THE PROTECTOR [1985]

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

USA/Hong Kong

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY

RUNNING TIME: 91 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

After New York cop Billy Wong avenges his partner’s murder, he’s given a new partner, Danny Garoni, and put on probationary assignment at a fashion show hosted by Martin Shapiro. However, when Martin’s daughter Laura is kidnapped, the authorities suspect that Laura’s father is involved with Mr. Ko, a Hong Kong drug kingpin, so Billy and Danny are sent to Hong Kong to investigate. It soon becomes apparent that the kidnapping was nothing more than the move of a pawn in a bigger game between two warring drug lords.…

I remember when I first hired out The Protector from one of my local video shops [I was lucky, we had several] and, having already become a Jackie Chan fan, was baffled at the front cover where it looked like they’d pasted Chan’s head onto the body of Sylvester Stallone. But then there are some other things baffling about this film, such as the title, which doesn’t seem to relate to Chan’s character as he’s never protecting anyone, unless one counts the time when he’s security at a fashion show and after about five minutes has somebody kidnapped from right under his nose, which proves that he’s not particularly good at protecting. Yet I can’t help but be rather fond of this second attempt to make a star of Chan in the West, a film that seems to be hated by many Chan fanatics but liked by quite a few more general action lovers. Plonking him into a medium budget ‘80s American action movie provides its own pleasures if you’re able to set aside expectations for a while, and, despite Chan’s terrible experience on the film, it probably sounded like a good idea at the time. Likewise, Chan looks very awkward at times, unable to resort to clowning around and having to take part in fight scenes that are much slower and simpler than normal, but he does manage to get in a fair bit of stunt work, and it’s certainly interesting hearing him swear and having him in scenes with topless women and loads of blood. The often lousy writing provides laughs and the film keeps on throwing action at you at a fairly even rate, unlike many of Chan’s Hong Kong films which move at the speed of lightning for a while, then slow down considerably for the comedy. I’m certainly not going to make any claims for it to be a neglected classic, even of the bad movie kind, but Chan has made many worse movies.

It’s often forgotten that The Cannonball Run and The Cannonball Run 2, in which Chan played a minor role, were hits, so it’s little surprise that Golden Harvest decided to set up another potentially star-making American vehicle for Chan. But as soon as filming began, mostly in Hong Kong, there were problems between star and director James Glickenhaus. Whereas in Battle Creek Brawl Chan had some input as one can tell from watching the film, Glickenhaus insisted on directing all the fight scenes himself and wouldn’t let him have any say in the way they were done, which was hell for someone of Chan’s skill – and ego. For some bits, Glickenhaus retired to his trailer and just let his assistants do the shooting. Chan unsuccessfully tried to get Glickenhaus fired, then walked off the set though was forced to return and finish the film by contractual obligation. Chan still damaged a hand for the cause, and longtime Chan stunt team member and sometimes doubler Mars dislocated his shoulder. Unlike Chan, Mars was probably happy to have been working on this film, as he was for once covered by insurance, this being a largely American production. As soon as production had been completed, Chan put together his own edit of the film for Asian territories which turned out to be substantially different. Much footage was deleted including ‘objectionable’ material, some action was re-shot and a whole new subplot added. Further details of the changes, and my opinion of this version, can be found at the bottom of this review which is primarily of the American cut, that being the original version of the film. It did okay in Asia but was a major flop in the US. Chan decided to give up on the American market [for some time, anyway] and concentrate on Hong Kong, making Police Story as a response to this film.

