Armour of God (1986)
Directed by: Eric Tsang, Jackie Chan
Written by: Barry Wong, Cheuk-Hon Szeto, Edward Tang, Eric Tsang, Jackie Chan, Ken Lowe
Starring: Alan Tam, Jackie Chan, Lola Forner, Rosamund Kwan
AKA LUNG HING FOO DAI
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD and DIGITAL
RUNNING TIME: 98 mins/89 mins/88 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Adventurer, treasure hunter and former musician Asian Hawk successfully steals a sword from an African tribe, then has the weapon auctioned where it’s won by May Bannon, the daughter of Count Bannon. Hawk’s former bandmate Alan then asks for his help as his girlfriend Lorelei has been kidnapped by an evil religious cult as a means of acquiring Hawk’s services. The cult possesses two pieces of the legendary “Armour of God”, and want Hawk to get them the remaining three – which include the sword. Hawk and Alan strike a deal with Count Bannon, who has the three armour pieces; they will borrow the pieces for their quest to rescue Lorelei with a promise to obtain the two pieces the cult has, but on the condition that May accompanies them. Hawk. Alan and May travel into Yugoslavia to find the cult’s monastery….
Thiswill always be best known as the movie where Jackie Chan suffered his most severe injury, and that’s saying something considering that he’s broken virtually every bone in his body. During filming of the opening sequence, Chan had to jump from a wall to a tree branch. Dangerous for most of us, but a comparatively easy task for Chan. The first take went as planned, but Chan didn’t think it looked good enough. He added a turn as he jumped again, the branch snapped, and he fell five metres to the ground below. His head hit a rock, cracking his skull and forcing a piece of bone into his brain. It’s possible that the Yugoslavian cameraman could have stopped this, but he opted to save the camera instead. Chan was flown to the hospital and was in surgery eight hours later. The result was that he had a permanent hole in his head filled with a plastic plug and slight hearing loss in his right ear. Unbelievably, he wanted to resume filming just a few days later but his father insisted he take two months off. This seems to have overshadowed the film itself. Made during what’s generally regarded as Chan’s Golden Period, I don’t think it’s quite on the level of the likes of Project A, Wheels On Meals and Police Story. The highlights of what’s often called Chan’s version of an Indiana Jones film are typically terrific, but, even if you agree that comedy of both the slapstick and the farce kind is an essential part of Chan’s art, there does seem to be a bit more padding than usual in a story that appears thrown together by the four screenwriters Edward Tang, Cheuk-Hon Szeto, Ken Low and John Sheppard, though the huge amount of rewriting and reshooting was probably the main reason for this, with Chan replacing the original director Eric Tsang who seems to have had a darker, more fantastical vision in mind which Chan reshaped more to his liking. Of course there’s still a great deal to enjoy, even though Chan seems to be moving away from fighting here more than in any film since Dragon Lord; it’s literally just a few tiny scuffles until the climax.
Made just after Police Story, a larger budget was able to accommodate shooting in what was then Yugoslavia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Spain and Morocco. A whopping fourteen cinematographers worked on it. There are major continuity issues concerning Chan’s hair. It was intended to be short, Tsang deciding to give Chan a new look, but after his fall the Golden Harvest Studios boss Raymond Chow talked him into growing it back, thinking that with his hair short he lost some of his power like Samson. It’s possible that Chan being out of action caused a major set piece in the middle of the film to go unshot. Cynthia Rothrock was meant to fight Chan at the end, but the delay in production meant that she had to work on Righting Wrongs aka Above The Law instead. Chan replaced her with four female adversaries, then thought up a cliff leap onto a hot air balloon for him to do, but was advised not to do it as he had no experience of BASE jumping, so he was rigged to a wire for the jump and then skydived out of a plane for the balloon landing. Armour Of God was the highest grossing film in Hong Kong yet, though most viewers outside Hong Kong saw a version that was shorn of ten minutes; a band performance, a dream scene, a monk trying it on with May, part of a farce set piece, and some small bits of dialogue. The DVD version released in the US was entitled Operation Condor 2: The Armor Of The Gods because it came after over there after the sequel to this movie The Armour Of God 2: Operation Condor which had just been called Operation Condor there. The nine minutes cut are almost the same as before, though a new music score was also added. Talking of music, there are four other end credit music tracks for different releases, with Chan’s song “High Up On High” and co-star Alan Tam’s song “Lorelei” having been recorded in both Cantonese and English versions.
So Hawk on his latest mission; to steal this sword that’s atop an altar in some African country, though we’re obviously not in Africa at all. The natives take one of their number to a position half way up the altar, presumably for some kind of sacrifice, but Hawk’s abseiling onto the statue dislodges the head where it just misses crushing the person about to be sacrificed. He tries to speak their language but only “kneel down” seems to be understood. Chan is soon having to do his trademarks leaps, punches and kicks before doing that fateful wall to tree jump, then sliding down a hill on a native shield with loads chasing after him in the same manner. He then finds his plane hidden in a bush before taking off. Yes, this one really is very close to total absurdity at times, so much so that one wishes that the fantasy elements were exploited more – well, they were in Tsang’s cut which we know little about. Hawk is next seen performing with Alan in his old band The Losers [Tam’s real-life band was called The Wynners], though it’s on TV and being watched by the Head Abbot, who conveniently tells us the basic plot while he instructs his second in command. Then we get a really well cut together set piece, no doubt the work of Tsang, which intercuts Tam singing again with a fashion show in Vienna where Lorelei is performing and some murderous monks riding to the show where we get mass gunning down of people including a photographer being shot in the eye, the kind of violent shot that one tended not to see in Chan’s films any more. It’s executed really well, but also ludicrous; why do so much killing just to kidnap one woman? And also, if you think about it, if these monks are so deadly and powerful, then why get Hawk to go after these items anyway; they could easily obtain them themselves.
