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City Hunter

Fox // PG-13 // July 22, 2003
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted July 16, 2003 | E-mail the Author

I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. Director Wong Jing (New Legend of Shaolin, God of Gamblers) and Jackie Chan (Police Story, Miracles, Drunken Master) teamed up for this 1992 action comedy inspired by Japanese anime. The "good idea at the time" was the decision to try to make it look/act like a live action cartoon. As if HK comedy style wasn't silly enough, with its overt cartoonishness City Hunter manages to take you into uncharted goofy territory.

Chan plays Ryu Saeba, the bounty/city hunter of the title. The plot is pretty simple- along with his partner (Joey Wong, Chinese Ghost Story) they track a Japanese businessman's runaway daughter to an ocean cruiser. Onboard are a gang of thieves (lead by Richard "Mr. Cynthia Rothrock" Norton and Gary Daniels) who intend to rob the wealthy cruisers. Also onboard are a uncover cop (Chingmy Yau, Naked Killer) and her buxom partner, as well as a deadly card throwing gambler. Hijinks ensue as the stalwart good guys try to take on a boatload of bad guys and all Ryu really wants is a sandwich.

I am not a fan of City Hunter. Not because the action isn't okay or the comedy isn't fair enough. I just don't like it because of the execution; I've never really liked live action trying to ape cartoons. I don't buy the idea that if something is cute animated then it will also be cute with a live actor doing it. There is also a difference between Harpo Marx doing something cartoonishly surreal in a live action film and what Jackie and crew do in City Hunter, which is relentlessly mimic cartoonish gestures compete with "Spppprrrroooiiiinnggggg!!!!" sound effects and jaunty player piano music.

The two signature scenes of the film that people seem to remember are one where Jackie and the Japanese girl are being chased by the terrorists/robbers and they enter a movie theater. Playing on the theater screen is the Kareem Abdul Jabar/Bruce Lee fight from Game of Death. After Jackie fights some random thugs, suddenly two lanky, tall, black, Kareem-like robbers appear. You can see it coming from a mile away- after Jackie unsuccessfully tries to fight them, he looks up at the screen and then mimics what Bruce is doing, therefore defeating the two baddies. The second scene is a fight between Jackie and the muscle-bound, ponytailed Gary "direct to video action" Daniels where they morph into Streetfighter video game characters. Daniels is Ken, while Jackie turns into E Honda and Chun Li. They do all of the video game moves, like Ken's "soul kick" and Chun Li's spinning whirlwind move. Sure, both scenes are memorable, but really only because they are odd concepts, not because they are executed particularly well, at least not in a way that shows Jackie's strengths as a performer. I'll say it again, like most of the movie, the scenes are just too silly.

Now, I understand why Jackie made the film. In the early 90's, while still a huge star, as audiences were flocking to triad gunplay, wirework fantasy, and new wave period kung fu films, so his style was going against the HK action grain. Jackie began to flex his muscles a little more, diverging from his old formulas, trying more straight roles like Crime Story and Thunderbolt. And, he was Asia's biggest film star so tapping into the Japanese audience with this film probably looked great on paper. Yeah, you see him doing some decent fights and the film ends with his standard goofy/painful outtakes, but HK comedy was never subtle to begin with. Combining it with cartoons makes for overexaggerated mugging and ludicrous antics that are very acquired taste.

The DVD: Fox.

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. While the picture is serviceable, there just isn't much spark and clarity. It suffers, like many HK imports, from the drawbacks of lower budgeted HK film. It is especially evident in the early exterior scenes which are much softer and washed out looking, but as soon as the film is locked in the interior of the boat and soundstages for the last half of the film the image begins to show improvement.

Overall, it is just a tad too muddy. The colors are a bit subdued and the sharpness could be much better. That said, it is still a far cry from the dirty HK DVDs of Chan's films, and there is barely any print dirt or technical glitches, so it is probably the best option for consumers.

Sound: Cantonese or English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround with optional English or Chinese subtitles. Well, despite the pomp of a 5.1 Surround packaging, the audio here proves once gain, there is only so much you can push a thin generic audio track. The limits of old HK audio are present, which include a fairly undynamic music track, a thin dub, and fx that doesn't have too much punch. Mainly centered, the English dub is stronger, if a little overpowering. Like the image quality, this is a matter of the sound not being too great, but probably the best you can expect considering the material they had to work with.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers, two for the film (original and new), plus trailers for Magnificent Butcher, Hong Kong 1941, Kiss of the Dragon, and The Transporter.--- Photo/still Gallery--- Jackie Chan photo gallery and bio--- Original promo material--- Production Notes (synopsis, cast & crew, and )--- City Hunter MTV Outtakes (2:30). Series of outtakes form the film edited to music and pretty much ruined by too much editing like manic quick cuts and rewinding/fast forwarding the clips.--- Interviews: Jackie Chan (10:06), Wong Jing (7:13), and JC Stunt team member Rocky Lai (10:56). Jackie mentions the film briefly and mainly talks about how his early Hollywood failure humbled him and made him a better creative artist. Wong Jing touches on the films inception but mainly it is general info about working with top HK stars and these clips were also used on the Naked Killer disc. Lai is probably the most informative as he tells how he got started and the changes in the HK stunt industry.

Conclusion: The UK edition has loads more extras (commentary, and hour and half of interviews), so if you are one of those needles in a haystack who actually love this film, I hope you are all-region capable. This US edition is decent enough, a fair transfer with fair extras, and priced low enough to be a casual buy. The film itself is... how can I be nice?... for very selective comedy tastes. Even your standard Jackie lovers often grimace over mention of City Hunter, much in the same way when Fantasy Mission Force is brought up. Therefore, I'm going to suggest it as a rental.

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