First Strike

By Deane Barker

Jackie Chan meets James Bond is the basic premise for Chan’s latest collaboration with director Stanley Tong, the super-action film First Strike.

Chan is a Hong Kong cop (big surprise) who’s trying to track down a stolen nuclear weapon that’s at risk of falling into the hands of the Russian mafia. The chase leads him first to the Ukraine and then to Australia. The story is full of double and triple crosses, and by the end I still wasn’t exactly sure who was working for whom.

As usual, the action sequences are the main attraction, and the Chan/Tong team have put together four or five beauties. Among others, we’re treated to a chase around the outside of the twentieth floor of a high-rise hotel, a fight scene involving scaffolding and a ladder that’s so fast your mind gets about three kicks behind and stays there, and a chase through the streets of Brisbane that ends up in the tank of an aquarium park that, of course, ends up getting drained by a shotgun blast. Did I mention that Chan is on stilts and underwater for a lot of that last one?

There are numerous allusions to Bond films besides two direct verbal references. The first action sequence is a chase down a ski slope with Chan on a snowboard pursued by assailants on skis and an armed helicopter – virtually a direct lift from the 007 film A View to a Kill. That’s not to say it’s bad, however. Chan is once again a human tornado and anything he touches goes away – usually in a shower of flame and smoke.

As such, First Strike lacks the martial arts finesse of, say, Rumble in the Bronx. Like Supercop it tends toward gunfire-saturated action pieces and strays from the pure martial arts that Chan is so good at. Aside from the astonishing fight scene in the middle of the film, hands and feet are displaced by guns and grenades.

But what will always remain a hallmark of Chan films are the small, quick movements that make the viewer do a double-take. Chan doesn’t just slide down a tree – he sandwiches himself between a tree and building and walks down to the ground. He doesn’t just get into a car – he vaults the door and effortlessly glides around into the driver’s seat. These items are so quick and subtle that if you blink you might miss them, but they always make me feel just a bit inferior when I get into my car by mundanely opening the door.

Chan’s humor is evident throughout. Once again, he spends the entire film with an endearing look of fear and stupidity planted on his face while he proceeds to kick the crap out of anyone who comes near him. His natural sense of timing and affability allow the viewer to ignore any dramatic shortcomings.

But in the end, the film suffers from the handicap that it’s, well, a Jackie Chan film. We don’t go to these films for the plot, we go to see Chan and his cronies vaporize stuff. This makes it hard to sit through the first 20 minutes or so while nothing is happening except plot development.

I’ve said it before (twice, actually) and I’ll say it again – Jackie Chan films are martial arts pornography. Face it, when the pool boy and the neglected housewife are talking at the shop, no one cares. Everyone just fast forwards to the point when the young stud makes a house call. Likewise, you can just fast forward through this film until Chan gets on a snowmobile.

Will we ever be able to take a Jackie Chan film seriously for its plot and acting? I doubt it. Just like we all sat through Barb Wire waiting for Pam to take her clothes off, we all sit through Chan films waiting for him to take someone’s head off. It’s ironic that his surreal physical talent sabotages any attempt at serious filmmaking.

Not that any of that matters, of course. This is a martial arts film. Take it for what it is, and you’ll leave the theater satisfied.


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