Shout! Factory offers up a double dose of Jackie Chan action with their double feature release of Crime Story paired with The Protector. Here are some thoughts on the movie, after which we'll tackle the disc itself.
Directed by Kirk Wong, 1993's Crime Story is one of Jackie Chan's more serious films and like a lot of Wong's movies, it is a bit of a police procedural in some ways. The story revolves around Eddie Chan (Jackie Chan), a cop who is a bit of a loner. When we meet him, he's injured from his attempts to foil a bank robbery but that doesn't stop him from answering the call of duty when the police hear from a business man named Wong Yat-Fei (Law Hang Kang) who is concerned that he is being targeted by a kidnapping ring. Before the cops can do anything, Wong is snatched up in broad daylight and Chan and his crew are left with no course of action but to give chase and try to bring him back alive. Wong's wife (Puishan Auyeung), meanwhile, debates paying the massive ransom they are demanding - the cops encourage her to do so in order to trail her and catch the crooks, but of course, it doesn't go as planned.
As Chan ramps up his investigation, he uncovers evidence that indicates fellow cop Detective Hung (Kent Cheng) may actually have some involvement with the kidnappers. Hung is clever though, and he does an excellent job not only of covering his tracks but of sending Chan in one direction after another...
Darker than many of Chan's other action films, Crime Story attempts to give the world's most popular action star a more dramatic role than most would associate with the clown prince of kung-fu. Chan handles the more dramatic aspects of the role reasonably well here but the end result is a movie that, while not necessarily short on the stunts or action you want out of a Jackie Chan movie, doesn't quite compete with the best of his pictures in that department. The plot is sufficient if a bit pedestrian and the twists aren't necessarily all that difficult to see coming but if the plot is more than routine, it's not much more than routine. It works - but don't expect to be wowed by it.
This leaves Chan and the action scenes to carry the picture. Chan isn't quite the completely charming, smiley guy here that he is in other films. He's a bit more brooding and a bit more 'human' here in that he does suffer the consequences of his actions both physically and psychologically but the movie never quite 'goes for it' in this regard and the character of Eddie Chan isn't as well fleshed out as we might want him to be. The action scenes, however, deliver. Chan was still in great shape at this point in his career and he shows no fear when it comes to the stunt work or the fight scenes even if they aren't on par in terms of spectacle and scale with what we'd see in movies like the Police Story films or Rumble In The Bronx. Ultimately, this isn't Chan's best movie but it's definitely a solid thriller and a quite underrated picture, with some quality action scenes and a very good performance from Jackie in the lead not to mention surprisingly solid supporting work from Kent Cheng. You've got to give the guy credit for trying something a bit different here and you can't blame him for wanting to take on a more serious role.
Directed by James Glickenhaus in 1985, The Protector was another attempt to introduce Jackie Chan to North American audiences in the wake of Battle Creek Brawl, an entertaining enough picture that didn't really do a whole lot to help Chan cross over. The movie follows the exploits of Billy Wong (Jackie Chan), a New York City Police Department officer who, with the aid of his partner, attempts to stop a robbery in a bar they hit up after work one night. In the ensuing fight, his partner is killed in the line of duty but Wong manages to take out the crooks. Afterwards Wong is paired with a new partner in the form of Danny Garoni (Danny Aiello) and the two are put on crowd control and asked to work a fashion show. Here they witness the kidnapping of Laura (Saun Ellis), the daughter of a crime lord named Shapiro (Ron Dandrea), at the hands of some masked thugs. It turns out a Hong Kong based drug lord named Harold Ko (Roy Chiao) has a beef with Shapiro so kidnapping his daughter is payback of some sort.
You see where all of this is going, right? Billy and Danny head to Hong Kong where they have to save Laura from Ko and his men - and for the rest of the movie Billy and Danny basically fight everyone that they come into contact with before eventually figuring out where Laura's being held and how to get her back.
Not a particularly deep film by anyone's standards, The Protector is, at the very least, plenty entertaining. There are a few solid stunts here but most of the martial arts action is a bit more grounded in reality than some of Chan's more fantastic accomplishments. The action is plentiful and well paced which helps to make up for the fact that characters tend to pop in and out of the movie without a whole lot of reasoning behind it and the fact that the story is pretty gosh darned predictable. Those accustomed to Chan's more wholesome image may be taken aback by the fact that the movie has a lot of swearing and a fair bit of (oddly placed) nudity scattered throughout - though those familiar with Glickenhaus' films probably won't be.
