I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Protector (1985)

tn_protectorTHE PROTECTOR is Jackie Chan’s second English-language starring vehicle after BATTLE CREEK BRAWL/THE BIG BRAWL. Both are notorious as terrible wastes of Chan’s talent.

I never used to understand the hatred for THE BIG BRAWL – that’s the first Chan movie I remember seeing, so I thought it was great. He has a bunch of goofy fights, is involved in a huge rollerskate race, does gymnastics on some high up metal bars just to show off, and like most Robert Clouse movies it has a hell of a theme song:

But years later, after seeing a whole bunch of the much better movies that Chan made both before and after that one, I re-watched it and it didn’t hold up very well. He does get to use chairs as weapons and things like that, but he fights alot of non martial artists so the choreography’s not as good as it can be, he doesn’t do many of the bigger stunts and the humor of the movie (not just his) is really broad. So I get it now.

When I watched POLICE STORY I started to get curious about THE PROTECTOR, though. They mention in the extras that Chan didn’t get to do what he wanted on that movie and that’s why he went back to Hong Kong and directed POLICE STORY.

mp_protectorThe director is James Glickenhaus, and THE PROTECTOR begins in the same type of sleazy New York hellscape where his vigilante movie THE EXTERMINATOR took place. It’s night, there are things on fire, there are three little people wearing some type of mixed up period costumes, and some ROAD WARRIOR type post-apocalyptian punks stop a semi and steal a shipment of computers. Billy (Chan) and his partner Michael (Patrick James Clarke) are cops who happen to come across the aftermath and talk to the driver. I’m not sure the significance of this scene but it’s weird because the driver is laying on the street and starts begging for his life when he sees Michael’s gun. Instead of saying “It’s okay, we’re police officers,” Michael slowly walks toward him with his gun out, then lifts the poor guy by the front of his shirt, then tells him they’re cops. Then makes fun of him for stopping for a red light in the South Bronx.

This gratuitous assholeishness seems like maybe a setup that Michael is a crooked cop, but no. He’s actually the Partner Who Dies At the Beginning. The two go to a bar to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Billy in the U.S., and Billy happens to be taking a piss when a gang of coked out creeps comes in to rob the place. One weird touch: the late Michael is carrying around a stuffed monkey doll because he was worried it would get stolen if he left it in the car. That’s how bad crime is, there are punks and creeps going around stealing stuffed animals from cars, maybe selling them to hospital and zoo gift shops for drug money. That’s the kind of world Paul Kersey was trying to avoid living in.

After this scene you’d assume the movie’s gonna be about catching or killing the guy that got Billy’s partner, but that actually happens in the first action scene. There’s a big foot-to-speedboat chase. Billy does a great move that’s more like the stupidest American movies than the Hong Kong ones: a helicopter drops a rope to him, he climbs out and somehow knows he can aim his commandeered-from-an-innocent-civilian speedboat for the bad guy’s boat and that the second they touch the other boat will explode into flames.

I read a true crime book one time where a police detective spotted and apprehended a bank robber while he was driving to a ceremony to receive a medal for having caught a different bank robber. The book argued that some cops just seem to have this uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time. This also applies to all cops in movies. Billy and his new partner (Danny Aiello) are at a fashion show when thugs with uzis and ski masks smash through the skylights and kidnap a rich guy’s daughter. So our boys have to go to Hong Kong to try to get her back. That’s why he’s THE PROTECTOR, because he’s, you know, rescuing someone, which is similar to protecting them I guess.

In Hong Kong Billy and his ‘Nam vet partner do their investigation, go to a bathhouse, etc. They make the mistake of getting some naked girls to give them massages. Turns out they work for the Triads or whoever so it’s a massage with a non-Hollywood ending, and Aiello ends up running in his boxers to get his gun out of a locker.

One weird part in this scene is when Aiello sees the face-hole on the massage bench he says “I remember these holes when they were a little smaller, ha ha ha.” He’s talking about gloryholes, right? Too much information there, buddy.

