Thursday, July 13, 2006

"Mr. Chan!"

[title reference here]

So, as is our practice, Willam and I picked up a dollar movie rental last night while we were hanging out. Normally, we gravitate toward less award-winning fare (with a few really awesome exceptions), so we decided to rent "New Police Story" starring Jackie Chan.

If you have never seen a Jackie Chan film, well, I can't really explain it and do it justice. Jackie Chan is a star of Asian action film, and is famous for performing all of his own stunts (even with broken limbs and other injuries), including some amazing fighting sequences involving props. It's become his trademark. Here in the States, he's probably most famous for the "Rush Hour" movies and the "Shanghai" series.

So, we popped in "New Police Story" and I was a bit shocked to find that it was a great film. In the movie, Police Inspector "Chan" and his men are hunting a gang of young, sadistic bank robbers who have a penchant for cop-killing. When they storm the thieves' hide-out, they are systematically wounded, captured, and killed, in alarming ways. Only Chan survives, and he has to take the blame for the doomed mission. A year later, a young man tells the disgraced Chan he's been reassigned to the case, and that he is Chan's new partner. Together, they try to hunt down the killers.

Sounds like pretty standard fare. But you add in layers of nuanced story telling, some surprisingly good acting, and cool special effects, and you have a really compelling film. There are tones of "Saw," "Lethal Weapon," "Se7en," and other 'legit' American blockbusters, throughout the film. Even Jackie Chan was surprisingly moving in the film, recalling Mel Gibson's suicidal dectective in "Lethal Weapon."

Great movie, great ending, highly recommended all around. (Rated "R" for sometimes disturbing violence, and language, so be advised.) I would easily put it on par or better than anything coming out of Hollywood in the last few years.

But what hit me afterwards, which I discussed with my guest, was that Jackie Chan has perhaps been unfairly pigeon-holed in American movies. He's almost always relegated to the "funny foreign character with the hard-to-understand accent" role. And that kind of casting, those kinds of movies, don't give actors a lot of opportunities to stretch themselves.

Of course, he chooses the roles he takes; he's no victim. But the man's been in upwards of 90 films. He has to have something going for him. Not to imply that Jackie Chan is, say, Lawrence Olivier**. But he definitely surprised me in this movie.

So there's something to think about, and discuss. Are foreign actors sometimes pigeon-holed and typecast as novelties in Hollywood? Are there any such actors that you would like to see a different sort of role for, other than the one they're known for?

**I can't say or write his name without immediately thinking of the SNL skit that Jill quotes so perfectly: "And who should I see sitting in the front row, but Mr. Po-ta-to-head. And the thing that strikes me about Mr. Po-ta-to-head is that all of his facial features are completely in-ter-change-a-ble!"

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