Plot: philandering private eye must diffuse hostage situation. Hilarity ensues!
We’re not a fan of Jackie Chan. While arguably one of the enduring and popular martial artists in the western hemisphere, we find his shtick tiring and annoying in equal measure. As a general rule we take great pains to avoid his work, but for every rule there are exceptions. City Hunter is that one exception. Why? His female co-stars for the most part. Not only is City Hunter blessed with two of the biggest stars of that decade and the one before: Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching (邱淑貞) and Joey Wong Cho-Yin (王祖賢), and it makes ample use of their considerable talents, comedic and otherwise. City Hunter was adapted from the Tsukasa Hôjô manga of the same name and is remembered for its brief detour into videogame adaptation territory. It never was a full-blown Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991) adaptation the way the lamentable American Street Fighter (1994) (with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kylie Minogue, and Ming-Na Wen) supposedly was. For better or worse the world got two Jing Wong productions of wildly divergent quality as a direct result. City Hunter is probably the most 90s movie Chan and director Wong ever lend their name to.
The story, as documented by chroniclers of the day, is that director/producer Jing Wong was aware of the success of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991) in arcades worldwide. City Hunter, at least during the earliest days of production, was going to be a manga adaptation exclusively. A fierce bidding war for the Street Fighter copyrights ensued wherein Chan would emerge as victorious. Wong had long expressed his desire to adapt the game for the big screen and Chan refused to grant him the license. It was 1993 (a marquee year for arcade beat ‘em ups) and Wong obviously wanted to capitalize on that with a Street Figher movie. Chan not wanting the relinquish the licensing, understandably, led to friction and the two frequently engaged in on-set shouting matches midway through production. In a bitter dispute Jackie Chan would denounce City Hunter and personally attack Jing Wong in the specialized press. Wong for his part used whatever pre-production material he had on hand for the improvised sci-fi comedy Future Cops (1993) and took a very thinly-veiled sweep at his former associate and star in the form of High Risk (1995), a Die Hard (1988) imitation very much like City Hunter. As these things go, City Hunter itself was plagiarized for the amiable Madam City Hunter (1993) (with little miss dynamite, Cynthia Khan) as it was a clear derivate of both that and Yes, Madam! (1985) (with Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock) and Super Lady Cop (1993) that came replete with a Taiwan-exclusive “Khan as Chun-Li” in a comedic Street Fighter setpiece. Those hoping to see Joey Wong Cho-Yin or Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching donning Chun-Li's famous blue qipao will leave sorely disappointed. Chingmy won’t even be shaking her cute little rump.
When his partner Hideyuki Makimura (Michael Wong Man-Tak) is shot and killed in the line of duty hard-drinking womanizing private eye Ryu Saeba (Jackie Chan) vows to look after (and not seduce) his niece. Years pass and Kaori Makimura (Joey Wong Cho-Yin) now works as his secretary and assistant. Kaori is deeply infatuated with the carefree, funloving Ryu who, of course, is completely oblivious to the fact. One day Ryu is hired by publishing tycoon Koji Imamura (Hagiwara Kenzo) to locate his runaway daughter (and heiress to the business empire) Shizuko (Gotoh Kumiko). Saeba has no interest in the case and politely declines because he hasn’t had breakfast. When he’s handed her picture he’s immediately smitten and readily accepts the job offer. By sheer dumb luck Ryu runs into Shizuko in Hong Kong and after a brief skateboard chase through the city Ryu and Kaori see her board the Fuji Mara luxury cruise liner. Once onboard Kaori is endlessly frustrated that Ryu shows far more interest in romantically pursuing Shizuko instead of safely returning her to her father. Also on board are Hong Kong Police Force officer Saeko Nogami (Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching) who together with her man-crazy bosomy friend (Carol Wan Chui-Pan) is on an undercover operation. When Shizuko accidently overhears that a cadre of terrorists led by Col. Donald "Big Mac" MacDonald (Richard Norton) and his dragon Kim (Gary Daniels) plan to overtake the cruise and rob its wealthy passengers there’s suddenly a price on her head. Ryu, Kaori, and Saeko must spring into action and work together to save the young heiress from harm and diffuse a most dangerous and explosive situation.
And talk of an ensemble cast! The sheer amount of star-power is a wee bit overwhelming here. Headlining is, of course, Jackie Chan, one of the few martial artists since Bruce Lee to cross over into the Western hemisphere, and the less said about his English-language oeuvre the better. The tagline, "he's out of town, out of time, and out of his depth!" rings especially true for Chan. Chow Yun-Fat, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Anthony Wong, Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, and Jet Li all can pull off the womanizing, sleazy private eye. Not so with the dopey Chan whose entire public persona is built around his signature jovial, amiable doofus shtick. The second biggest name is probably perennial LWO favorite Joey Wong Cho-Yin (王祖賢), the classic beauty with the puppy eyes and our original HK crush. By that point Joey had appeared in God of Gamblers (1989) and had finished her A Chinese Ghost Story (1987-1991) trilogy with Tsui Hark. Miss Wong had been branching out into HK action and comedy after being typecast as a spectral maiden for far too long. City Hunter gave her the chance to showcase her range. Then there’s Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching (邱淑貞); Wong’s fabled mistress, his muse, and our second crush. Chingmy had starred in Wong's The Crazy Companies (1988), Lee Rock (1991), Casino Tycoon (1992), and Royal Tramp (1992) flagship series as well as his Naked Killer (1992). She had played everything from the silky seductress and the comedic ditz to the gun-wielding action babe. In the years that followed she would star in the Raped by an Angel (1993-1999) sub-series, Future Cops (1993), the wuxia spoof Legend of the Liquid Sword (1993), the failed franchise launcher Kung Fu Cult Master (1993), as well as God of Gamblers Return (1994), the action-comedy High Risk (1995), the dopey rom-com I'm Your Birthday Cake (1995) and on a more in serious note in Stanley Kwan’s Teddy Award-winning drama Hold You Tight (1997).
