North American moviegoers will have to wait until the release of "Rush Hour 2" this summer to get their 2001 dose of Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan, but for audiences in Hong Kong, they already got their first dose a few months ago. As he does every year, Chan unveiled his latest film, "The Accidental Spy (Te Wu Mi Cheng)", to Asian audiences during Chinese New Year. In what is probably one of the more expensive Hong Kong films in history, with a budget in excess of $25 million US, "The Accidental Spy" is a return to the more serious Jackie Chan actioner (such as "Police Story"), eschewing the light comedy and relatively 'kid-friendly' violence seen in last year's "Shanghai Noon" and "Gorgeous (Bor Lei Jun)". And though it may not match up against the veteran martial arts master's best, it is probably one of his better homegrown productions in recent years.
Playing the kind-hearted everyman he does in the majority of his films, Chan is cast as Buck Chen, a bumbling fitness equipment salesman who also happens to be a master of kung-fu. When he thwarts a daring midday robbery at a local bank, he catches the attention of a private investigator named Many Liu (Eric Tsang of "Gen-X Cops"). Many believes that Bei may be the long-lost son of a former North Korean spy who is slowly dying of cancer. At his would-be father's deathbed, Buck is given a riddle to solve which ends up taking him to Turkey, where he becomes embroiled in a covert plot to retrieve a deadly new strain of anthrax, pitting him against a terrorist named Zen (Wu Hsing Kuo of "God of Gamblers 2") and the CIA.
Like most of his films, the cloak-and-dagger plot of "The Accidental Spy" is merely a clothesline to string together a number of action sequences with Chan doing what he does best-- being his own stuntman. For those of you who think Chan is slowing down in his old age, "The Accidental Spy" shows that he still has plenty of zip, showing off more swift moves and energy than he ever did in "Shanghai Noon". Teddy Chan (who scripted Jet Li's "Black Mask") capably handles the film's big action set pieces, which vary tremendously in the mix between the comic elements and jaw-dropping action. On the lighter side, there is the film's opening bank robbery hijinks, as well as an interesting sequence where a buck-naked Buck must fight off thugs while maintaining his modesty. However, it's not all Buster-Keaton-style humor in this more serious-minded actioner, as illustrated by Buck's perilous escape from masked gunmen in a fishing village, and the film's exhilarating climax, where Buck finds himself trapped on board a flaming gasoline tanker truck à la "Speed".
Supporting Chan is the usual bevy of beautiful women that populate his films. Taiwanese actress Vivian Hsu ("Dragon from Shaolin") brings some unexpected yet refreshing poignancy to the proceedings as a young woman trapped in Zen's iron grip, while Korean-American newcomer Kim Min Jeong delivers a stilted performance as a news reporter who offers her help to Buck. In the other supporting roles, Tseng brings his usual droll take on his enigmatic character, while Wu overdoes it a little as the film's moustache-twirling chief bad guy.
It's no accident that "The Accidental Spy" is a solid action pic that returns the martial arts master to top form. In the Hong Kong box office, "The Accidental Spy" easily beat the earnings of "Rush Hour" and "Shanghai Noon", and it is hardly surprising that the Dimension Films arm of Miramax snapped up the international rights, as it did for "Drunken Master II" and "Twin Dragons". However, given that less than a third of the film is in English, if "The Accidental Spy" doesn't go straight to video and DVD (like last year's "Gorgeous"), then expect another English-dubbed hack job for the theatrical release (such as "Operation Condor"). Fortunately, Chan fans unwilling to wait for the North American bow of this decent actioner can satiate themselves with the recently released import VCD and DVD.