Jackie Chan's First Strike

(Stanley Tong, Hong Kong, 1996)


Long ago, in the era of Biblical spectaculars and epic action movies, the MacMahonist critic Michel Mourlet wrote: "Charlton Heston is an axiom of the cinema".

These days, Hong Kong star Jackie Chan is surely the seventh art's axiom. An extraordinary fusion of cheeky charm and prodigious athletic skill, of Crocodile Dundee and Buster Keaton, Chan is an absolute delight the instant he enters a frame – no matter how impoverished the rest of the film around him may be.

First Strike – officially, Jackie Chan's First Strike – is not one of the star's best vehicles. Partly filmed in Australia (and making the usual corny, touristic use of Australiana icons), it thrusts him into a typically hectic, chaotic plot involving security organisations, double agents and stolen secrets that threaten the balance of world power.

Chan is inspired above all by the great comedians of silent movies; it is fascinating to compare First Strike with, for instance, Keaton's Our Hospitality (1923). Chan reinvents that era's cinema of attractions – the tendency to prioritise moments of high spectacle over and above piddling details of plot, character or theme.

So, although First Strike has much indifferent filler, the set-pieces are – as always – astonishing. Chan's fight scenes are based on an intricate study of everyday spaces and their fanciful possibilities. The highlight here is a show-stopping melee involving an array of tables, chairs, trestles and a ladder.

Chan may well have the largest cult following on the planet, but it is still a moot point as to whether he can truly win over the mass English-speaking market. It is shameful to report, but white Australian audiences still laugh derisively at the presence of Chinese faces and accents (and, more forgivably, the sometimes haphazard dubbing) in a blockbuster action flick.

And Chan, after all, is a strangely placid action hero in a culture that idolizes the adventure-vehicles of Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jackie does not shoot guns. He does not even kiss girls. Eternally childlike, clownish and innocent, Chan appears to have waltzed in from another, more peaceful cosmos. And what supreme, exhilarating, balletic grace he brings to that dance.

MORE Jackie Chan: Rumble in the Bronx, Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Knights, The Medallion, Around the World in 80 Days

© Adrian Martin April 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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