Eventually they team up with an ex-Navy SEAL American expat and a girl, etc. Billy does a pretty amazing motorcycle jump onto a boat, and some pole vaulting between different boats. The bad guys have a henchman who it’s mentioned is an ex-karate champ, and fortunately they follow action movie law and have Billy eventually have a big fight with the champ. At first their fight seems disappointingly straightforward, but eventually Jackie starts using objects he finds and climbing onto stacks of crates to fight different guys.

Like many movies (including recent ones like MERANTAU and HANNA) there’s a climactic action scene that takes place between shipping crates. The original part is that inside one of the shipping crates is a hidden drug lab. A team of naked women climb up a ladder to the lab where they grow melons and hide coke inside them. It’s not a seedy lab, it’s a cool one like they’d have in a James Bond movie or ENTER THE DRAGON.

Glickenhaus (or the producers, or whoever) obviously didn’t get Jackie Chan. His popularity came not just because he was great at fighting and stunts but also from his humor and the boyish personalities of his characters. He had already figured out to stop trying to be an invincible Bruce Lee and instead be a fuck up. But for THE PROTECTOR they tried to turn him into Dirty Harry. They have him grimacing and shooting people and about the only joke he gets to make is a goofy face when he steps in a hot bath during a chase.

It’s weird, they even have him cursing. It’s funny to hear Jackie saying “fuckin”, “asshole” and “shit.” I guess for the Hong Kong version Jackie took out the swearing. He also made the movie shorter, re-edited the final fight, and reshot the scene to put clothes on the naked girls! I’m against it.

I think there’s a small mistake in the way they present his action scenes, too. When he runs up a wall or a fence they put it in slo-mo. He does those little parkour moves all the time, but I think it’s the effortlessness that makes it so amazing. He does it so quickly and gracefully. It flies past your eye and you think “holy shit.” When it goes in slow motion though I think it’s not as impressive.

So there are some problems with THE PROTECTOR, but I think it’s not nearly as bad as its reputation says. It’s shot well, nice production values, with some weird touches for flavor (naked girls cutting open melons, little people dressed as pirates). And while it’s not up there with his best Hong Kong movies it does have several stunts that you would never see in a normal American movie, like all the jumping between boats and the crazy scene at the end where he’s standing on a metal platform lifted up by a crane and a guy throws boxes at him and he jumps over them like Mario jumping a barrel.

If you forget about it being a Chan vehicle and instead hold it up against the Cannon movies and stuff like that it’s actually a pretty good example of the cops ‘n chopsockie type genre. Unfortunately it happened to come out in a particularly crazy time for action movies and I think really it’s being held up to those that kept it from catching on. I looked up what other action movies were released in the U.S. in 1985, and here’s the list I came up with:

AMERICAN NINJA, CODE OF SILENCE, COMMANDO, DEATH WISH 3, GOTCHA!, GYMKATA, INVASION USA, THE LAST DRAGON, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, MISSING IN ACTION 2: THE BEGINNING, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART 2, RED SONJA, REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., A VIEW TO A KILL, YEAR OF THE DRAGON.

When you look at it that way you realize how fuckin nuts the action cinema was at that point in time. So many of these are memorable for their excesses or ludicrousness. Obviously COMMANDO is a classic with comic book exaggeration, DEATH WISH 3 is the most over-the-top vigilante movie of all time, GYMKATA is about a gymnast fighting mentally ill people to death on a mysterious island, INVASION U.S.A. is the most ridiculous (and enjoyable) Chuck Norris movie I’ve seen, THE LAST DRAGON is full of weird touches that would never happen at any other time in our cultural history, RAMBO is the living embodiment of ’80s action movie stupid-macho, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. is the most artfully made on the list by a mile but it’s all about ’85 Los Angeles phoniness, wang chunging and spectacular car chases. CODE OF SILENCE is one of the classier Norris movies, but it still has a robot in it. Shit, 1985 was even excessive in the amount of roles it gave to Chuck Norris – he’s got three on there. Also I figure it’s more of a drama but ROCKY IV came out that year, and it fits right onto that list as far as pure 1985ness. It had a robot too, it had communism, it had James Brown in a red white and blue sequined outfit,  it gave the world Dolph Lundgren.

