The Protector Review
There are a few things that you ought to know about The Protector, things that will be sufficient in you knowing whether or not it's a film that you will have any interest in. For a start, it stars Jackie Chan and Danny Aiello as cops who, on following up a cop-killing lead, travel from New York to Hong Kong, where, in an effort to blend in with the locals, Aiello wears a bright pink satin jacket that he wears open to the navel. Not undercover, then! And, in a nod perhaps to the Blowjob Bars of Bangkok that you may, literally, have come across, Aiello lying on a bed in a massage parlour while a woman disappears from sight underneath his bed to fellate him. It also sees the action shift to a drugs lab staffed by nude women, all of whom look very concerned when Jackie Chan sneaks in and, in a steal from Live And Let Die, starts letting off explosive charges amid the bumper crop of opium. They all look very concerned, not least for what might happen to their ample growths of pubic hair. Finally, it also features Jackie Chan saying, "Give me the fuckin' keys!" without any conviction whatsoever. It stars Jackie Chan but it's not really a Jackie Chan movie.
Actually, Chan disliked this film so much that he took the film back to Hong Kong and cut it his way, fearing that his audiences back home would desert him after hearing him swear and frequent a brothel and, even if he was trying to blow it up, an all-nude drugs lab. What we have here is Glickenhaus' cut of the film and so all of the nudity and bad language is intact but unlike Hong Kong Legends' earlier and very complete DVD releases, this release fails to tell the full story of The Protector. However, what it does include is a fluid, action-packed film that features a couple of great fight scenes in amongst a fairly typical cop-revenge thriller. What The Protector isn't, however, is a film that will endear anyone to Jackie Chan. As Glickenhaus' earlier film, The Exterminator, owed much to the Michael Winner/Charles Bronson urban horror Death Wish, so one can trace The Protector back to Dirty Harry. Jackie Chan carries a big gun, which he uses early in the film to messily gun down a thug in a bar and, at another point, is seen leaving his police car with an enormous assault rifle to do nothing more dangerous than to untie a truck driver who's been the victim of a street gang. Thankfully, Chan downs his weapons soon after arriving in Hong Kong and employs unarmed combat, all the better that it's a more brutal variant on his usual martial arts
Taking those who enjoyed Armour Of God or Police Story as being typical of a Jackie Chan audience, this isn't a film that will appeal very much to them. There's very little comedy - Aiello asking a woman in the 69 position, "When did you grow a beard?" looks to be as funny as The Protector gets - with much of the film looking to portray Aiello and Chan and hard nosed cops. In the case of Aiello, this is made difficult with his habit of wearing pink while Chan just doesn't look very convincing in the part, with one sensing that he'd rather let the fights play out a little more, even making them more spectacular to watch. Personally, I prefer the more violent application of martial arts but I'm not the typical Jackie Chan fan and unlike many of the films in which he starred, Chan had no say over the direction of the fights and it shows. Indeed, one might say that The Protector is very much closer to a Jean Claude van Damme film than a Jackie Chan one and it's easy to see why it's star has little time for it, at least in this US cut.
However, things do get a little better once the action moves to Hong Kong. There's a great fight late on The Protector between Chan and Bill (Superfoot) Wallace but that stands out largely because, with the exception of Wallace arming himself with a circular saw, Glickenhaus avoids adding in the kind of ridiculous things he does elsewhere, the all-nude drugs lab and Aiello's wisecracks being cases in point. On the contrary, this fight with Wallace is simply two men walloping one another as hard as they can with Chan, for once, not looking as though the conclusion is foregone. Similarly, there's a couple of good scenes with Chan and Aiello showing themselves to be above being bribed and, earlier, a chase through Hong Kong harbour on land and over boats moored to the jetties that are, again, left alone by Glickenhaus. These, however, are rare moments when Glickenhaus overcomes his desire to throw naked women into the film entirely at random and simply gets on with telling the story. When he does so, there's a reasonable film here, something that Chan realised when he took this film back to Hong Kong, re-cut it, added new footage and released it to some level of box office success. It's a shame that Hong Kong Legends did not include both and, in doing so, present the full story of The Protector.
Hong Kong Legends have billed this as an Ultrabit Edition and while one accepts that that's as much a marketing idea as the cigarette advertisements that proclaimed doctors chose full-strength Capstan, one also expects better than what has been included here. For example, while listening to the commentary, I watched the film on my laptop and either I've developed very bad tremors in my legs that I'm entirely unaware of or this transfer has a tendency to wobble. I believe it to be the latter. The film has a soft, made-for-video look about it and while there are some nice scenes, all too often there's as much detail in this as there is in a typical episode of The A-Team, which is not helped by direction that one might charitably describe as being wayward.
This doesn't sound very much better than it looks. The Protector starts off fine but and dialogue is generally quite reasonable, even if it does owe much to the kind of urban horrors see in Escape From New York. However, nearing the film's end, there's a nasty phasing effect on the soundtrack, less noticeable on the DD2.0 than on the DD5.1 but the like of which you might not have heard since the dying minute of Status Quo's psychedelic classic Pictures Of Matchstick Men. It's hard to take a martial arts showdown seriously when it sounds as though it's been passed through a guitar effect on the way to the screen. All that this presentation does get right is an anamorphic widescreen print that's largely free of damage but that's not really enough for a release that describes itself as an Ultrabit Edition, no matter how much of that is hokum. Finally, there are no subtitles.
The only real bonus material is a Commentary by Mark Staton, who's long been involved in martial arts cinema, particularly the work of Bruce and Brandon Lee. Staton has been a regular contributor to Contender DVDs and while he's perhaps a little too enthusiastic about everything the company releases, he makes me laugh, intentionally so, with his thoughts on the critics of this film. Too often, those who contribute to a commentary tend not to mention those who've said harsh words about it but not Staton, who doesn't only answer those critics but makes fun of them too by quoting the things they say in an annoyingly, whiny voice. He does this quite a bit and while it's exactly the sort of thing that you or I might do in a private conversation, that Staton does it on a feature commentary makes me warm to him. Otherwise, he is unashamedly knowledgeable on The Protector and, indeed, not only this one but all of Jackie Chan's films and those from James Glickenhaus and remains entertaining throughout the commentary.
There is also a set of Trailers, including those for The Big Boss, Warrior King, Police Story, Meals On Wheels, Project A and Project A - Part II.