Directed by Gordon Chan
Produced by Lam Chua
Written by Gordon Chan, Chan Hing-Kai and Philip Kwok
Starring Jackie Chan,Anita Yuen, Michael Wong and Thorsten Nickel
It must seem odd for me to review such an obscure Jackie Chan film as my first Jackie Chan review. But I already review such obscure films, so it isn’t that odd considering that fact. I don’t know why I had the random urge to watch this film, perhaps, I remember not giving this film my full attention the first time, but I can’t confirm that. Better yet, it’s probably because I’ve been in the mood to watch films with Anita Yen. A luminous star who was one of the biggest actresses in Hong Kong cinema during her heyday in the early to mid-90s.
Jackie Chan’s Thunderbolt is a film that isn’t well remembered; I wouldn’t be surprised if many or even most big Jackie Chan fans aren’t aware of the film. Those aware of the movie don’t likely hold it in high regard and for good reasons. Jackie Chan’s Thunderbolt is in many ways an antithesis of a typical Jackie Chan film. Jackie Chan doesn’t play his typical boyish ”nice guy” role but rather plays a character with a sterner demeanor. There is a greater focus on drama than on Jackie Chan’s trademark humor and even tries to be a quasi-crime thriller at points. But there is a bad side to this film being a so-called antithesis, Jackie Chan is well known throughout the world for doing his own stunts, but due to an injury Jackie gained from the filming of Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie was forced to rely on stunt doubles. Thus the best-known traits of a Jackie Chan film are forced to be on the backburner for this film. And to add to the mix, this entire film is supposed to be about racing cars. Apparently, racing films were a bit of a fad during that time in Hong Kong.
To keep the plot simple and short, Jackie plays a Foh To an auto mechanic who must race a big time criminal mastermind known as Cougar to save his two kidnapped sisters from him. Foh To after himself the victim of Cougar’s plans after he ends up helping the police capture him, Cougar seeks to torment Foh as a form of revenge.
Perhaps, I should start off by saying this isn’t a ”good film” per se, the script is way too dodgy for that. The subpar writing of the film is quite shocking when you considered that they poured 30 million dollars into this film which is probably at the time the most expensive feature ever developed in Hong Kong, you are left wondering why they didn’t do a better job at developing the script. To make things worse, there were 3 writers attached to the film’s script yet the writing is poor. I can only suspect the poor writing of this film is due to the production issues of the film. Jackie Chan’s injury being one such issue.
After all this, what can I say about this film? Since I did enjoy this movie on my second viewing, but Jackie Chan’s Thunderbolt could be described as ”schizophrenic”. As the script is at odds with itself, the movie has a hard time deciding what it wants to be. Rather than the writing, this film’s strongest component is Jackie’s performance as Foh; unfortunately, Foh’s pathos isn’t best reflected in the writing, only Jackie’s performance can evoke sympathy from the audience. Foh’s drama is also made weaker by the fact that he is paired up with such a cartoonish villain whose performance could be described as ”mediocre” at best. Cougar’s antics would be right at home in a cheesy action film, but Thunderbolt seems to want to be taken seriously with its drama. The romantic subplot had some potential since I can see Jackie Chan and Anita Yuen having some chemistry unlike many of other Jackie’s romantic interests in the 90s. But sadly the romance’s potential isn’t realized due to the romance being too undeveloped and rushed. Not to mention, Anita Yuen’s character Amy Yip may come off annoying to some; however, she had enough charm for me to find her likable. This relationship should have been kept platonic to best service the plot. Not to suggest that the action in this film is totally subpar, there is a great action set piece in a pachinko casino that deserves praise and attention in spite of the use of obvious stunt doubles. This is a movie about racing cars, I should speak on that, I hate to say it but the racing in the movie is kind of sub par as the most of the racing is just sped up footage which is pretty noticeable. Oddly ironically, like the fight scenes in this film, the racing scenes just lacked the kineticism you would expect.
Your mileage on this film will vary(pun intended). Those seeking a typical Jackie Chan romp will be disappointed by the action not being up to usual Jackie Chan standards and not enough of it, while those seeking a serious drama film with Jackie Chan will be let down by a weak script and too many bad cliches from action movies. Those not bothered by an odd hybrid of a Jackie Chan film might find some delight.