The Protector (1985)
Before the North American release of Rumble In the Bronx and it’s surprising success, Jackie Chan had already made a few forgotten attempts to become the next “Bruce Lee” on our side of the pond. One such film is this James Glickenhaus release that paired Jackie with the always welcome Danny Aiello in what almost plays as an “R” rated Rush Hour wannabe.
In an opening that had me thinking I was watching Escape From New York outtakes thanks to the weird costumed thugs populating late night slums, a gang strips down an 18 wheeler in a crime that has no bearing on the plot whatsoever. Sure Jackie and partner show up. With no one to arrest they hit a bar for a nightcap. At ten minutes in we need some Jackie Chan action so in to the bar come a gang of toughs looking to rob and hurt anyone in their way. One of which happens to be the mountainous Big John Studd of WWF fame. With the focus on gunplay, as opposed to Jackie’s acrobatics, this turns into a fire fight leaving Jackie’s partner dead and the criminals blasted to hell. A big opportunity was missed here as Jackie shoots down Big John with bullets as opposed to taking him on in a frenetic paced hand to hand showdown that we all know Jackie excels at.
After a dressing down, Jackie gets demoted to security detail where he finds himself teamed with the entertaining yet foul mouthed Danny Aiello. While standing guard at a swank uptown party for the wealthy the duo find themselves overcome with an elite group of masked gunmen. The target is the daughter of a wealthy drug lord. She’s been kidnapping by a crime lord in Hong Kong. Guess where the super cops are headed. Sound a bit like Rush Hour?
Aiello, a former Vietnam vet and cussing like a sailor claims he couldn’t be happier. “I never go anywhere in Southeast Asia without an Uzi.”
Massage parlor anyone? Aiello is more than willing to get to work and with Jackie in tow the duo quickly get their orders on not causing any trouble from the local Hong Kong office and promptly go about mixing business with pleasure. This is where one might be a bit surprised at the tone of the film. When compared to Jackie and Chris Tucker hitting the nightlife in Rush Hour, this one comes off as a hard R. Full frontal nudity is rather surprising when one is used to the Jackie Chan Brand that we’ve grown accustomed to in his mostly family friendly action flicks. Still when their relaxing interlude turns deadly, Jackie does his best to inject some comical bits as he and Aiello raise hell throughout the spa and locker rooms.
No matter where our New York cops go, trouble instinctively follows prompting Aiello to break out the Uzi. With drugs behind the kidnap plot, Danny and Jackie waste little time with niceties concerning the local police force. In very little time they locate a drug lab which once again comes as a bit of a surprise in a Chan movie. All the ladies that work in the drug lab are without a stitch of clothing and the camera isn’t shy. Truthfully the nudity isn’t offensive to me but at the same time isn’t really necessary and doesn’t enhance what is essentially a “B” action flick. Could it be considered exploitation cinema? I’m not sure and in the end, that’s not an argument I care to get into.
When all is said and done and the final reel is played out, this is essentially a dry run as Jackie was trying to establish himself as a worldwide commodity. The film is unremarkable and plays as a curiosity in the career of Chan. He obviously had less control of the Brand he was trying to market. The filmmakers have placed a gun in his hand on more occasions then we may be used to when it comes to fighting criminals. Aimed at a North American audience, this seems to be an intentional decision though we do get Jackie facing down the appropriate foe near the climax.
It’s a buddy buddy cop film built around Chan and while I like the work Aiello does here and in general, I have to think that casting him didn’t help at the box office. If the movie/budget had placed Jackie opposite someone like an aging Eastwood or even a young Charlie Sheen with the appropriate rewrites, he would have got more coverage in North America at both the theater and in local VHS rental stores.
Hard to say it didn’t work out just fine for Jackie in the end anyway.