Published March 1, 1998
Mr Nice Guy, directed by Samo Hung, stars Jackie Chan as a TV cook who accidentally gets mixed up in gang activity in Melbourne, Australia. His now deceased father was supposed to have been a policeman and best friends with a man named Baggio (Barry Otto). Dad had made Baggio promise to ensure that Jackie became a cook instead of a cop, since it was a much safer occupation. Somewhere along the way, however, Jackie learned the martial arts techniques which have become the real Jackie’s trademark. So when, one day, he happens to run into a young TV reporter who has videotaped a meeting of two gangs and is on the run from both, he just has to help her.
I am rather a fan of Jackie Chan’s, not only because of the visual excitement of his balletic grace in taking on swarms of clodhopping thugs but also because of this chivalric subtext. In what other movies these days could you see not one but three pretty girls—the other two are his TV assistant and his supposed fiancée, Miki (Miki Lee), just arrived from Hong Kong and speaking almost no English—crying out “Jackie, help!”? And in what other movies would you see Jackie helping? Moreover, the three girls become a sort of non-sexual harem for him—one white, one black, one Chinese and all extremely decorative. They all get along well too, apart from one or two moments of jealousy. Such amazingly retrograde stuff manages to sneak through the Hollywood political police partly, I suppose, because of Jackie’s huge popularity in the less advanced civilizations of the orient and partly because of his personal charm, which is considerable.
The only thing I didn’t like about this picture was the climax, which was given over to the exploits not of the hero but of a giant earth-moving machine which he uses to destroy the house and vehicles and other property of a vicious drug-lord called Giancarlo (Richard Norton)—whose name is pronounced by everybody in the Australian way as “Jeen-Carlo.” To be sure, Jackie is driving the big machine, but its satisfactory car-crunchings and house-smashings and explosions are all-too-familiar as boob bait for the teenyboppers and unbalance with brute bangs a movie which otherwise focuses on Jackie’s personal finesse. He should have more confidence in himself. He is far more watchable than stuff blowing up.
I also wondered whether the pacing of the film didn’t suffer, rather, from what seems to be the action-movie orthodoxy today, both in Hollywood and in Hong Kong—which is that you’ve got to follow up one action scene with another, and then another with no space in between to develop a story in any remotely plausible way. Some things have obviously had to be cut out as a result. One of the leaders of the rival gang to Giancarlos’s, the Demons, is a butch chick—a Demon princess, in fact—who was clearly originally intended for a bigger role as a redeemed baddie. But, busy with other things, the filmmakers simply forget about her in the various smashings that constitute the dénouement, and she simply disappears. So does the TV girl. But then few will care when Jackie’s stunts are, as always, so breathtaking. His showmanship, like his chivalry, is a throwback to another era.