Published July 1, 1997
Operation Condor directed by and starring Jackie Chan, is one of his Hong Kong movies, made before he became a star in the U.S., and now released with dubbing for the American market which, together with the amateurish acting, makes it look like a cheap porno title. Let us be clear. This is trash. But as I have so often had occasion to say before, we live in the era of high-class trash, and this is trash of the classiest sort. It also suggests that Chan movies are even funnier when he directs them himself. I laughed myself silly over the combination of slick but graceful physical action and the comic business which punctuated it.
The film is about a search for Nazi gold—a somewhat familiar topos—in which Jackie teams up with not one, not two but three female buddies, to all of whom he acts with impeccable gallantry, as always. Curiously, not much is made of the inevitable jealousies between the Chinese girl, called Ada (Carol Cheng), the German girl, granddaughter of the Nazi who hid the gold, called Elsa (Eva Cobo de Garcia) and the Japanese girl, Momoko (Shoko Ikeda) who has a pet scorpion called “Ding dong” and is on some kind of spiritual quest. None of these women is a strong enough character to emerge from the shadow of Chan, who dominates the picture as always with his charm and balletic grace. There are perhaps no spectacular examples of the latter to compare with the scene on the train in Supercop or with the ladder in Jackie Chan’s First Strike, but there is more comedy than in either of those films—nearly all of it visual and very fast paced.
There are some postmodern moments too, particularly in the way that the film treats the old Nazi, Adolf (Alfred Brel Sanchez), who alone holds the secret of the gold. At first a symbol of an unimaginably distant evil—the Nazis seem to owe their niche in history to the fact that they hoarded gold and built ingenious machinery for no obvious purpose in the middle of the desert—he suddenly changes from sinister to sympathetic when he loses control of the small army of Arab thugs he has brought to help him carry the gold away, and he is forced to team up with Jackie and the girls—even though this means he loses the gold for good. No matter. “I should have died 40 years ago,” he says. “Now I want to be with my friends.”
It is a bizarre turn of events, but somehow typical. It is a bit like showing the three women doing a cheerleading routine with Nazi helmets, and braining bad guys right and left. Crazy! Even so, such moments seem to have no larger purpose beyond subverting the film’s dramatic coherence by any means available. A lugubrious and suddenly penitent ex-Nazi will do as well as anything else to keep us from developing any attachment to the characters or story that might interfere with the film’s focus on Chan in action. It’s a heck of a way to make a movie, but it has to be said that Chan once again does make the thing worth looking at.