Operation Condor Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

"Operation Condor", the newest Jackie Chan chop-socky to be released on this side of the Pacific, was actually released in Hong Kong and selected international markets in 1991. This kung-fu take on the Indiana Jones franchise is actually a sequel of an earlier Chan pic from 1985 called "Armor of God". It also has the distinction of being one of the most expensive Hong Kong films ever, with a final budget of around $11 million dollars US, which is exorbitant considering that a bonafide hit in the concentrated Hong Kong theatrical market will only take in $5 million US in gross ticket sales. Luckily, because of the earlier success of "Armor of God", OC was pre-sold in the Japanese, British, and certain continental European markets, offsetting the huge budget (now, of course, additional contribution is being made in the North American market).

Why did you have to drink their holy water?
Am I going to die?
No, but you have to marry... her!

As with any Jackie Chan movie, the plot is threadbare-- merely a hastily-slapped-together-collection-of-cliches-that-allow-a-logical-progression-between-action-sequences. Jackie Chan also wrote and directed OC (though sections of the movie were directed by two other Hong Kong directors, Johnny To and Frankie Chan), and it is readily apparent when compared to some of his other offerings. To call OC a movie is a misnomer-- I liken it more to a stunt show. The story is a ridiculously-written and ludicrously-executed treasure hunt where Jackie (yet another original name for a Jackie Chan character!), under the codename 'Condor', is sent by the United Nations to retrieve some buried Nazi Gold somewhere in the Sahara desert. In a prime example of the rampant misogyny that permeates Hong Kong action cinema, he is joined along the way by three inept women-- the grand-daughter of the Nazi soldier that ordered the burial of the gold (Eva Cobo De Garcia), a geologist named Ada (Carol 'Do Do' Cheng, a Hong Kong comedienne with many film credits a lot better than OC to her name), and a Japanese desert nomad with a pet scorpion named 'Ding Dong' (Ikeda Shoko). As Jackie and his entourage trek across Spain and Northern Africa in this "Lawrence of Arabia"-wannabe, they come across some stereotypical Arabs, stereotypical Egyptians, and other stereotypical villains from some twisted ethnocentric perspective.

According to this document, some of the Nazi's descendants may still live in the area!

The only worthwhile aspect of OC is, of course, to watch Jackie Chan in action, blending martial arts prowess with the physical comedy of Buster Keaton. In OC, you will see new and creative ways of beating up bad guys, and the many inventive techniques for disarming opponents. Among the standout action sequences are an applecart-upsetting car chase through the streets of Madrid which ends with Jackie leaping off a pier in a motorcycle and latching onto a crane-load of netted cargo in mid-air, a running battle on a large Meccano-kit that is for-no-good-or-convincing-reason found in a Nazi base, and a final showdown in a wind tunnel. If you love to see Chan in action, doing the seemingly impossible, you will probably like this movie, which has been described as one of his best for the inventive stunts.

However, Jackie Chan doing his own stunts alone is not enough to sustain Western audiences. The dialogue in OC suffers from the "But still..." syndrome that plagues many of those dubbed chop-socky movies that you see on late-night TV once in a while. The need to match up the syllables to the movements of the actors' mouths leads to goofy exposition in OC, much like how dialogue in those late-night movies are padded with But still's or Right then's to synch properly (such as "But still, you killed my brother and so now we must fight!"). Furthermore, because of the cultural differences, a lot of the humor is lost in the translation, which will leave Western audiences cringing, going 'huh?', or both.

I told you not to touch anything until I got here! You've activated the self-destruct!

As mentioned earlier, OC is merely a bunch of cool action scenes that Chan thought up and stuck together and called a movie. Some scenes go off on a strange tangent and make no sense at all-- they only exist to allow Chan to do a stunt. This inept plotting carries through all the way to the end, when a former Nazi soldier named Adolf (now there's originality for ya!) finds that his hired goons have turned against him and decides to mend his evil ways and helps Jackie and his entourage escape. This is certainly not a movie for "Cahiers du Cinema" purists!

If you are a die-hard Jackie Chan fan, then you won't be disappointed by "Operation Condor". But if you like a little bit more meat on your movies, then look elsewhere.

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