Operation Condor

High Flying Chan

The latest in a series of four (so far) Jackie Chan vehicles to be released in American theaters – and the second from Miramax’s Dimension Films – is also the earliest and purest example of his work, and the first written and directed by Chan himself.

In this 1991 stand-alone sequel to 1987’s Armor of God (still awaiting a U.S. adaptation at this writing), Chan plays a globe-trotting adventurer procuring relics for a Hong Kong auction house. Lending his services to a United Nations operation, he’s teamed with their pretty rep Chen Yu Ling on a hunt for a fabulous horde of gold hidden by the Nazi’s in the Sahara desert at the close of World War II. On the way, they’re joined by Eva Cobo deGarcia, who wants to clear up her German officer grandfather’s part in the story, and later by Shoko Ikeda, a Japanese girl who has somehow ended up hitchhiking across the desert. Every step of the way they are beset by groups of rival treasure hunters.

Modeled on the Indiana Jones movies, Chan’s Condor adventures show off his love for comedy better than his previous U.S. releases. Throughout his usual awesome parade of fabulous stunts, fights, and chases, Chan keeps up a constant flow of hilarious knockabout slapstick in keeping with his deserved reputation as the greatest practitioner of the art since the days of Chaplin and Keaton. Charmingly, none of his three beautiful companions knows the first thing about martial arts, and most of the comedy comes from everyone’s efforts to aide each other while getting in each others way half the time. The action is capped off with a satisfying finale – a show-stopping running battle in the huge underground Nazi base.

Dimension’s job of reworking/meddling with Supercop (another sequel in disguise) wasn’t quite as good as what New Line accomplished with Rumble in the Bronx and First Strike, but they’ve done a slightly better job here, perhaps because Chan is a better director to begin with. Not that there hasn’t been some cutting – seemingly harmless trimming at the start and finish of some dialogue scenes may speed up the pace, yet what little development of characters and relationships that exists in an all-out romp like this one is almost erased entirely. The heroes hardly even have names – Jackie is only called by the nickname “Condor” once or twice to weakly establish the film’s title (although Chan is one of the few movie stars who have acknowledged their fame to the point of almost doing away with character names altogether – increasingly, his character is named “Jackie Chan”). No matter how great the action and comedy, one can’t help but feel a little cheated by the lack of depth in other areas. Be that as it may, the U.S. versions of Jackie’s movies, with their expertly struck prints and fine tuned soundtracks, look and sound better than they do anywhere else in the world. However, Dimension has gone so far as to cut the action scenes as well, with the final fight scene shorn in half, and this is an unforgivable sin. You may want to seek out the Hong Kong version for this reason only.

The term “critic-proof” is usually handed out begrudgingly to works that please audiences despite the level of their “art”. For a Jackie Chan film, especially one in which he fills so many posts, it should be bestowed as a medal of honor. To Operation Condor, I hereby award Jackie Chan an award for filmmaking above and beyond the call duty.

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