It is rather clear that there will be a considerable battle between Jet Li and Jackie Chan for who will make the most appearances during this kung fu marathon and as it stands I believe they are both tied at a respectable three, with Jet Li's films taking a decidedly serious and historical turn, whereas, with the exception of Drunken Master, Chan's films are clearly intended to exist within the realm of the action/cop thriller comedy genre, making a considerable amount of sense, since his adoration of Harold Lloyd and the other silent comedy masters has previously received acknowledgement. First Strike, is, technically part of the Police Story films, but considering that it is rather obvious that the version I obtained was reworked to make it entirely in English and more palatable to western audiences, I will consider it as such. First Strike is incredibly clear in its being an homage to the James Bond films, although in decided Jackie Chan fashion, his character has to be a lovable loser, favoring his self-respect to those he encounters over demanding any sort of objectification of the women and others around him, aside of course from the villains who are already attacking him. I would, in fact, argue that First Strike, while far from a perfect or even good movie, does manage to have some moments where Chan's love for the silent film slapstick over-the-top routine comes crashing together beautifully with some of the most iconic moments of the Bond filmic franchise. Despite everything and everyone in the film being dubbed, First Strike also manages to be a considerably enjoyable study in the nature of international crime, moving between spaces that often do not receive heavy mention in the cinematic action language, specifically Ukraine and Australia. I am assuming that First Strike is considered minor Chan, excluding that string of American films he made later in his career (The Tuxedo and The Medallion), it makes me interested to catch up with more of his work, because even in the films that are not exactly narratively engaging, I was surprised to find myself laughing at the excellent comedic execution of Chan even with as simple of a joke as screaming underwater. I noted in a previous post about reconsidering Li as one of the great actors working today, I am thinking I might make the same extension towards Chan as a comedic actor.
First Strike begins with Jackie (Jackie Chan) finishing a job for the CIA that involves him tracking down a woman who is believed to be tied to a nuclear arms smuggling case. The woman Natasha (Nonna Grishaeva), it is discovered, is heading to Ukraine, where Jackie is sent undercover to learn more about the issues of the trade. Along with Natasha is a Chinese nuclear scientist named Tsui (Jackson Liu) who it is revealed has been working to obtain the secrets of the trade for the CIA, which are contained in a briefcase that is lost in a wild snowboard and snowmobile chase. After a recovery in Russia, Jackie learns that the arms are being shipped to Australia via a Russian submarine, leading to his traveling to Brisbane, much to the disbelief of his superiors in China. While in Brisbane, Jackie discovers that the nuclear smuggling extends to include a group of Chinese Triad bosses that have centered themselves in Australia, one whose son just happens to be the late Tsui. During a meeting with Tsui's father, Jackie meets his sister Annie (Annie Wu) who is initially dismissive of Jackie, believing him to be her brothers killer, a disdain that grows when she discovers that Jackie has lied to her about his identity on multiple levels. However, after more investigation on the part of Jackie, it is discovered that Tsui had tenuous ties to the KGB and was being forced to engage in illicit activities at their discretion, a fact, that once revealed to Jackie and others allows for Annie to break down her hesitations and help Jackie. During the later father Tsui's death, an elaborate funeral is staged, which becomes the point of a wild brawl with guns and martial arts abound, eventually leading to a local aquarium where the fight takes an underwater turn, made expressly dangerous by the introduction of a maniacal shark that moves about the water and, at times, above it surface to attack people. Fighting off lackeys and saving unsuspecting tourists, Jackie eventually tracks down the KGB official who possesses the warhead and has kidnapped Annie, stopping his endeavor and escaping with Annie in tow. After the criminals have been apprehended, Jackie accepts warm thanks and returns to his job with a new degree of earned respect.
The movie really does have an international flare that I cannot help but embrace, particularly considering its nuclear warfare narrative. The involvement of both Chinese and Russian forces in such a plot could be deemed the worst of Western nightmares coming to the full front, but considering that the China in this film is dedicated to a degree of disarmament it is far from problematic, indeed, almost ideal when discussing a world that still sees threats of nuclear warfare both on a large global scale, as well as at the hands of terrorist subsets who are bent on knocking down global powers with a singular crippling blow. Of course, to set the film solely in China or Russia would be a bit overzealous not to mention a bit too obvious, particularly, since it is not in these countries that much of the heavy trafficking tends to occur. The choice to pull the often overlooked Ukraine into the narrative was a brilliant writing decision, because this space, much like other Eastern European countries is a space of illegal trafficking of everything from drugs and nuclear weapons to human bodies. Furthermore, since it is a film that deals with the western and eastern fears of nuclear warfare and a subsequent fallout staging, it is a space like Eastern Europe proves genius, because in its regional name alone it exists an oxymoronic divide between the two sides of the world. Indeed, when the narrative then moves to the often overlooked Australia things take a decidedly wild turn, suggesting that Brisbane is a place where the Chinese triad has extended its global power. I am not a person familiar with the demographics or even basic political world of Australia, but considering that it is the "land down under" and is often notably othered as a space in the world, it would seem like the idea location to plan and traffic nuclear weapons, because in a non-theoretical or critically grounded frame of reference, I would admit to saying that Australia would be the last place on Earth I would assume heavy trafficking in anything to occur. However, writing that very statement would make me inclined to reconsider it as a space that is equal to, if not greater, in trafficking to Eastern Europe.
Key Scene: The underwater fighting scene is really one of the greatest action sequences I have ever seen in cinema. While it was made famous by Thunderball, it is perfected here in this film.
First Strike is not a great movie, but it is not unwatchable by any means. A more "rentable" movie might not exist.