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Operation Condor

Review by Eddie Cockrell
Posted 18 July 1997


Directed by Jackie Chan

Starring Jackie Chan, Carol Cheng,
Eva Cobo de Garcia, Shoko Ikeda,
and Alfred Brel Sanchez

Screenplay by Jackie Chan
and Edward Tang

Overcoming some dreadful dubbing, Jackie Chan's fourth high-profile stateside release Operation Condor (Armour of God II: Operation Condor, aka Feiying gaiwak) isn't as threadbare as the rickety Rumble in the Bronx (Hong Faan Kui), nor as breathtakingly intricate as the large-scale stuntathon SuperCop (Police Story III: Supercop, aka Jing cha gu shi III: Chao ji jing cha), nor as overly plotted as the Cold War-ish First Strike (Police Story IV: First Strike [aka Piece of Cake, aka Story of the CIA], aka Jing cha gu shi IV: Jian dan ren wu). Rather, this 1990 sequel to one of his best films and the first of his directorial efforts to get the aural overhaul and editorial nip-and-tuck takes barely 90 fast minutes to deliver a gag-filled story of buried Nazi gold that is one part Raiders of the Lost Ark, one part MacGuyver and one part Buster Keaton - and all Jackie, which will be more than enough to insure brisk summer box office and yet another wave of adolescents at martial arts schools around the country.

Jackie stars as Jackie (code name: Condor), an adventurer summoned to the American embassy in Madrid and enlisted to join a United Nations force determined to beat a team of international terrorists to the 240 tons of gold buried in an underground Nazi command center somewhere in the Sahara Desert. Along the way he collects Ada (Carol Cheng), his timid but spunky U.N. boss; Elsa (Eva Cobo de Garcia), the statuesque granddaughter of the officer who masterminded the stash during World War II; and Momoko (Shoko Ikeda), the scorpion-toting flower child they pick up on the way to Morocco. Once under the desert the true antagonist makes his presence known: Adolf (Alfred Brel Sanchez), the wheelchair bound rogue Nazi who was the only survivor of the regiment that guarded the precious metal. With the help of his troika of babes and some elementary physics Jackie foils the plan and kicks the stuffing out of a bunch of largely nameless occidental bad guys (one of whom, oddly enough, is singled out as "Joe").

Operation Condor can be divided into roughly three sections, each featuring an action set piece typical of Chan's approach to filmmaking. In the first, presumably filmed on the backstreets of Madrid, Jackie eludes a phalanx of sinister black cars—choreographed by Remy Julienne's Group—using only a motorbike and his wits (even finding time to save an infant from certain death in a bit that even Sergei Eisenstein would love). These stunts hark back to the superlative 1985 New York Film Festival entry Police Story (Jackie Chan's Police Force, aka Jingcha gushi) and 1992's Twin Dragons (Shuang long hui), in which Jackie pioneered the use of a contemporary urban environment and its accouterments to construct his split-second stunts. In the second, most satisfying section of the film, Jackie, Ada and Elsa trade barbs while eluding a series of thugs in the hallways and courtyard of a labrynthine Moroccan inn. Actually filmed on a huge Hong Kong set at the beginning of production, the sequence splendidly showcases the mixture of innocuous sexual humor and intimate, precisely crafted comic stunts that lift Chan's work above run-of-the-mill martial arts movies. The climactic showdown in the cluttered bunker complex was also achieved on a Hong Kong set, and represents the kind of full-body fighting (usually against an industrial backdrop) befitting end-of-movie showdowns. He never met a staircase or catwalk he couldn't conquer.

As with SuperCop, Operation Condor shows its age. Originally released in 1990 as Armour of God II: Operation Condor, the film features a pre-credit sequence that not only sets the film squarely in Indiana Jones territory but comments cleverly on a similar sequence in the original Armour of God (during which Jackie fractured his skull on a 40-foot drop that went awry). Jackie's longish hair and some cars and machines also betray the film's vintage.

Operation Condor has two major weaknesses, neither fatal but both annoying. The dubbing is particularly poor (is that Jackie doing Jackie? If so, he needs more work), with some scenes apparently darkened to mask actor's mouths. And the racial stereotyping, while admittedly funny in the context of individual gags, is alarmingly blunt for a film so otherwise appropriate for children. As usual, the women dish it out and take it with a force unheard of in American films, causing one to again marvel at how some global filmmaking sensibilities (think Paul Verhoeven and Wolfgang Petersen) are very different than the usual Hollywood fare.

It isn't difficult to understand Chan's stateside success, only what took him so long. An affable presence with an astonishing gift for physical comedy and imaginatively staged action sequences, he's been making successful movies incorporating the rigorous training in chang chuan-based martial arts (including praying mantis, white eyebrow, karate, hapkido, kung fu, jeet kune do and boxing) he's learned since a childhood apprenticeship at mentor Sifu Yu Chan-Yuan's China Drama Academy for almost thirty years. Of course, if you're a die-hard Jackie fan - and they are legion - you probably know this stuff already and much more. But American audiences discovering Jackie for the first time are astonished at the sheer physicality of his movies, and rightly so: the top Asian box office draw for nearly two decades, Chan is unique in his cheerfully egotistical approach to movie- and myth-making (note to newcomers: never, ever, leave a Jackie Chan movie until the lights come up, as the closing credit sequence is always an opportunity to see outtakes featuring stunts gone bad and, inevitably, Jackie being scraped up of the ground by panicky crew members and carted away, groggy but thumbs-up).

Jackie Chan appears in the upcoming features An Alan Smithee Film (aka Burn, Hollywood, Burn) and Rush Hour. American distributors looking for other titles from the oeuvre to recycle are advised to consider the aforementioned Police Story and Twin Dragons as well as the magnificent 1987 Project A Part II (A ji hua xuji), which as an added benefit is a period piece and thus wouldn't look so jarring to an American public becoming increasingly Jackie-savvy (he directed it, too). Whichever one is chosen next, let's hope the dubbing is better: "Wasn't there another way?" someone wails to Jackie about halfway through Operation Condor, to which he replies "It worked, didn't it?" Maybe so, but that doesn't make it right.

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