Friday, January 1, 2010

Leave this prisoner locked up

The Prisoner (aka "Island of Fire" and "Jackie Chan is The Prisoner") (1990)
Starring: Andy Lau, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, and Tony Leung
Director: Chu Yen Ping
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Police detective Andy Lau (Lau) goes deep undercover in Hong Kong's harshest prison in order to root out corruption and discover why men are showing up dead in explosions years after they were supposedly executed by firing squad. Along the way, he disspears from the film in favor of numerous subplots that don't really have anything to do with the main storyline but give co-stars Hung and Chan something to do.

"The Prisoner" is one of those films that feel like several script girls were hurrying through the halls of Golden Harvest's offices one day, collided and dropped loose script pages. They tried to sort them out, but they didn't quite succeed... and director Ping went to work with a script that consisted of pieces of numerous movies. The acting is good, there's some great human drama in the film (the Hung character is particularly interesting, as is the tragedy surrounding Chan's character and his deadly feude with a Triad boss), and the action scenes are fabulous, but the plot is too disjointed and unfocused to engage the viewer. The climax of the film in particular seems ludicrous in the extreme, mostly because it isn't set up properly.

I think the most interesting part of the film is that we get to see Jackie Chan in a different kind of movie that what he is usually featured in. Chan's films are almost always fairly lighthearted, with cartoon-style violence. In "The Prisoner", the violence is grim and deadly, and the only lighthearted parts are dark humor. It's also kinda fun to see him doing the typical Hong Kong action movie routines (blazing two-gun flying leaps) intermingled with his own trademmark fighting style.

Oh, and a note to hardcore Jackie Chan fans... despite his name being above the title, Chan plays a fairly small role in the film. Andy Lau is the star *and* its hero. In fact, near as I can tell, the film is only titled "Jackie Chan's 'The Prisoner' as a marketing ploy, as Chan neither directed, wrote, produced, nor did anything other than act in the film (and even that was reportedly to repay a favor he owed the director).

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