1986, 97 minutes, HDCAM, in Cantonese with live projected English subtitles
Directed by: Jackie Chan & Eric Tsang
Starring: Jackie Chan, Alan Tam, Rosamund Kwan, Lola Forner, Mars, Ken Boyle
Monday, June 24 @ 6:15pm (buy tickets)
After doing a serious police drama set in Hong Kong, Jackie had an urge to do something international and, with Eric Tsang on board to direct, this was his Indiana Jones moment. After shooting the opening, set in Africa but shot in Yugoslavia (like the rest of the movie), Jackie came on set to do close-ups but decided that a stuntman had messed up a shot. It was a simple affair — just a leap from a wall to catch a tree that would bend and deposit him on the opposite wall — and he’d decided that the stuntman hadn’t done it right.
Jackie made the jump, lost his grip, and fell about 30 feet, landing headfirst on some rocks. Eric Tsang didn’t think it was a big deal (Jackie had fallen harder and from higher) so he called lunch. Then someone noticed blood pouring out of Chan’s ears. Jackie was rushed to the hospital and had an operation to put a plastic plug in the hole in his skull. After a week, he was able to travel, but he lost two things: his director and his haircut.
Eric Tsang had insisted that Jackie cut his hair to have a new image in this film (he also wanted to play up Jackie’s love interest, played by Rosamund Kwan). After the operation, Jackie grew his hair out to hide the hole in his skull and Eric Tsang left the film. Tsang’s career was red hot at the moment, and he’d worked several times with Sammo Hung on the Lucky Stars series. Unwilling to wait for Jackie to recover, he took the job directing My Lucky Stars Go Places. The only thing that remains of his work is the opening, and an intensely (and uncharacteristically) bloody fashion show shoot-out.
This kind of near-death experience was appropriate for Jackie’s take on Indiana Jones, and he’s already trumped the thrills of Raiders of the Lost Ark by the end of its first five minutes. In ARMOUR OF GOD, Chan is Asian Hawk, a grizzled two-fisted adventurer/archeologist with the bouncing hair and tight abs of a hyperactive manchild. Jackie’s at his most hard-bitten here, at one point growling dirtily at co-star Maria Irene Fornes like a Hawk in heat, “I’ll show you how to be a whore.” Later, he confesses his childhood urges to be like Jesus.
His foes are equally debauched. Originally slated to be a Catholic vs. Islam movie, the plot was sensibly changed to avoid offending religious sensibilities. The resulting baddies are a cult of dissolute Euro-swingers who dress like jolly vicars, live in a mountain in France, and want to steal the titular Armour (of God). Given to psuedo-evil pronouncements like “Happy hour begins!”, this pack of fiendish friars prove more than a match for Jackie when they kidnap and brainwash Rosamund Kwan, who plays the mind-controlled cultist to a “t” (with her big, lost eyes and pixie haircut she’d look perfectly at home handing out pamphlets in the airport).
The Asian Hawk used to be in a band named the Losers with real-life Cantopop King, Alan Tam (who actually used to have a band called the Wynners until he and bandmate Kenny Bee had a falling out). Rosamund was in the band, as well, in love with both fellas although she ultimately picked Alan, and when the evil cult kidnaps her, Alan goes to Jackie for help. Jackie and Alan can’t stand each other, but reluctantly they team up and go to rescue the lady in distress. Along the way French motorhead, Remy Julienne, choreographs a breathless car chase which winds up with Jackie and Alan cozily ensconced in a micro-car built for one allowing the wicked minded amongst us to speculate on who’s zooming who.
Filmed in Yugoslavia, France and Hong Kong the picture feels more like a Times Square grindhouse exploitation flick with its Eurocult monks, its blaxploitation kill squad, its Eastern European locations, and its opening super-bloody fashion show gunfight. Alan Tam is a trip, popping about like the Cowardly Lion and dispensing horrible romantic advice, while Jackie juggles a hardboiled performance with directing duties in this cock-eyed, two-fisted, three-footed, ten-knuckled adventure flick.