1985 in Film – The Protector

Release Date: August 23rd
Box Office: $829,239

Jackie Chan is amazing. Of this there is no doubt, he is one of the few people you can point at and say “they fundamentally changed things” and not be laughed at.

This isn’t to say that his filmography is perfect, far from it. Everyone has a few duds, and Jackie is no exception. However, we’re not talking about his early roles before he found his comedy/action groove. Nope, we’re talking about his attempts at breaking into the US market.

His first attempt was The Big Brawl, a regressive film that tried to emulate the success of Enter The Dragon by bringing back the director and most of the crew from that film. The problem being that Bruce Lee was still dead and Jackie wasn’t Bruce Lee, despite the many prior attempts to force him into that mould. By the time of Brawl_’s release Chan had already starred in Snake in Eagle’s Shadow_ which was the film that launched the comedic take on Kung Fu films, and then followed that with Drunken Master, which exploded him out of Lee’s shadow and made Chan a star in his own right. Brawl seems to ignore this growth in Chan’s persona and quite rightly died at the box office.

The year after this Chan cameo’d in the Burt Reynolds vehicle (pardon the pun) The Cannonball Run which was a huge financial success, and also gave Chan the novel idea of sticking outtakes over the end credits of his films. Again though, Chan was misused so he went back to the East and knocked out two more classics with Project A and Wheels on Meals.

Jackie still wanted to escape the corruption in Eastern cinema so had one more go at cracking the US market, which is where The Protector comes in.

In the film, Chan plays Billy Wong, an NYPD cop who will do anything to get the job done. The film starts with Billy and his partner getting in the way of a gang robbing a bar. The partner gets shot, Wong kills most of the gang in revenge and chases the last member down which ends up in a speedboat chase across the Hudson. After killing the assailant with his boat, Billy gets a new partner in the shape of Danny Aiello. Via rumours of a kidnapped daughter of a Mafia boss and an attempted murder in a massage parlour, the two end up being sent to Hong Kong to track down a drug lord with explosive consequences.

Sounds great right? And it probably would be, if it wasn’t for Jackie Chan.

This is meant in a good way; if Jackie had control of the film, it would be made around his skills and persona. But yet again, somebody else was trying to shoehorn him into a role that didn’t fit.

James Glickenhaus had made his name with the vigilante exploitation movie, The Exterminator. A low budget tale of a Vietnam vet waging war on organised crime in New York, it had done okay for a film of it’s type at the box office but became a cult hit on the video market. This was no doubt helped by it’s stark cover of a man in black leather and a motorcycle helmet wielding a flamethrower. It was a sleazy and grimy film that fed into the Death Wish cycle of vigilante films, a low rate film by a low rate director.

Golden Harvest, the company behind Chan’s recent big films, wanted Glickenhaus to direct Jackie’s next attempt at breaking the US market, the only problem being that he simply didn’t mesh with Chan’s sensibilities. Billy Wong is a foul mouth, borderline psychotic cop navigating a world of naked women and big guns. Chan isn’t that kind of lead, at this stage of his career he was best as a straight-laced hero trying to do the right thing. A more grizzled Chan might have fit better in this role, as can be seen by the characters he has taken on in his most recent films.

The same way that the film misuses Jackie’s screen presence also extends to his action skills; none of the action scenes show any of Jackie’s flair, he offered to direct them himself but Glickenhaus refused. The situation was so bad that Chan walked off the set and only returned due to his contractual obligations. And it shows on screen, as Chan almost grimaces his way through the various set pieces.

It also doesn’t help that the film peaks to early with the aforementioned Hudson River chase scene: here you have Chan speeding across the water in a speedboat chasing down his quarry, before he radios in a police helicopter, grabs a rope lowered down from it, aims the boat at the criminal and is then lifted into the sky by the helicopter. The boat slams into the bad guy’s boat and explodes into flames. It also leads into one of the best lines in the film; Chan’s commander quite rightfully gives him a dressing down for the carnage and asks him to explain his actions. Chan gruffly responds with “I had no choice”.

With a different lead, the film could have easily slotted into the One Man Army trend of action films. After all, this was the year of Rambo II and Commando, people were eager to see bad guys gunned down by a rampaging hero. That wasn’t Jackie Chan though, he had more strings to his bow. He would prove this by returning to Hong Kong and making Police Story, a film about a cop framed for murder out for revenge. Here, with Chan in the director’s seat, everything works. This film’s hero is one that shoots a gun into the air to stop a criminal, rather than gunning them down without blinking. It ends up being of Chan’s masterpieces.

The Protector ends up being one of his mistakes, one best forgotten. Although, the music isn’t bad though. Can’t fault it for that.

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