Alan finds Hawk and asks him to help, but Hawk is still sore at losing Lorelei to him. The scene between the two doesn’t quite hit the right notes, especially when Alan says that he shouldn’t rescue Lorelei because their bond is too strong, but Tam isn’t a bad light actor and has some chemistry with Chan. A rather vague flashback appears soon after when the two visit Count Bannon and his many men with dogs; we get the impression that the latter will feature in a major set piece but they don’t, though by the look of those hounds it’s perhaps just as well. We’re told and shown that there was once an evil religion which was vanquished by the True God who was the wearer of the Armour of God [inspired by a passage in the Bible], then told that the evil religion was spreading again. It was obviously a sensible decision to change it from being Christians versus Muslims which is what was originally intended, but there surely could have been a bit more clarity than what we eventually got? One doesn’t watch a Chan film for good script writing, but the screenplay for Armour Of God really is often haphazard and disjointed. There’s a bit more time spent with Bannon, in fact maybe too much, before the two, plus Bannon’s daughter May, set off, cue for a traveling montage with some funny gags such as the two men peeing and one turning and accidently peeing on the other. Well, it’s funny if you like that sort of humour which I do. A handover with the monks goes wrong, but the three are still able to infiltrate the cult’s monastery [even though two are Chinese and would surely be noticed?] and secretly rescue Lorelei, unaware that she’s been brainwashed to do their bidding, though Hawk could also be a problem. It’s interesting to see Chan as a selfish, bitter character who holds a grudge, even though we know that he’ll have a change of heart eventually.
The second action sequence is when Chan and Tam fight some monks, not helped by May’s terrible shooting, only it’s over in a few seconds and turns into to a chase where their car is pursued by motorbikes and a jeep. While clearly piecing together some of the more crazy stunts, most notably the car jumping over not one but two roads in one go, it’s still thrilling stuff with lots of fearless driving from Remy Julien’s stunt team and a Bond-type gadget at the end. There’s much time spent on sneaking into and around the monk’s hideaway, and what seems like build up to a fight that doesn’t happen, before one of those Chan film farce set pieces. These usually come off well while often advancing the plot in their own way, but the one here feels a bit forced and doesn’t really build. Alan goes upstairs to bed with Lorelei while Hawk goes to kiss May before reminding her that she pretended to be a prostitute and getting a slap. Then Lorelie asks to see the armour pieces but Alan has to hide from Hawk in his room who soon gets more shit from May. And so on. At least there are plenty of great gags elsewhere, like Hawk jumping out to scare a monk but missing him. And the final fifteen minutes gives us Chan action with a vengeance. First he battles loads of monks, attacking in big circular movements while simultaneously trying to protect his friends. Then he fights four high heeled women in extremely tight leather outfits. The fact that they’re obviously stuntmen in many shots doesn’t take anything away, and, while Chan tends not to like hitting women, there’s one strikingly harsh hit where Chan kicks one of the women who’s coming at him from about eight feet in the air and she spins around and slams head fits in to the ground. In fact dangerous falls are abundant; one stuntman broke two of his legs falling off a balcony. That pieced together but still incredibly dangerous cliff-balloon jump was hardly necessary but makes for a terrific finish.
Chan, often chewing gum which he pops into his mouth from a bag lower down, goofs around yet has a good stab at showing Hawk’s feelings. “I believe in one omnipotent religion that’s the root of all evil……my Lord’s name is Money”, says Hawk near the end which sort of sums up the film’s theme, though the money given this film was clearly beneficial, such as allowing some really good cave sets to be built. Lola Forner returns from Wheels On Meals but seems hampered by having a far less interesting character to play. Rosamund Kwan has little to do but does look convincingly hypnotised without overdoing it when required. We want to believe her character when trying it on with Hawk, because we want her to go back him rather than stay with Alan. A stereotypically gay waiter causes some un-PC chuckles as he gives some important information on the monks, though they remain strange; seemingly religious in their own way but also large scale drug dealers. Michael Lai’s alternately comic and exciting music seems to virtually repeat cues from Police Story and Wheels On Meals, though it fits well enough. To my ears, “Lorelie” is a better song than “Higher On High” with a much catchier tune; some versions stop whichever song is playing when footage of Chan’s accident appears on screen. Watching said footage is still a strange experience. Us fans are reminded that, despite the rush we get from seeing him do his thing, the man is, quite frankly, a little mad, while we’re implicated in an odd way because he does this for our entertainment. Armour Of God is rather more uneven than the typical Chan film, its mixture of drama, comedy and action coming across as rather awkwardly stuck together, yet when it soars it still soars very high indeed.