based on the popular (maybe only in asia) manga and later anime series, 1993’s city hunter is one of the goofiest jackie chan movie ever made. no small feat considering his 70s low budget martial arts comedies, the 80s lucky star ensemble series, and the recent family oriented movies.
in addition to its manga/anime origin (first strike), this is directed by wong jing (strike #2), kind of the roger corman of hong kong. we’ve covered wong before in his previous two die hard-ish movies: 1989’s crocodile hunter and 1991’s the last blood aka hard-boiled 2, so you may be prepared for what is in store. he’s also responsible for jet li’s meltdown aka high risk, which we will get to later.
the third kinda strike against the movie is that it’s a chinese new year tentpole. this slot is kind of like an extra summer season for the hong kong film industry. not so much a time for award-winning movies but rather crowd-pleasing star-studded ensembles, most of which are comedies, with light and uplifting tones. this two to three-week period gave us comedies by heavy auteurs such as john woo (once a thief), tsui hark (the chinese feast, tri-star), ringo lam (aces go place iv), and the johnnie to romcoms. it was, for a while, hard to find a chinese new year without a chow yun fat, stephen chow, jackie chan, sammo hung, andy lau and wong jing movie in theatres. not so much because of their acting talent but more for their bankability.
while i tried to write only about movies i haven’t seen before, i needed a dumb mindless fun movie and this seemed to fit the die hard-ish mission. i remember kind of liking the movie when i saw it for the first time in the 90s. it’s more or less a die hard on a cruise ship, with loads of pop culture references. it must be because i’ve grown and matured because it’s harder to get through it this time than two decades ago.
chan plays the womanizing private detective ryo saeba, or rather, the chinese name mang bo. his backstory is told in the opening credit sequence in typical meta/post-modern wong jing fashion. chan’s partner (played by michael wong from the final option, beast cop, treasure hunt, knock off, and overheard) is killed and makes chan promises to take care of his sister, played by joey wang (chinese ghost story i – iii) and won’t hit on her. she becomes chan’s assisstant.
their latest case is to locate the daughter of a japanese newspaper tycoon, at a time when you can still get rich from being in the newspaper business. not that this is crucial information. this missing person case is merely a flimsy excuse to trap all the characters on a cruise ship, so they can become hostages when a terrorist group takes over. it’s a pretty impressive terrorist group though, with the leader played by richard norton (mr. nice guy, gymkata, and the upcoming mad max reboot) and his henchmen are played by gary daniels (the live action fist of the north star, dolph’s retrograde, seagal’s submerged, the live action tekken movie, and the expendables), and mike abbott (purple storm, various godfrey ho ninja movies).
the wong/chan alliance raises expectation but based on what’s on screen, it undeniably leans more on wong’s side. instead of stunts and fights, most of the action scenes involve guns and wires. wong’s more interested in a smorgasbord of blockbuster elements than a competent action movie. that must be the reason that we get a jackie-chan-on-skateboard action sequence that is cut so that you can’t really see if it’s really chan on said skateboard. there is a long fourth-wall-breaking music video with the popular-at-the-time comedic rap duo the soft hard kids (jan lam and eric kot). there is chingmy yau from naked killer as an action heroine assisting chan. wong is also responsible in reviving the gambling genre in the early 90s so we get leon lai (the live-action-based-on-anime wicked city, fallen angels, a hero never dies, infernal affairs iii, bodyguards and assassins, and siff winner comrades, almost a love story) doing a variation of the god of gamblers type gambling ace who also happens to be good at using playing cards as weapon. perhaps a dry run for wong’s god of gamblers 3, where lai plays the early years of the title character made famous and played to perfection by chow yun fat.
there are two more memorable pop culture references. chan’s character faces off with two tall black martial artists in a movie theatre. not known for restraint, wong actually has bruce lee’s game of death playing on screen in the background, just in case you don’t get the reference. the eventual fight scene is not as exciting as it sounds since we don’t really see most of the moves. wong also reused this idea two years later, to better effect, in meltdown aka high risk, which is pretty much a die hard-ish movie with the sole purpose of making fun of jackie chan.
the other pop culture reference happens during the final face off sequence between chan and gary daniels, with the two donning street fighter ii costumes. daniels got ken while chan changes from e. honda to, horrifyingly, chun-li. wong of course, also made the unofficial street fighter live action movie future cops, which came out six months later.
in a way, wong captured and utilized the pop culture zeitgeist of the time so well that, like reality bites or the jonas brothers movies, the movie is rendered pointless and silly as soon as it leaves theatres. for people who complained that the hollywood dragonball or street fighter movies take themselves too seriously or deviate from their sources, wong shows what it would look like if they do the manga/anime sequences with live action/human actors. sandwiched between supercop and the gritty crime story, city hunter is destined to be a disappointment. if you must see it, it’s best not to expect a jackie chan movie but rather a wong jing movie that happens to star jackie chan. the material here is more suitable for the 80s-to-mid-90s andy lau than chan.
p.s. there is an unofficial sequel/reboot in 1996 simply titled meng bo with none of the cast and crew returning. starring and co-wrote by michael chow from tsui hark’s vampire hunter, it grossed six times less than this 1993 edition. probably because it lacks star power and the chinese new year slot. from the reviews i read, it’s not really that much worse than the 93 version.
city hunter (1993)
the pitch: die hard on a cruise ship
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: jackie chan, anime version
the gruber factor: martial arts vet richard norton
the hans objective: money, though some of his decisions are rather unclear. he also doesn’t try to hide his motive.
wrong place at the wrong time: chan sneaks onto the ship to track the japanese heiress and the ship is in motion, though there is no sense of where the ship is heading.
the help: no one on land, but he has plenty of help on the ship, from the dashing gambler to the femme fatale to the comedic duo, everyone gets a piece of action
the family element: chan’s late partner’s younger sister
bonfire of the weaponry: as expected, martial arts, also guns, playing cards, poles, street fighter ii characters
last man standing: a one on one between chan and norton, a welcoming sight for this movie but only average as far as chan one on one goes.
unbearables: richard norton’s lead villain has an almost die hard 1-ish scene of reading the names of the wealthy manifest on the ship. there’s also an indoor pond that is later set on fire. there’s a wormy wimpy guy who tries to negotiate with norton. there is a kind of love interest is taken hostage by the lead terrorist at the end. squad teams try to board the ship via helicopters but are killed by the bad guys. gary daniels, as the main terrorist henchman, is introduced working out in his room almost naked, a la william sadler in die hard 2. director wong jing, as mentioned, directed the die hard-ish crocodile hunter and the last blood before this, and jet li’s meltdown aka high risk after this. lead villain richard norton shows up in 1997’s die hard-ish strategic command in which he plays a character named gruber. henchman gary daniels later shows up in the die hard-ish submerged with steven seagal and the somewhat die hard-ish wesley snipes d-t-v movie game of death.
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