So you can see how in that context THE PROTECTOR could be underwhelming. Compared to many of its type THE PROTECTOR has alot of mayhem and crazy stunts, but compared to most other action of the time it was tame in content and attitude. It had a hard time living up to Chan’s Hong Kong movies or America’s ridiculousness of the time.

And so it goes. But it was for the better. Maybe if this had been a huge hit like RUSH HOUR he would’ve been doing THE SPY NEXT DOOR by 1990.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 19th, 2011 at 12:20 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

40 Responses to “The Protector (1985)”

  1. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    May 19th, 2011 at 12:48 am

    I’m a better man now, however, back in the day I broke into a car that had a blow up doll sat in the drivers seat. And back then I would’ve totally broke into a motor to steal a stuffed monkey.

  2. I don’t know about the American version, but I seem to remember that the European cut of the massage parlor scene included pubic hair and one of the girls going under the table to service Aiello (him saying “When did you grow a beard?”). No wonder Jackie hated it. I guess he felt like a lot of guys trying to sort out the worst photos from their wild weekend in Prague.

  3. I read an interview with Glickenhaus in which he had no idea that Jackie had gone and reshot the ending of the film and had it released in HK. I’ve got Jackie’s edited version on a VCD but have so far never watched it. Guess I’ve got a good excuse now…

  4. Please, tell me more about this GYMKATA, that just sounds too weird to be true.

  5. Jareth Cutestory

    May 19th, 2011 at 8:18 am

    SDAL: I’m not sure I have the vocabulary to describe GYMKATA for you. It has to be watched to be believed. Of special note is how conveniently gymnastic equipment keeps showing up in non-gymnastics-oriented settings.

    And remember: Do not hear the wood split. Hear the only sound of axe cutting air.

  6. I believe Vern reviewed Gymkata not too long ago (with some embedded footage). That’s probably as good a place as any to educate yourself about Gymkata.

  7. Gymkata is pure, concentrated, awesome, God do I love that movie

    anyway I might want to check The Protector out, but it’s not on Netflix, alas

  8. Okay, I’m gonning to wait and see what other Chan flicks you might review before I comment anymore.

    I have only made a dozen posts on my blog in over a year, but two of them were about Jackie.

    Here’s another one:

    http://rave-sensation.blogspot.com/2010/02/bruce-lee-jacky-chan-oriental-heroes.html

  9. Hi

    The Protector trailer (HK) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmjPa9YCr-Y
    The Protector trailer (US) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gpki3D0cgA
    The Protector HK added scenes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky7fACsfFJU

  10. “Invasion of the USA” is better than the one where Chuck fights Bruce Lee? I gotta see that.

  11. CrustaceanHate

    May 19th, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Paul: INVASION U.S.A. is a Chuck Norris movie. WAY OF THE DRAGON is a Bruce Lee movie that has Chuck Norris in it.

  12. This was the first Jackie Chan movie I ever saw on the big screen. I was 5 and it was early summer 1989. Reason it was in the cinema is because I was on vacation in the D.R. that summer and it was part of a double bill. 3rd world countries have interesting shit like that.

    I remember by the end I was just kinda disappointed knowing that all my friends back home were seeing BATMAN the one movie I was hyped for all year and I was stuck with something they played on channel 5 back home on sunday afternoon. But at least the stunts did look cool as fuck all giganto sized to my 5 year old eyes. Sure beat seeing it on my old stupid B&W tv that I had in my room in those days.

  13. INVASION U.S.A. is like the fucking gospel itself in visual form. If it wasn’t for LONEWOLF MCQUADE and CODE OF SILENCE I’d say it was easily my favorite movie by Chuck.

