"Mr. Nice Guy" is the latest Hong Kong actioner being distributed in North America by New Line Cinema, re-uniting two of the more well-known members of the Chinese opera performance troupe known as "Seven Little Fortunes", which begat a plethora of martial arts heroes for Hong Kong cinema. Of course, the two members I am referring to are Jackie Chan and Samo Hung. While many in North America will recognize Jackie Chan, the 'clown prince of kung fu', the name Samo Hung is not as well known. This hefty martial artist first made his mark starring in many chop-socky actioners (most notably as the guy Bruce Lee fought at the beginning of "Enter the Dragon"), and also as a director and fight choreographer for many films.
However, it seems both Jackie and Samo have hit a rut with this latest release, shot in and around Melbourne, Australia. Jackie Chan is a chef named (originally enough) Jackie, who has a rather sedate life creating new recipes and demonstrating his culinary skills on his own cooking show. Enter Diana (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick), a news reporter who ends up catching a deadly shoot-out on videotape between the local mob and a group of "Assault on Precinct 13"-rejects called 'The Demons'. The Mafia boss Giancarlo (gwailo martial artist extraordinaire Richard Norton) sends his hired goons after her, and in her desperate attempt to escape, she runs into Jackie. Reusing a plot contrivance found in so many Chinese movies, the tape is switched with one of Jackie's cooking show tapes, and of course, the Mafia chase after Jackie to get it back (this tired old routine was used in "Rumble in the Bronx" and "Drunken Master II"). Of course, as in every Jackie Chan film, Jackie gets the girl, or in this case, he gets two, dragging around a Chinese girlfriend (Miki Lee) and his personal assistant (Karen McLymont) as he tries to escape the Mafia.
Even if you tolerate the hammy acting, the inane dialogue, the overt misogyny that dominates Hong Kong cinema, and the so-thin-you-can-see-through-it plot, MNG is still disappointing for a Jackie Chan movie. For example, the ending: instead of a nice how-do-they-do-that-no-holds-barred display of martial arts prowess ("Dragons Forever" and "Drunken Master II" cases in point), we get Jackie driving a truck into Giancarlo's hide-out in the film's climax. "Rumble in the Bronx" had the imaginative use of household appliances, "First Strike" had the ladder fight... and MNG has Jackie driving a truck! In fact, this lazy plotting and action choreography is indicative of the whole movie. Not only are there no stand-out fight sequences in this movie (after all, you don't watch a Jackie Chan movie for the meaningful moments of exposition!), and the whole movie seems to be a pastiche of recycled-action set pieces from Jackie Chan's older films.
And despite over ninety per cent of the dialogue in English, MNG still resorts to atrocious dubbing, marring the film's otherwise decent production values. And I'm not talking about Jackie Chan's dialogue either-- he says his own lines in English. For some inexplicable reason, it's the voices of the Caucasian actors that are dubbed over, and dubbed over badly. In "Rumble in the Bronx", the poor dubbing was used for comic effect; however, in MNG, it seems more a symptom of shoddy production work.
Since the release of "Rumble in the Bronx" in 1996, the domestic take of each subsequent Jackie Chan release has been halved. The last Jackie Chan actioner that came Stateside, "Operation Condor", was released last summer, and promptly disappeared into obscurity after a couple of weeks. I have a feeling that "Mr. Nice Guy" won't even have that luxury.