The beginning is odd in that it spends some time setting up and then showing the robbery of some computers from a truck by a bizarrely dressed gang which includes three dwarves, leading you to believe that Chan’s character Billy Wong will take them down, but all he does is show up with his partner Michael at the crime scene and say to the guy the gang leader clonked on the head, “welcome to New York”. We also get the first of a few moments that hint at Wong being a womaniser, then the sight of him blowing away some [different] bad guys in a bar with the red stuff being liberally applied, even leaping into the air shooting his gun in a manner characters in John Woo films soon often did. But Michael is shot dead by the remaining bad guy, so Chan chases after him and orders the owner of a boat to, “give me the f****** keys”. Yes, Chan says the f*** word. Then follows a boat chase which really does show how good Glickenhaus was at filming action, with a variety of angles employed and lots of wide and aerial shots linking the pursuit with its surroundings. Despite impressive work in the likes of Blue Jean Cop, McBain and The Soldier, Glickenhaus never hit the big time as a director in this genre, which is strange. Wong gets hoisted up by a helicopter just before his boat crashes into the other boat, then is ranted at by his boss in a scene all old school action lovers have seen loads of times. “You disobeyed a direct order”. “That man killed my partner”. “That’s no excuse for blowing up half the goddamn harbour”. What can I say, I love this stuff. The demoted Wong finds himself doing security, and we seem to be missing an introductory scene with Wong and new partner Danny Garoni. The fashion show they’re at is suddenly attacked by masked gunmen and Laura Shapiro, who Wong had just been chatting up, is captured in a scene partly copied in The Armour Of God.

They learn that crime boss Harold Ko and Martin, Laura’s dad, are suspected of smuggling drugs from Hong Kong to New York, and that Ko may have kidnapped Laura and taken her to Hong Kong for ransom. The men get a lead – Shapiro’s bodyguard Benny Garrucci has made several calls to a Hong Kong massage parlour – and it’s off to Hong Kong for them. The two are warned not to cause havoc by the local police chief but, despite Garoni saying that, “discretion is my middle name”, they’re soon bothered by various thugs and killers – but not all of them seem to come from Ko, who’s well known as a charitable businessman in Hong Kong. Why was Laura kidnapped? Can local boat person Lee Hing help? Where does Shapiro’s bodyguard Benny Garrucci fit in? The plotting, which at one point resorts to a visit to a fortune teller, is very much by the numbers and is mostly there to serve as some excuse for all the mayhem which eventually leads to a drug lab full of naked women for some reason [not that I’m the mature kind of critic to complain], then a plot surprise that was re-used in Rush Hour. A guy named Stan shows up out of nowhere and joins the duo when the ex-Navy SEAL just happens to have some of his “old gear” with him. Also a member of the team is Hing’s daughter Soo. She’s played by Moon Lee, so Hong Hong movie fans will be expecting her to do some fighting, especially when she says, “I can handle myself in a fight”, but she does nothing and is even left behind to guard the boat. What a waste!

So this leads me to the elephant in the room – the action. But I’m not lying when I say that it’s never as bad as I remember, and an early fight in a massage parlour, while brief, has bits of the Chan magic, leaps and business with a chair and rug that he did to more effect later on. One really cool bit has him catch a gun, spin round and land on a desk. I reckon he had some input in this scene. Elsewhere he just knocks bad guys down very quickly, Glickenhaus believing that Americans liked force to be predominant in their action, and the two climactic brawls are indeed average, but here’s the thing – one might watch Chan facing off against a heavy on a cargo lifter and think that in Hong Kong they would have done far more with the scene then just have boxes thrown around, but Chan is still doing it with no harness, and for an American action movie the scene is really pretty good. Chan fighting Bill Wallace fails to show why Wallace was called Superfoot in the martial art world, and the scene is really slow. But I dunno – this may piss off other die hard Chan fans who are reading this – but I kinda like seeing him in a more realistic, no-nonsense style. And throughout, he was still allowed to do plenty of stunts which may not be on the level of hanging on to the side of a bus with a walking stick but which are still darn impressive. Perhaps the best sustained action sequence of the film, Chan on a motorbike trying to catch a guy in a boat, has him in the vehicle jumping from one boat to another [this may have been done by someone else, but it’s impressive anyway], then pole-vaulting from one boat to another, then jumping doing the same. Elsewhere he scurries up a huge crate and rolls on a moving car with absurd ease. For this Chan fan, there are plenty of nuggets. I’ve read reviews of this film which say that it could have been made with virtually anybody in the lead, but to me the evidence speaks otherwise.

