The Film: The Protector BUY IT FROM SHOUT! FACTORY
The Principles: James Glickenhaus (Director), Jackie Chan, Danny Aiello, Bill Wallace
The Premise: Jackie Chan is a no-nonsense, shoot first, ask questions later NYPD detective, who -
Did I just…does that say – “no-nonsense, shoot first”…Jackie Chan?!
Yeah. Meet Jackie Chan, NYPD badass – in James (The Exterminator) Glickenhaus’ edgy cop actioner, The Protector. Jackie and his partner, Tommy Five-Tone (Aiello – whose Members Only jacket should have been third-billed) are two rogue cops on the trail of a Heron connection outta’ Hong Kong. Partially as punishment – and partially because they’re uniquely qualified to Get the Job Done – Chan and Aiello are sent to Hong Kong to stop the vicious drug cartel.
Is It Good: Eh…it’s odd? It’s…interesting?
It’s a peculiar snapshot of a time and a place and a sensibility and a square peg and a round hole. It features a couple of nifty if overwrought set pieces – the film’s first action scene, in which three UZI-armed dudes (among them WWF wrestler Big John Studd) try to knock over a neighborhood bar at 6:00PM on a Tuesday is filled with fully-automatic mayhem, multiple deaths, a foot chase, a boat chase and a massive explosion. And yet – why were three coverall-clad dudes robbing a run-down hole-in-the-wall bar with full-auto assault rifles? Why aren’t you chewing up a savings and loan, fellas?
And how is it that Jackie marches up to a standard-issue pedestrian, puts a gun in his face, snarls, “give me the fucking keys” – steals the dude’s boat, blows it up (by driving it into another boat)…and still has a job in the NYPD?
(well, it is the NYPD, I guess – cops shoot people going for their keys and stick plungers up dudes’ butts – Jackie was just doin’ his job…)
Jackie Chan is in a film where Danny Aiello is comic relief. Aiello smarms and cheeses and gets the shit kicked out of him by Asian whores. He also wields a giant rocket launcher almost identical to the one he employs in Hudson Hawk (a film I’ve always suspected was inspired by Chan’s antics – specifically the Armor of God films).
Is It Worth A Look: Yes – if only for all of its hilarious tonal weirdness. It wants to be street-level gritty, and yet the opening scene of the film features a gang of New-Romo street thugs straight out of a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up videogame (they have a pet midget) who completely strip a semi driven by Nathan Arizona in two minutes at a red light. It wants to present Jackie Chan as a hard-hitting tough guy in the Eastwood/Bronson tradition, but he still manages to mug like a doofus. It’s gory and violent and filled with boobies and like no other Jackie Chan film before or since. The Protector plays like The French Connection and Enter the Dragon had a baby, and the baby got repeatedly rapped on its frontal fontanelle. Now the poor kid needs a helmet – but he’s a sweet little guy and he means well.
Random Anecdotes: The film features a hilariously twangy country song over the closing credits, warbled by Chip Taylor – who is responsible for the classic rock mainstay “Wild Thing” – and who happens to be the brother of Jon Voight.
The late, lamented Steve James – Glickenhaus collaborator and American Ninja co-star – used to tell a story about seeing Jackie Chan’s Police Story with Glickenhaus. When the film finished, he turned to his director friend and said – “That’s what The Protector should have been.”
Jackie, for his part, took the film back to Hong Kong, retained the services of some of the film’s principals, and reshot humongous chunks of it, extending fights (Glickenhaus says he thought Chan’s acrobatic fight scenes were phony and pointless, and so the film features a stripped-down action aesthetic that leans heavily on gunfire and explosions), and adding a pseudo-romantic subplot featuring Sally Yeh – who was later cast as the female lead in John Woo’s classic The Killer. This version of the film was the one seen in Asian territories, and recently made its way to our shores as a special feature on Shout! Factory’s Blu Ray Double Feature release of The Protector and Chan’s excellent Crime Story. Shout! Has four more Chan films on deck – including Police Story and Police Story II. Can’t wait.
Cinematic Soulmates: Dirty Harry, McBain, Shakedown, Lethal Weapon, The Executioner, Tough and Deadly