Jackie Chan has enjoyed several decades in front of the cameras, entertaining fans across the globe with his lightning-fast moves and insanely dangerous stunts. An international megastar, his success in the West has been fairly limited, and he has generally always done better work back home, his preferred place of 'combat'. Inspired by Buster Keaton, he infuses comedy and slapstick humour into almost everything he touches, and it is only very recently that he has expanded into showcasing his acting abilities (both back home with the non-martial arts Shinjuku Incident, and in the States with the quality Karate Kid remake). In fact, back in the early days he was best known for action comedies emanating from two distinct genres – police/secret agent thrillers and mythical adventures. Whilst most will be familiar with his efforts in the former category (the Police Story and Rush Hour series), the latter is evident in many of his chosen productions as well, including The Myth, The Forbidden Kingdom and even The Medallion.
Armour of God was one of his most successful early works, infusing James Bond super-spy elements with mythical Indiana Jones-esque exploits. It was a great action-adventure, but it did cost him a chunk of his skull, and nearly took his life. Unperturbed by this, he returned to the enigmatic lead character of Jackie Condor (aka Asian Condor in the US) just four years later, for Armour of God II: Operation Condor, the most expensive Hong Kong movie at the time. Released in the US as just Operation Condor, things became particularly confusing when the first movie, Armour of God, was released in the US after the sequel, under the totally confusing title of Operation Condor II: The Armour of Gods. Sigh, at least most true Jackie Chan fans have figured out which way they go now, and realised that the best bet is to by the European/HK editions! So, with it costing so much, and with it even garnering a US release, the question still remains, is it any good?
Agent Condor (Jackie Chan) is just back from an exciting jewel-hunting escapade on an island, and gets recruited by the Duke (the mysterious backer who hired him in the first instalment) to track down some missing Nazi gold, supposedly hidden in the deserts of North Africa. Partnering up with a prissy UN representative (Carol Cheng), a bolshie relative of one of the Nazi officers involved in burying the gold (Eva Cobo de Garcia), and a random street vendor (Ikeda Shoko), Condor and the three girls must evade numerous assassins and assorted competing treasure-hunters and mercenaries in an attempt to get to the buried treasure first.
Storylines not being one of the strong points of most Jackie Chan films, the tale here is no exception, and really makes for just a flimsy excuse to string together a number of exceptional stunt sequences, some frantic fight scenes and plenty of comedic interplay. This is the longer 107 minute cut (fairly long for a Chan movie) but it never drags, jumping from set-piece to set-piece with very little time to catch your breath in between. Sure the characters suffer as a result, the villains are cartoony caricatures with silly accents and stupid disguises - their sole purpose to allow Jackie to kick some ass. And the three heroines who join Jackie for the ride are woefully put upon, the cliched stuck-up Chinese UN worker and the stereotypically peroxide blonde German assistant (as well as the third girl) all getting plenty of opportunities to: scream like schoolgirls, get caught repeatedly, lose their clothes in the middle of fights (all in a very tasteful, family-friendly way) and generally act like ditzy idiots. At almost every stage it seems like Jackie is undermined more by their stupid antics than by the threat of his real enemies – but I guess that only adds to the slapstick humour, and thus charm, of the production.
And I have to say that this is one of the silliest of Jackie Chan's films that I've ever seen – and he does a lot of very silly films! For the most part it works quite well, and if you are prepared to accept the particularly quirky humour of the movie then you should enjoy it quite a lot, but don't expect it to relent much from the Three Stooges-esque tone that it adopts pretty early on. The plot may be distinctly Indiana Jones (far more so than the prequel, Armour of God, especially during the relic-stealing prologue and the final act which involves lots of traps), the character may be a Hong Kong take on James Bond, but the humour is slapstick silliness all the way, and that may not be to everyone’s tastes.
With all that said, what many fans come to Jackie Chan films expecting is awesome fight sequences and breathtaking stunts, and Armour of God II delivers both in spades. Jackie has always been disdained by the way in which fight scenes in Western films often involve groups taking on the hero one by one, something which he felt was totally unrealistic. And here we get yet another example of how he likes to do things - have lots of enemies come at him from all angles at the same time! It's insane! Stunt-wise things are even better. From the opening sequence that sees Chan doing powered paragliding AND zorbing (you know, those giant plastic zorb balls that you can climb into and roll down hills in? Well he rolls down a mountain!!!), to the crazy bike/car chase which has him doing an amazing mid-air jump from a bike to a cargo net hanging from a crane off the side of a pier(!). Then there’s the extended finale which sees him fighting on giant swinging platforms and then battling it out in a wind tunnel. You won’t be disappointed!
There are a few action-comedies where, when you get to the end, and watch the bloopers over the closing credits, you realise that they were the funniest/best bit of the entire film! Some of Jackie's movies have followed this rule (particularly his lacklustre First Strike, or at least the shortened US cut), but thankfully Armour of God II is not one of them. Even if the humour is not to your tastes, any stunt fans will absolutely love the crazy set-pieces on offer here, and the action is almost non-stop. That's not to say that the outtakes over the credits aren't great however – and one in particular shows just how close to death Jackie came for a couple of the scenes (the fight on a large container reminds you just how high up they were!). All in all I’d highly recommend this title to any Jackie Chan fans who have yet to discover the gems in his back-catalogue. Seriously, this was Jackie at his peak, and he is an insane stunt action man, directing himself in one of his biggest budgeted, most extravagant setpiece-laden productions. Those who love the superstar will surely already be familiar with the Armour of God series, in which case it’s just a matter of whether or not this release lives up to expectations. Read on to find out.
Our Review Ethos