ZERO STARS/**** Image C Sound C Extras D
starring Jackie Chan, Joey Wong, Kumiko Goto, Chingmy Yau
written and directed by Wong Jing
by Walter Chaw There's a scene towards the middle of Jackie Chan's unwatchable City Hunter where starving, womanizing Ryô (Chan) leers at a pretty bimbo, and director Wong Jing provides a point-of-view shot that replaces her breasts with hamburgers and her arms and legs with corresponding fried chicken parts. The film never gets any funnier. City Hunter is garbage--fetid and painful from its prologue to a conclusion one-hundred minutes later that feels for all the world like a week-and-a-half later. It's misogynistic, which is not really a surprise as almost all of Jackie Chan's modern-era films are virulently so, but it does what I wouldn't have suspected to be possible: it makes Chan a smarmy, oafish reptile. The modern Buster Keaton is here recast as Lorenzo Llamas, with the level of violence towards women in the film so extreme and unacceptable that it feels not so much prehistoric as something of a first.
I don't want to pretend to know what the film is about beyond Die Hard on a Japanese boat. Ryô is the titular--and literal--private dick, a sort of neo-Bondian figure charged with finding some rich guy's runaway daughter, stowed away on a cruise ship that is subsequently hijacked by the sort of European villain of which Hong Kong loves to make sport. Racist, too, then (it also features a Woody Allen-esque incest subplot and scores its scenes of sadistic mass murder with a weeping bassoon), there's no offense that City Hunter deigns to rise above, compounding matters by refusing to allow Chan one sequence that showcases his martial arts skills. In that way, the picture is like Chan's American films while making Chan's American films look like masterpieces of reserve and tact.
Based on a popular anime series, City Hunter is filmed in what must have been believed to be a comic book style but is, in actuality, a cartoon style complete with slapstick and whimsical sound effects. The actors are asked to mug for the camera, the stuntwork is ridiculous soft-serve, and a mid-movie dance number is the sort of thing that makes me deeply embarrassed to be both Asian and a fan of Chan's. City Hunter is among the worst films ever made. A fight in a movie theatre between two giant black men while the Bruce Lee/Kareem Abdul Jabbar duel from Game of Death unfolds is a nadir for the medium that I'm having a problem reconciling with Chan's other work, while a protracted sequence--they're all protracted, mind you--in which characters take on the every persona of the Street Fighter arcade game is so misconceived and irritating that I started to wonder if my brain was melting and if I wouldn't mind if it did melt.
Fox DVD presents this misbegotten abortion in what is advertised as an anamorphic 1.85:1 video transfer, though it looks closer to 1.77:1, the matting off by a hair to expose too much headroom. It's sloppy, is what I'm saying, with the picture exhibiting the sort of grain effect more commonly associated with pictures that haven't been remastered at all. Colours are bright though not particularly crisp, and much of the action in the last hour appears to have been shot on ends. I don't know if the filmmakers thought their audience wouldn't notice or just didn't give a damn, but it seems clear that they believed there weren't enough action scenes and thus sought to redress the deficiency after the fact--using mom's Super8 camera. Credit is due for the fact that Dolby 5.1 audio mixes are offered for both the English and Cantonese soundtracks, both relegated almost entirely to the front channels--for as bad as the flick is in any incarnation, it's worse in the English dub. Curiously, it also appears as though the Cantonese recording represents a dub. I'd try to figure it out, but I don't care and the film wouldn't be helped by anything really, anyhow.
Because the poorness of a film often directly corresponds to the special features attached to its DVD release, Fox presents a truly perverse selection of extras for City Hunter. A short "City Hunter Out Take MTV" (sic) feature is a sped-up outtake reel set to the picture's horrific score (fans of Chan take note that this is not the legendary Chan "injury reel"--no stunts = no injuries), plus there's a trio of interviews (with Chan, director Wong Jing, and stuntman Rocky Lai) interesting for the lengths to which each participant goes in justifying this dreck while the knowledge that this excrement isn't going to make anyone's résumé dances in their eyes. Chan, in particular, with his "I don't know, just thought I'd try it," seems most grounded in the reality of City Hunter's foul stench. Two City Hunter trailers (one for the Asian market, the other the international), a useless photo gallery, a useless Jackie Chan photo gallery, useless reproductions of the original promotional materials, and useless production notes (synopsis, cast & crew filmographies) round out the disc. Run away. Quickly. Originally published: August 15, 2003.