CITY HUNTER - DVD review

...if you like the strip and the anime, you'll probably like the movie as well. Everyone else, beware.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

I'd advise you proceed at your own risk on this one. Jackie Chan has always been adept at combining his martial-arts talents with his personal charisma to produce good action-comedies, but this time he plays an outright cartoon character. The result takes a while to get used to, if at all.

"City Hunter," 1992, is based on a popular Japanese comic strip and anime hero, Ryu Saeba, who in the movie is a rather exaggerated, goofball private eye played by Chan. His antics as well as everything about the film are meant to be purely cartoonish in appearance and execution, thus making the picture an exercise in tedium for anyone not in the mood for a lot of preposterous silliness. It was a close call for me at first, but I quickly got tired of all the fun and games and found the movie only sporadically interesting after the first few minutes.

Japanese anime is an animation style usually distinguished by its colorful and stylized art work and in the case of "City Hunter" by its violence and sexuality as well. This live-action anime movie attempts to capture these qualities in a humorous way, along with the characteristics of sock-em-up video games like "Street Fighter." If you're not particularly interested in violent anime, far-out comedy, or parodies of video games, "City Hunter" may not be of much interest to you.

Chan, as I said, is the woman-chasing, karate-punching Ryu, or City Hunter, who's kind of a spoof of the James Bond character, an early Austin Powers. There isn't anything he can't do, but it always takes him a while to get around to doing it. His sidekick is Kaori Makimura (Joey Wong), the beautiful cousin of a best friend whom he promised on his deathbed to take in and protect but never to seduce. That was fine when Kaori was a kid, but she quickly grew into an attractive young woman, and now Ryu is having regrets about his pledge. For her part, Kaori is forever jealous of Ryu's flirtations with other women.

The plot, as such, involves Ryu and Kaori being hired by a publishing tycoon to find his runaway daughter, also a beautiful young woman, Kyoko Imamura (or Shizuko, depending on which translation you listen to), played by Kumiko Goto. Everyone in this picture is beautiful. You're not allowed in if you're not beautiful, male or female. The heroes trail Kyoko to a cruise ship, where Ryu stows away to better follow her. Once aboard, though, there's greater trouble ahead. A gang of terrorist thugs led by a Col. MacDonald (Richard Norton) hijacks the ship and everyone in it. It's up to Ryu, Kaori, and a few brave passengers to thwart the evildoers.

I confess that by about thirty minutes in I had no idea what was going on or why or who any of the dozen or so new characters were. I don't suppose the viewer is expected to know what's going on, and for the film's admirers that will be half the fun. The plot is almost nonexistent and incredibly nonsensical, its actions showing great energy but so fragmented they meander all over the place. At one point there's an extended song-and-dance routine featuring an army of shipboard entertainers that comes right out of the blue.
Mainly, however, the story involves chases in and around the ship with intermittent fights wherever convenient. Steven Seagal released his wildly popular "Under Seige" movie the same year, also about a shipboard adventure, and one wonders if the two scripts were coincidental.

The best parts of "City Hunter" are a chase around a skateboard park and through the streets; a fight between Chan and two gigantic baddies in a movie theater while Bruce Lee fights Kareen Abdul-Jabbar on-screen in "Game of Death"; and a battle royal that simulates the "Street Fighter" video game with Chan taking on the personas of several of the game's characters. Unfortunately, these sequences last only a few minutes are hardly worth the entire picture.

Most of the time, we're subjected to cartoon characters, cartoon situations, and cartoon violence. It isn't quite so intentionally campy as the old "Batman" TV series, but it's close. From the very outset the movie proclaims itself a cartoon in brash primary colors, hand drawings behind the opening credits, and stylized cartoon fights. It's all very cute for a few minutes, as I mentioned before, but it soon becomes tiresome. Perhaps it's too evident that the film is trying to be cute and too willing to proclaim itself so. It's a film that desperately wants to be loved.

Ryu is perpetually daydreaming about pretty girls, whole swimming pools full of them, and Kaori is continuously dreaming of bashing Ryu over the head with a giant mallet. The jokes, like pies in the face, are ancient and largely juvenile, as are the many immature references to sex (without any actual sex taking place), all the while bullets and bodies flying everywhere as in an old Looney Tunes short. In this regard, interestingly, there are fewer spectacular stunts than in most other Jackie Chan films as well; I don't know why.

Finally, there's the matter of the dubbing. Whether you choose to listen to the Chinese or English track, the words don't often match the characters' lips. I suspect the film was dubbed in both cases, American English and Cantonese. Watching "City Hunter" reminded me of Woody Allen's old spoof, "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" The difference is that I preferred Allen's off-the-wall parody to Chan's out-and-out silliness.

Video:
Appropriate to a comic-book creation, the hues are bright and cartoonish, sometimes brassy, sometimes simple, with large splashes of dominant colors reminiscent of a cartoon strip. Outdoors they show up very well, indeed, with crisp delineation. Indoors, they tend to be more subdued, often accompanied by a smoky haze, probably an intentional effect to suggest mystery or romance. The anamorphic widescreen image measures an approximately 1.74:1 ratio, and it displays little or no grain, halos, pixilation, color bleed-through, or moiré effects.

Audio:
The audio is advertised as being remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1, but you couldn't prove it by me. There was so little surround information coming from the rear channels I had to stop and check the level balances of my speaker system to be sure they were still functioning properly. They were. Putting my ear to a rear speaker I detected a faint signal from "City Hunter." The front speakers produce a decent stereo image, though, with a frequency balance that is very clear if somewhat thin and bright.

Extras:
The bonus items include, foremost, some "exclusive" interviews with the cast and crew: Jackie Chan, director Wong Jing, and stuntman Rocky Lai. I've never heard Chan so serious or so frank in an interview before as he explains his early disappointment in making films in Hollywood. He didn't think American audiences understood Chinese action movies or Chinese humor, but apparently in the intervening decade between then and now he's figured something out; his Hollywood films are more popular than ever. There are also twenty scene selections, a new "City Hunter" outtakes MTV music video, a Jackie Chan movie photo gallery and biography, a photo gallery for "City Hunter," and several theatrical trailers for other Fox films among the extras, with a choice of Chinese or English spoken languages and subtitles.

Parting Shots:
The fact that Jackie Chan never made a "City Hunter II" or reprised the Ryu Saeba character should tell you something. Maybe he felt the movie was pretty frivolous and far-out even by his standards.

Although I have never seen the comic strip or anime that "City Hunter" is based on, I understand this live-action movie is very much like them in style and spirit. However, this does not necessarily make for a good movie, especially as the comic strip and anime appear to be aimed at adolescents who may not care how well their hero translates to the screen. My guess is that if you like the strip and the anime, you'll probably like the movie as well. Everyone else, beware.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
6
Extras
4
Film Value
4