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Armour of God Series
How's this for confusing? When Miramax acquired the US distribution rights to a large chunk of older Jackie Chan titles, they took his 1991 franchise sequel Armour of God II: Operation Condor, dubbed it into English, mangled it in editing, slapped an annoying pop soundtrack on it, and released it under the simplified title Operation Condor. Later, after that movie had been a moderate success for them, they did likewise with the original 1987 Armour of God, this time retitling it Operation Condor 2: The Armour of Gods. Thus, the first film in the series was turned into a sequel to its actual sequel, which now comes first. Never mind that Jackie himself and all of the fashions and styles in "Operation Condor 2" look obviously older and more dated than the other Operation Condor. It's through boneheaded strategies like this that Miramax earned its reputation for disrespectful treatment of foreign films. Fortunately, this new box set release of the Armour of God Series from Hong Kong provides a decent opportunity for English-speaking fans of Jackie's work to watch the films as they were originally meant to be seen.
In Armour of God, Chan plays a relic-hunting adventurer named Asian Hawk, who is sort of an Indiana Jones type but without any pesky ethics getting in the way of his making a buck. Hawk blithely steals treasured artifacts right out of the hands of the indigenous peoples safeguarding them. After a hilarious flashback to his days in a Partridge Family-style singing group called "The Losers", the story proper begins with the kidnapping of Hawk's ex-girlfriend by a creepy religious cult who want to ransom her for the disparate pieces of a valuable Middle Ages antique called the Armour of God. Naturally, this means that Hawk will have to do some globe-hopping to retrieve the three sections and rescue the girl.
The movie is fantastically entertaining, a great mix of action and laughs. It may be surprisingly violent at times (a whole crowd of people gets machine gunned down at one point), but on the whole this is one of Chan's more successful and rousing action comedies. The stunts are of course amazing, the hallmark of Jackie at his prime. Speeding cars careen out of control directly into the middle of large crowds of milling bystanders, and you know they didn't use any fancy special effects on this picture; those extras had to move! It's amazing that nobody, Jackie included, got killed making movies like this. Armour of God also features several of Chan's most famous classic fight scenes, including his battle with a group of psycho kung-fu monks, followed immediately by a batch of foxy Blaxploitation chicks (who are replaced in many shots with obvious male stunt doubles in afro wigs and short skirts). Some of the humor is a little base and the crazy plot doesn't hold up to much scrutiny, but who cares when there's so much fun to be had?
I would assume that Jackie is playing the same character in Armour of God II: Operation Condor, but for some reason his name has changed from Asian Hawk to "Condor". Maybe that's just a translation discrepancy; I can't say for sure. In this one, Chan is hired to travel to the Sahara desert, with three dim-witted giggling women in tow, to search for an old buried Nazi base rumored to hold a hidden cache of gold. Bumbling Muslim terrorists and a geriatric Nazi with mercenary henchmen get in the way, but mainly it's the idiot girls inadvertently causing the most trouble.
The story and characters in Operation Condor are more confusing than the first film (at least in the translation provided here). There are some quality slapstick visual gags, but also a lot of irritating attempts at lowbrow humor (such as a forced, very prolonged goofy montage of the desert travels), and the three girls are a constantly grating nuisance. On the other hand, the action is spectacular, with brilliantly choreographed fights and plenty of stunts and chases. The climax inside a wind tunnel is a truly inventive masterstroke. Despite some flaws, the sequel is also quite entertaining and in its best parts rivals the first for sheer fun.
If you only know Jackie Chan from his sub-par American movies, you owe it to yourself to check out his better Hong Kong classics. The Armour of God Series would be a fine place to start.
Fortune Star's box set contains both movies in their original Cantonese language and full-length Asian cuts (Miramax likes to dub and chop to hell most of Jackie's movies that they import). Unfortunately, unlike many previous Fortune Star box sets, the Armour of God Series is hard-coded for Region 3 playback and will require compatible equipment to play.
Each movie is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement: 1.85:1 for Armour of God and 2.35:1 for Operation Condor. The first movie is sharp and clean but looks aged. It's quite grainy in spots and has serious color bleed during the opening credits. Digital compression quality is only adequate, with noticeable artifacts in a number of scenes. Colors are acceptable but a bit dull. The sequel, on the other hand, is very soft and filtered, and colors are frequently oversaturated. It has the same color bleed problem with the opening credits, likely an artifact of their primitive optical compositing.
Fortune Star's restoration efforts have been hit or miss. While not terrible by any means, and perhaps better than previous home video editions for these movies, this particular box set does not sparkle the way some of their others have.
As is now standard practice on their catalog title remasters, Fortune Star has remixed the Cantonese soundtracks into new Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio options. The original Cantonese monaural mixes are also available in Dolby 2.0 mono, and each movie contains an alternate Mandarin dub track in Dolby 5.1. No English dubs were provided, nor are they needed.
Armour of God has a tasteful 5.1 remix, with crisp dialogue and effective directionality to the surround speakers. A moderate amount of bass is present when needed. Somebody screwed up when setting the levels for Operation Condor, however. The track is loud and shrill, and has a simply obnoxious amount of boomy bass. Just about every single sound effect lands with a rumbly thud, and it's always the exact same rumbly thud no matter whether you're watching a car crash or a balloon bounce. Dialogue sync is also erratic during both movies, but this may be inherent to the original production's ADR recordings. Sadly, the original mono soundtracks are muddy and distorted, and just can't be recommended.
Subtitles are available in either English or Chinese (both Traditional and Simplified). The English translation for the first film is workable if simplistic. For the second film, individual sentences may seem coherent, but put together the movie's plot and dialogue are very difficult to follow.
Both discs offer your choice of English or Chinese menus. Each movie includes the original as well as really dumb newly edited trailers. Also available on each disc are photo galleries that can be viewed either as still images or part of an automated slide show.
The movie-specific content for this box is even less exciting than the bland interviews Fortune Star usually provides. All we get are the 2-minute Comedy Special on Jackie Chan and the 3-minute Action Special on Jackie Chan, both dialogue-free clip montages of his greatest stunts and gags.
No ROM supplements have been included.
I've been enjoying Fortune Star's box set remasters, and am disappointed that they've started coding them for R3 playback only, a decision that will limit their potential audience. The picture, sound, subtitles, and supplements for the Armour of God Series are somewhat below average for the studio's recent output, but the movies are so much fun that the box still merits a recommendation for region-free viewers.
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