  14. Henry Swanson's my name

    May 19th, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    I wonder why Jackie even went to the effort to shot additional scenes and release The Protector in HK when he clearly didn’t like the film?

    I guess Bey Logan explains in his commentary for it… I should listen to that.

    I’m guessing it was a pure money making endeavor, because he wanted salvage something out of the the whole crappy experience. Or maybe it was a producer friend of his who convinced him. I mean, it completely went against his humorous image he’d carefully crafted in China, so going against that could have been a bad move. Though I guess Police Story has moments of seriousness, but it isn’t so bloody grim like The Protector.

    The mid-80s was an incredible time for action films. That 1985 list is phenomenal, though I think 1986 might be even better:

    Aliens
    Highlander
    Cobra
    Big Trouble in Little China
    Top Gun
    Avenging Force
    Murphy’s Law
    Eliminators
    The Wraith
    The Delta Force
    Firewalker
    Raw Deal
    Howard the Duck

  15. Vern, I’m so glad to see you’re on a Jackie Chan kick. This is vital work. I have to insist that you see Miracles. It hasn’t been mentioned in anyone else’s top 10 Chan list so I assume it is rarely seen. I don’t know if the American version titled “Black Dragon” messes with the film, so I can’t vouch for it. I don’t know how hard a legitimate HK DVD is to find (shouldn’t be. Probably on Netflix even.)

    Miracles is the Jackie Chan movie so good I can even show it to girls and they’re into it.

  16. Henry Swanson's my name

    May 19th, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    If you can find them, the ‘HK Legends’ DVDs are the absolute best way to see Chan films.

    They have remastered audio/video and accurate sub-titles, original Cantonese dialogue, plus cheesy English dubs for those inclined, plus commentaries, making ofs etc…

    I own about 15 titles, and they are all fantastic quality.

    Vern – I think if you go on another (?) Donnie Yen session you should seek out ‘In the Line of Duty 4’ by Master Yuen Woo Ping. It’s urban, brutal and bizarre.

  17. Actually I’d go with Tiger Cage 2 – not as classy as ITLD4 but much more action-packed.

  18. Accurate subtitles, Henry? Nothing in the world is funnier than the Chinese “English subtitles” some of the older releases operate with.

  19. Miracles (aka Mr Canton and Lady Rose) is a good movie, and you might think it would go over better with people who aren’t used to HK action, but I haven’t found that to be true. Although it rips off Frank Capra’s “A Pocketful of Miracles” it still mostly seems like most HK movies where you just don’t get emotionally involved in the plot and although it’s long, there aren’t as many action scenes as usual. But the action scenes are fantastic! The scene in the rope factory is so inventive and mindblowing you won’t mind at all the wirework because it is so fun and really shows just how much real thought Chan and his crew would put into these scenes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGNRZULuSvw

  20. Hey there, fellas. I’m back from Jamaica and ready to drop a Paul-style bomb on that ass: This is probably my favorite Jackie Chan movie. I think Glickenhaus “got” Jackie in the same way I do. He “got” that he’s an annoying little fucker who ruins his own movies with his stupid mugging. Glickenhaus put the crackdown on all that shit, and as a result we get the Jackieness I love (the stunts, the moves, the fights, etc.) without any of the Jackieness I hate (every time he tries to Mustache Burt his way through a comic scene). It’s the kind of sleazy-ass Times Square movie I love with a side order of vintage HK craziness. Plus, Danny Aiello busts out that fuckin’ Duke Nuke’em gun at the end. Good times.

    Damn, it’s good to be back.

  21. Jareth Cutestory

    May 20th, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Majestyk: I actually agree with you that Chan’s mugging can be insufferable, but my brain can’t quite process your implicit suggestion that he is more fun to watch in PROTECTOR than he is in DRUNKEN MASTER.

    I always figured the secret to making a really good Chan film was to make the world depicted in the film as goofy as Chan himself, like in RUMBLE IN THE BRONX.

