doesn’t do the film any favours, saddling characters with some truly awful dialogue. Chan was not fluent in English at this stage in his career and doesn’t always look comfortable in the role, though still manages some chemistry with the ever-reliable Aiello - who can make even the worst movie more tolerable. Shame they couldn’t have been given a few winning one-liners to enliven the tone at times.
All is not completely lost though, as there remains a flavour of Chan’s extraordinary physical abilities, by means of several effectively staged action sequences. There's a thrilling speedboat chase that wouldn't look out of place in a Bond movie. Another rousing scene finds Wong doggedly pursuing a suspect across Hong Kong’s Aberdeen harbour, daringly jumping from one vessel to another by any means available. A hair-raising scrap in a dock later in the film, high above the ground on a giant cargo lifter, also works hard to raise the adrenaline.
Chan found The Protector such a deeply frustrating experience that it would famously inspire him to direct the classic Police Story (1985), in an attempt to make amends to disappointed fans. As a film, it has serviceable enough action in a very 80s American style, it just doesn’t hold a candle to anything else that Chan would make during his golden era.
The Protector makes its UK debut on Blu-ray from 88 Films, in a glorious new 2K remaster presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (95 mins). There is an appreciable level of fine detail throughout, with vibrant colours particularly in the Hong Kong portion of the film – check out all the bright neon signs along the streets of Kowloon. The image maintains a light filmic grain, with no discernible signs of damage, such as lines and speckles.
Audio comes with the choice of the original English stereo soundtrack or remixed 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The plentiful action scenes sound suitably dynamic, with dialogue reliably distinct throughout. Remastered English SDH are included.
This new release includes the alternative HK version, Jackie Chan's recut of the film – never before released in the UK (88 mins). This is taken from a standard definition source, which noticeably lacks the clarity of the US version. The image does show slight wear and tear, but nothing too drastic. The soundtrack is in Cantonese, with newly translated English subtitles.
The HK cut is superior in terms of editing, sharpening most of the action scenes and extending Chan’s climatic confrontation with Bill Wallace, making it far more dramatic. Content that Chan found objectionable has been edited out, like swearing and senseless nudity later in the film. The dreary Chip Taylor song that plays over the end credits has also been replaced by a more upbeat theme by Ken Thorne. Unfortunately, a pointless sub-plot involving a dancer (played by Sally Yeh) has been awkwardly shoehorned into the narrative, which ruins the overall pace.
Audio Commentary by Filmmaker Arne Venema & Hong Kong Film Expert Mike Leeder (US cut) – This entertaining track is loaded with trivia and humour, as the pair take joy in pointing out the film’s absurdities.
Audio Commentary by Irish Film-making maverick George Clarke & Hong Kong Film Expert Mike Leeder (HK cut)
Hard Edge (24:21): In an interesting new interview, James Glickenhaus talks of how he got involved with making The Protector, with the intention of making a gritty American style action thriller with Chan, as opposed to the star’s usual comedic roles. Contrary to what has been reported in the past, the director maintains that there were no real tensions during filming, considering Chan a hard worker who never complained. He did get the impression that Golden Harvest were never really bothered if Chan became a major star in the US, as he was so successful in Asia anyway. It does appear that Chan was a little distracted during the shoot by his burgeoning singing career in Japan. Glickenhaus made a string of exploitation movies in the 1980s/90s, before leaving the film industry behind to pursue another passion in life. He now runs a company that designs and manufactures racing cars – with 50 due to made in the coming year. He hasn’t ruled out a return to film making in the future, though has no imminent plans.
Follow the Puck (33:43): Cinematographer Mark Irwin is probably best known for his stylish work on several early David Cronenberg films. In this insightful new interview, he discusses working with a Chinese crew on The Protector and experiencing a very different style of film making. He recollects some bizarre moments, like having to bless a pig before shooting could commence and the general chaos on set – to be informed by a crew member that “from chaos comes creation”.
A Tale of 2 movies (18:18): Steve Lawson provides a side-by-side comparison of the HK and US cuts of the film, explaining both subtle changes and major alterations.
Archive Behind the Scenes Featurette with newly translated subtitles (4:58) – A standard promo piece from the 1980s.
Trailers: International (3:56), Japanese (1:20), Hong Kong (3:52), & teaser (0:25).
Alternate end credits from Japanese release, showing outtakes.
An impressive 44-page booklet, featuring new writing by Scott Harrison, is jam packed with rare stills and lobby cards from the film (first 3,000 copies only]
The limited edition slipcase boasts some awesome new artwork by “Kung Fu Bob” O’Brien, while the sleeve has double sided artwork, offering both the original HK poster art and international poster art by Chris Achilléos – originally used for the Warner Bros. VHS release.