City Hunter Review
Made during a period when Jackie Chan had already enjoyed monumental success in Hong Kong, but had yet to crack the American market, City Hunter (1993) was made primarily for his huge adoring fanbase in Japan. Based on a Japanese manga created in the early eighties by Tsukasa Hôjô , it finds Chan cast against type as a lecherous private detective named Ryu Saeba who, when he’s not chasing the ladies, manages to crack a case or two with a little help from long-suffering assistant Kaori (Chinese Ghost Story’s Joey Wang). Kaori sometimes grows so exasperated with his behaviour that she resorts to beating him, in her imagination at least, with a giant rubber mallet. As you might deduce, this is not a film to be taken at all seriously.
Saeba’s latest assignment sees trying to track down a missing girl, Kyoko (Kumito Goto), who is the daughter of a wealthy businessman. His search soon ends when he finds her stowed away on a cruise ship destined for Japan, though far from being the simple job he had hoped, it all suddenly goes disastrously wrong when the vessel is hijacked by a gang of terrorists who take the passengers hostage. They’re led by supervillain MacDonald, played by Australian martial artist Richard Norton – channelling his very best Alan Rickman, but failing miserably. He plans to rob all the rich passengers and plays a mean game of baccarat to boot, soon challenging everyone on board to a particularly high stakes game. City Hunter does have the dubious distinction of being the only film in memory to show death by a well-aimed playing card. With lives at risk it’s left to Saeba and some gun-toting female companions to take on MacDonald and his army of goons in flamboyant comic book style. In terms of plot, that’s about as deep as it gets.
By all accounts, the prolific Jing Wong was only interested in directing the comedy elements of City Hunter, presumably heading off for a nap in his trailer while Chan and his team got on with choreographing the more demanding action sequences. It could be argued that if Chan had been given full creative control, this would have turned out to be a considerably better film. The screenplay, written by Wong, is choc-full of cartoonish flourishes, complete with Loony Tunes style sound effects. At best, these visual gags are mildly amusing, but more often the humour is crass and falls completely flat. There’s an excruciating sequence where Chan and kickboxing champ Gary Daniels turn into characters from Streetfighter and brawl in a sped up hyperreal video game fashion. Elsewhere a boisterous song and dance number seems out of place, just serving to pad out the running time. Most grating of all is the attitude shown towards women at times, particularly the constant leering by Chan’s character, far removed from a family friendly image the star normally likes to present. No wonder Chan later expressed his disapproval of the film.
City Hunter is not without moments that remind you why Chan’s lightning paced death-defying stunt work and slapstick abilities have made him such a worthy successor to silent era stars like Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton. An exhilarating skateboard chase through the streets of Hong Kong at the start is a definite highlight, as Chan and his stunt team leap over vehicles and even smash through the upper windows of a high-rise. There’s also a half-decent climatic showdown between Chan and Norton, amidst all the endless gunplay and pyrotechnics on display. Don’t miss some cool pop culture references too, namely when Chan battles a large adversary in a cinema auditorium, watch closely on the screen behind him and see Bruce Lee fighting Kareem Abdul-jabbar in a scene from Game of Death (1972). If only City Hunter displayed more of the sheer inventiveness shown in Chan’s earlier classics like Police Story (1985), or the winning humour of Rush Hour (1998), it would have been far more memorable. Alas, it’s an uneven misfire, best recommended for completists only.
The Blu-ray from Eureka! presents City Hunter in a new 2K restoration. The image boasts some vivid primary colours that really pop, in keeping with the cartoonish tone of the film. There are also good levels of detail throughout. Only a couple of sequences look a little soft, but I suspect that was how the film was shot rather than there being a flaw with the source material. Unusually for a Jackie Chan film, City Hunter was not filmed using widescreen anamorphic lenses (Technovision was commonly used in Hong Kong), but instead the disc preserves the intended 1.85:1 ratio.
There are multiple choices of audio: Cantonese DTS-HD 5.1, LPCM 2.0, 1.0, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 1.0. English subtitles are also included. There are no discernible issues to report with the soundtrack, with all the dialogue and effects come through crisp and clear.
A decent selection of additional material, including over an hour of interviews. Best of the bunch is Gary Daniels discussing his eventful career from earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do as a teenager, through working in the Philippines as a b-movie action star and finally making the move to America. Richard Norton talks about the film, the Hong Kong way of making movies and his admiration for Chan. The shortest interviews are surprisingly with Chan himself. The star talks of how he wasn’t respected in Hollywood for a long time, eventually breaking through with Rush Hour after many years of perseverance. Fans will remember some of his early failed attempts to break into the American market, with Cannonball Run (1980) seeing him reduced to little more than a silly cameo while Burt Reynolds was the main star of the show – despite the film being produced by Golden Harvest. The Protector (1985) was also a failure, attempting to turn Chan into Dirty Harry, but the star was so disenchanted with the film that he went back to Hong Kong and made Police Story.
Interviews: Jackie Chan (10:16 & 3:39), Jing Wong (7:30), Stuntman Rocky Lai (10:58), Richard Norton (15:16) and Gary Daniels (29:50)
Outtakes: music video (2:35) and montage (4:38)
Japanese end credits (3:36) plus trailers & TV spots (4:00)
A glossy collector’s booklet with a new essay by James Oliver, including a selection of rare archival imagery (first print run only).