Chan was famously not a fan of working with the director on this and wound up cutting his own version of the movie for the Chinese market who were more familiar with him at this point in his career (for more on that see the extras). When this project was done, Chan took it upon himself to deliver his version of a hard hitting police movie, and out of that we got Police Story, itself a much better film than this. But The Protector, as it stands, is decent entertainment if never high art. The odd interplay between 'buddy cops' Chan and Aiello is... weird and of the movie never really allows Jackie Chan to do what Jackie Chan does best, but it's got chase scenes and naked ladies and lots of violence. Not even close to a high point in Chan's career, but yeah, this'll do as a disposable popcorn and beer flick.The Blu-ray:
Both features are presented on a single BD50 disc in 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Both films were previously released on Blu-ray in Hong Kong by Fortune Star and while these editions are not on hand to do a direct A-B comparison, it's widely believed that they're upscales. The movies presented on this disc from Shout! Factory appear to be taken from those same elements rather than new transfers. So what does this mean? Well, colors look pretty nice and both films are presented in pretty nice condition in that there isn't a ton of print damage, dirty or debris to complain about. Detail, however, is soft throughout both movies as is texture. Now some of this is definitely due to the original photography but we never approach the level of fine detail that we'd expect from a proper HD transfer sourced from film elements. Do the movies look better than they would on DVD? Yes, but not by a whole lot. With that said, everything is perfectly watchable here despite some occasional issues with edge enhancement, haloing and noise. Black levels are decent if not reference quality and the image remains stable enough - but it would have been nice to get better transfers here, really.Sound:
Crime Story gets DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks in English and in Cantonese as well as standard definition Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks in the same two languages. The only subtitles available are in English and they match the English dubbed track. Audio options for The Protector are available in English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and in Dolby Digital 2.0. For the most part, the lossless tracks here sound fine. The mixes tend to be front heavy with the rears used for sound effects and to spread out the score here and there but the levels are fine and there isn't much in the way of hiss or distortion to complain about.Extras:
When the main menu loads you get to choose which film and respective supplements you want to access and from there can split off to basic animated menus for either of the two features. The extras for Crime Story start off with a ten minute Interview With Director Kirk Wong (SD) which is in Chinese with English subtitles and which allows the director to share his thoughts and memories on the making of the movie and what it was like working with Jackie Chan on the project. We also get six and a half minutes of Deleted Scenes (SD) and both U.S. and Hong Kong Theatrical Trailers (SD).
Extras for The Protector start off with From New York To Hong Kong - Interview With Director James Glickenhaus (HD), which runs just shy of ten minutes. Here the director speaks about his version of the movie, his issues dealing with Chan, and what his intentions were from the get go with this project. Maybe not so surprisingly, Glickenhaus didn't want to make a typical Jackie Chan film and wanted instead to go for a harder action picture, eschewing Chan's penchant for comedy in favor of slightly darker fare. Also here is a Behind-The-Scenes Featurette (SD) that runs for five minutes in Chinese with no subtitles. There are some fun outtakes here and it's interesting to see but it isn't particularly deep - check it out once though, it's worth a watch if you dug the feature. Locations: Then And Now (HD) is a cool four minute segment that shows the locations used for the film as they appeared then compared to how they appear now. If you're one of those people who find locations and how they change as interesting as some of us do, you'll want to give this a spin as it does show some interesting 'evolution' in some of the key locations used. Also found here are U.S. and Hong Kong Theatrical Trailers (SD).
Maybe the most interesting extra on this release, however, is the inclusion of Jackie Chan's preferred cut of The Protector. Chan was not particularly impressed with the direction that Glickenhaus was going with the film and so he made his own version of the movie that took out the profanity and nudity (shots were added with fully clothed women in the lab) and which included some additional scenes directed by Chan. The main differences between this version and the US version are that Chan's cut includes a subplot with Sally Yeh and her uncle at the massage parlour. Additionally, the fight scenes are cut differently and run longer. As to which version is better? Opinions will vary but Chan's cut does include more intense action. Also worth noting is that this cut includes a scene with Bill Wallace near the ice warehouse that better establishes his character for the big fight he has with Chan's character later in the film. Chan's cut also uses a different score. This version of the movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen standard definition and in (dubbed) Cantonese with optional English subtitles.Final Thoughts:
Jackie Chan fans already know these movies are a lot of fun, and those yet to see them? They're in for a treat. As to Shout! Factory's presentation, it's great to see both cuts of The Protector included. Even if Chan's cut is in SD it's important that it be available so that fans can decide for themselves which version they prefer. The transfers leave room for improvement but they're perfectly watchable even if they never approach reference quality. Recommended more on the strength of the movies and the extras.