  22. The weirdest Jackie Chan fight scene for me is from THE YOUNG MASTER, because its abundantly clear the guy Jackie’s fighting is way better than him, and the only reason he wins is because he drinks some water with opium in it that somehow makes him impervious pain and all hyped up. It’d be like if Tony Jaa beat that guy at the end of ONG BAK by using the guy’s steroids himself! Though come to think about it, doesn’t he actually use some mysterious herb himself? How disillusioning.

  23. The fights in DRUNKEN MASTER are exponentially more amazing than the fights in THE PROTECTOR, but I enjoy the non-fighting scenes of THE PROTECTOR, while the same can’t be said of DRUNKEN MASTER. As a whole, THE PROTECTOR is my kind of flick, while DRUNKEN MASTER isn’t.

  24. Jareth Cutestory

    May 20th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Majestyk: Did you find RUMBLE IN THE BRONX a happy medium between the films? More acrobat fights set within a somewhat grittier city?

    Of course, as a New Yorker, I’d understand if you objected to RUMBLE on the sole grounds that it tries to dress up Vancouver as your home town. They even show the mountains off in the distance during the water-chase scenes. I guess RUMBLE IN GASTOWN wouldn’t have the same cache.

  25. RUMBLE is maybe a little better in that regard because it’s impossible to ruin. It’s a really stupid, badly made movie from the ground up, so Jackie’s schtick fits right in.

    I should stress that Jackie’s amazing physical prowess always wins out for me in the end. It’s just that I’d like him a lot more if he had a softer touch with the comedy. He’s like Jim Carrey or Mike Myers: so fucking desperate for a laugh that it’s pitiful.

  26. Mr M – I agree that Jackie is guilty of everything you have accused him of, but that shitty mugging isn’t a problem that is limited to him. Many HK movies are brought down by painfully unfunny attempts at comedy and broad acting. Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, and Yuen Wah all trained with Jackie, and they all have the same issue (granted Jackie is the worst offender, I’ll give that point right away). The guy had theatre training so emoting for the back rows is probably all he knows.

    “Pedicab Driver” has one of the most badass endings of any movie ever, and a good 40% of the movie is ruined by that broad HK humor. It’s just something we must suffer to enjoy awesome face-kicking.

  27. Jareth Cutestory

    May 20th, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    I’m going to consider myself very fortunate that I have seen dozens of Sammo Hung movies but have no memory of seeing him shamelessly mugging. Just kicking ass like a motherfucker.

    But now the possibility of running into one of these movies is like trying to navigate a mine field. And I’m a fella whose diet is largely comprised of Asian films.

  28. I am well aware of the problems presented to the badass enthusiast by the Chinese sense of humor. This is why I stopped watching HK vampire films.

  29. Did Jet Li ever do any more comedic roles in HK films other than FONG SAI YUK? I can’t really think of any from the ones I’ve seen.

  30. HITMAN was fairly comedic.

    I think. Not sure I finished that one.

  31. To be honest, one of the reasons why I don’t watch that much asian cinema is that constant change of tone in many of these movies. They can go from over dramatic, probably even with lots of crazy violence, to childish slapstick within the blink of an eye. And that just pisses me off. I don’t demand from a comedy to be ONLY funny or from a badass action movie to be ONLY serious, but the balance has to be right.

    I want to give it another try soon, but I remember that my final nail was KUNG FU HUSTLE, which looked in the trailers like mindless, goofy fun, but then changed its tone every five minutes from one extreme to another, which seriously ruined the whole movie for me. I can take, no I LOVE comedies that go serious in certain scenes, to show the audience that the shit is about to go down and the people who made it, take the story and its characters serious (i.e. FRIGHT NIGHT or GALAXY QUEST), but the end of the second act in KUNG FU HUSTLE, where the hero’s face get smashed to a bloody pulp and it isn’t played as a joke, although the guy who almost kills him does that with fighting moves, that are right out of a fucking DRAGONBALL cartoon, was too bizarre for me to enjoy.