Of course you just have to laugh when Chan shoots somebody so he electrocutes himself on several neon signs as he falls from a window, then causes a car to flip over several times when he shoots – but only wounds – the driver. And then there’s that helicopter hovering beneath a huge weight just so it can be destroyed. Unfortunately Chan and Aiello just don’t have the required chemistry together on film, something that Chan and Chris Tucker had in abundance much later on. And Aiello is saddled with an arrogant sleazeball of a character [best line:“do you really have a beard?” to a Chinese prostitute] to play, not to mention his red jacket that’s far too small for him which he wears with no shirt but half done up so we can admire his medallion – was this really cool fashion for the time? All this, plus Chan being a bit stiff, means that the human side of things is rather lacking. I wanted to see some scenes of the two bonding rather than just a couple of moments when Garoni goes on about Vietnam and women. But you’re never more than a few minutes away from something fun or funny. The Protector is close to being parodic in places, though I doubt that Glickenhaus, who also scripted, was aware of the fact. While Ken Thorne’s as ‘80s as they come’ synth dominated score has a very catchy main theme, there’s also that strange end title song, with lyrics like,”there’s one thing you should not do to a protector, do not make him mad” sung in a country and western style. I can’t say that it’s an inappropriate end to this extremely flawed and often just plain odd enterprise that, if it had been a hit, may have resulted in Chan not making the great Hong Kong stuff that was still to come. But I’m definitely glad it exists and – shush – I’ve watched it more often than, say, those Lucky Stars Chan films which may have some terrific martial arts in them but which also contain acres of almost unbearable, so-called ’comedy’ to get through.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆

 

THE HONG KONG VERSION

Glickenhaus once said that he didn’t know about the very different Hong Kong version and expressed annoyance at what Chan had done. However, in the special features on the 88 Films Blu-ray, he claims that he signed off on it, though seeing as he says that the only extra footage is some stuff during the Chan/Wallace fight, I think he was telling porkies. Chan actually did a huge re-edit for his version, but, while it certainly has even more action and some improved action, I don’t think it quite works. Some of this is due to Hong Kong film stock looking different to American film stock so the large amount of added footage never quite feels like it’s part of the film.

For a while the film plays not that differently to how it did before, though Chan did tighten the first chase and remove a funeral scene as well as a few bits between Chan and Aiello which, oddly, made their way into the Japanese version which is basically a slightly longer version of the Hong Kong version. And it’s probably no surprise that all the nudity and swearing is gone. But then after the massage parlour fight this version introduces a new subplot involving singer Sally Yeh and her uncle written in by Chan’s usual screenwriter Edward Tang – and this doesn’t really fit into the main story. Chan gets a brief skirmish in a gym and then has to defuse a bomb that’s been placed under Yeh’s mattress, while Wallace gets a good introductory scene, beating up a few people including Lee Hing who was just found dead in the American cut. But all of this just feels like a very different film, and the overall effect is one of disjointedness. There’s certainly some very good editing later on though to remove the naked women from the drug factory and replace them with fully clothed females, and to beef up the Chan/Wallace fight with more of the stuff you expect in a Chan fight scene.

I know that many Chan fans vastly prefer this version, but I think he went overboard with the changes. The Yeh subplot wasn’t necessary and seems out of place. He could have just left the middle section of the film alone, the edits to scenes elsewhere and the addition of the extra material in the end fight would have been more than enough. I guess my ideal version would be the original cut with the new Chan/Wallace fight and maybe some of the minor tweaks Chan made, including some different takes, to some of the other action moments.

 

 

About Dr Lenera 3141 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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