Carol Wan Chui-Pan (溫翠蘋) and Gotoh Kumiko (後藤久美子) were the prerequisite beauty queens, the former losing her title due to an alleged breast enlargement and the latter retiring in 1995 after just 10 movies. Richard Norton was/is a legend and he starred in everything from Force: Five (1981), Gymkata (1985), American Ninja (1985) and Future Hunters (1988) to China O'Brien (1990) and Lady Dragon (1992). He had worked with Wong before on the amiable Magic Crystal (1986) and had starred in a bunch of Michael Dudikoff action romps, one of which co-stars the always enjoyable Catherine Bell, as well as the Lithuanian Gladiator (2000) knock-off Amazons and Gladiators (2001). Gary Daniels was another Westerner who somehow ended up in Hong Kong. There he shared the screen with Moon Lee in Mission of Justice (1992) and worked with Albert Pyun for his exhausted and exhausting Heatseeker (1995). Rounding out the all-star line-up is Cantopop superstar Leon Lai Ming, who was one of part of the Four Heavenly Kings (along with Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau, Andy Lau Tak-Wah, and Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing). Unfortunately Jing Wong never came around to making his own Cynthia Khan (楊麗青), Sibelle Hu Hui-Chung (胡慧中), or Moon Lee Choi-Fung (李賽鳳) Girls with Guns actioner. That probably would’ve been grand.
This being a Jing Wong romp there’s something for everybody. First and foremost this is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the manga. Then there’s a skateboard chase clearly inspired by the Hill Valley chase in Back to the Future (1985), at least two gambling scenes that could have been from either God of Gamblers (1989) or Casino Tycoon (1992), Colonel MacDonald wields the same gun as RoboCop (1987), there’s even a Bollywood song-and-dance interlude (it never quite reaches Bollywood heights of color and sound, but damn it tries), an extended homage to Bruce Lee and his Game Of Death (1978) involving Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a aerial dolphin ride modeled after the mobile statues in Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983). More importantly, City Hunter is famous for four things: three major setpieces and Wong’s bovine tendency to showcase each and every female cast member near-constantly in either swimwear, lingerie, or very revealing high-fashion. Joey Wong Cho-Yin and Gotoh Kumiko suffer the least in that regard, but Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching and in particular Carol Wan Chui-Pan (especially her legendary bosom, which might or might not, have led to her termination from a HK beauty pageant) are on display prominently. As late as 2015 he did the same with former Miss Hong Kong 2009 contestant Candy Yuen Ka-Man in his somewhat controversial The Gigolo (2015). As for the setpieces, there’s the Street Fighter cosplay fight with Daniels turning into Ken and Chan dressing up as E. Honda, Guile, and Dhalsim before settling on Chun-Li and doing the signature move/pose of each. Second, there’s the circus act routine wherein Chan acrobatically swings Yau around as she shoots goons left, right, and center – and finally there’s the admittedly funny boss fight between Chan and Norton that sees him incorporating dance routines from Madonna and Michael Jackson into the choreography. It’s not nearly as crazy Rothrock v Norton in Magic Crystal (1986) – but, honestly, what is?
Then there are fast food-related gags were Chan, not having had breakfast and appropriately starving by that point, runs into Carol Wan Chui-Pan at the pool and stares at her lustingly. First at her breasts which he sees as hamburgers, her legs which he thinks are chickenlegs, and finally her arms as chicken wings. Is it puerile? Yeah. Is it bovine? No doubt. It’s disrespectful at best, objectifying at worst, and completely unnecessary to boot. Wong never was below milking his women for all they were worth. Naked Killer (1992) was a valentine to Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching and this one’s all about Carol Wan Chui-Pan and Gotoh Kumiko. If you’re wondering where this sudden obsession with junk food comes from a look at the history of American fast food in China and its place in wider Sino culture at large is necessary. Fast food, and hamburgers in particular, was a fairly new phenomenon in Sino culture. Kentucky Fried Chicken was a true pioneer in that regard and was able to penetrate China’s world-famous hermetic culture by opening a Sino franchise as early as 1987. McDonald’s was brand new only having landed in Beijing a year earlier, in 1992. It certainly speaks to its appeal when Super Lady Cop (1993) was able to get away with imitating both the junk food gag and the Street Fighter shtick wholesale. There was also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fast food joke in Naked Killer (1992) but it never landed.
City Hunter is a lot of things. For one, the pace is resolutely breakneck and no gag is dwelled upon more than a few seconds. The action setpieces are explosive and while there may not have been as much heroic bloodshed and bullet ballet shoot-outs as we would have liked, the ones involving Chingmy Yau compensate for a lot. Jackie Chan is his usual self, although here his hyper-kinetic slapstick routines and rubber-faced mugging antics are kept to a bare minimum. It raises the question of what Jing Wong’s Street Fighter would have looked like (Chingmy Yau certainly looked the part in Chun-Li’s blue qipao, as did Cynthia Khan in the expected imitation) or what Hong Kong or Japan would have done with the property. One thing remains undisputed, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Street Fighter (1994) was terrible by any metric – both as an action movie but especially as an adaptation. In City Hunter the Street Fighter imagery was but a random gag among many and Jing Wong would give Die Hard (1988) a Hong Kong make-over in the form of High Risk (1995) just two years later. Which is a real roundabout way of asking: would anybody still be talking about City Hunter today if it weren’t for the all-star Chinese-Japanese cast and the crass fast food jokes?