  32. Do you think Tyler Perry ripped off the Hong Kong sensibility in the way he changes tone from broad fat suit comedy to serious spousal abuse melodrama? We’ve all seen Madea’s Family Reunion here, right?

  33. Majestyk, I LOVE that you can appreciate The Protector in such a way to make it awesome. That’s what I come here for. I’m sorry you lose out on some of Jackie’s other greatness but that’s why they make all kinds of movies for everyone. God damn, you must get more joy out of movies than most of us with that kind of outlook.

  34. wow, I just remembered that Kung Fu Hustle has been on my to see list for 6 years

    also, I hate to say it but there’s a lot of movies you guys have seen that I have not, for example of I’ve only seen a handful of Jackie Chan movies, I really need to get busy with Netflix again one of these days, I think though it might something have to do with me being a gamer, a lot of my free time over the years have been spent on games so I guess it’s no surprise I’m lacking in the movie department

    well here’s an old obscure Jackie Chan movie I have seen, Wheels On Meals, anyone see that? it’s not a very good movie, the plot is nonsense and the comedy is not very funny, but holy shit, the action sequences are fantastic, I guess I can see where Mr Majestyk is coming from

  35. Project A, Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever are the top three movies to see with the Three Dragons (Jackie, Sammo and Yuen). Sure they’re all silly in parts (Dragons less so), but so are James Bond and Indiana Jones, and I guess that’s part of the package to get a hit in Hong Kong/Beijing. According to the excellent book Sex and Zen & a Bullet in the Head the 10 must-see Hong Kong movies are (alphabetically); The Bride With the White Hair, A Chinese Ghost Story, Full Contact, Hard-Boiled, It’s Now or Never, Mr Vampire, Naked Killer, Pedicab Driver, Police Story 3 – Supercop and Sex & Zen. And (and here’s finally my point) when you take a closer look at these awesome movies they all have their fair share of silly comedy. It’s just a part of Chinese moive making and , in my case anyway, the reason I love them.

  36. Jareth Cutestory

    May 21st, 2011 at 8:27 am

    Stu: There are silly comedic moments in all of the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA movies. The scene where Li tries to hide his nausea on a train comes to mind. The SWORDSMAN movie that he did with Brigitte Lin is pretty silly start to finish as well. THE SWORDSMAN is actually sillier than FONG SAI YUK, but this is pretty low key stuff compared to much of what Chan produces.

    Also, Fong Sai Yuk’s mom rules.

    CJ Holden: Going into KUNG FU HUSTLE thinking it will be like a Chaplin film might help you digest it better.

    Griff: Just in case you didn’t know about it, there is a semi-sequel to MEALS ON WHEELS called TWINKLE TWINKLE LUCKY STARS that features the same cast and characters.

    The constellation of movies that these guys made together gets a bit confusing: WINNERS & SINNERS and MY LUCKY STARS are the other two. Each of these films has about ten different names.

  37. “Stu: There are silly comedic moments in all of the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA movies. The scene where Li tries to hide his nausea on a train comes to mind. ”
    Yeah, but he’s still the straightman in that. I remember also seeing this clip from something, I’m not sure it was Jet Li, but the character was dressed in a white suit suit and shades and I think he used an umbrella as a weapon, and there’s a point in a fight where someone fires a gun at him, and he splashes up a puddle of water that slows the bullet down in midair. Ring any bells, anyone?

  38. I don’t know the scene, Stu, but that’s my kind of action. I hope someone can identify.

  39. I have to admit that I have never seen this film. I am a huge Jackie Chan fan and I think because this one always got such a bad rap I stayed away from it, but I will have to check it out.

    Majestyk, it is good to have you back. I see your point about Chan’s “mugging”, but to me that is part of his charm. He is guilty of hamming it up at times but he is also a gifted physical comedian with good comedic timing even if his antics are at times heavy handed. For better or for worse it is also the comedic nature of his performances that help to set him apart as a film martial artist.

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