Sunday, December 21, 2008

Movie Review: Battle Creek Brawl

The Jackie Chan Film Festival slowly makes its way into the 1980s, and hops over to America for Jackie's first English film, Battle Creek Brawl (aka The Big Brawl). Although it's his first film specifically for American audiences, it still shares a lot of traits with his Chinese films at the time. Once again, it's a period piece in which he plays a young man interested in martial arts against the wishes of his father, who gets trained by a mischievous/sadistic older master (played this time by Japanese actor Mako), and who gets involved in a battle between two rival gangs. But this time, the period is the Depression-era Chicago instead of imperial China, and the gangs are mobsters instead of rival martial arts schools.

The mobsters are involved in underground fight tournaments and, er, underground roller-skate relay races (leading to a bizarre action sequence and the likely anachronistic dialog "no pain, no gain!"). Jackie's character is coerced into fighting in a Texas tournament when his brother's fiance is kidnapped - a plot point that seems to be largely forgotten by the end of the film. All of the other competitors are large, hulking brute types who fail to put up any kind of challenge to Jackie. So most of these fights are played for laughs, but are largely unimpressive. Only during one sequence where Jackie takes on a set of mobsters in a movie theater, including a knife-welding fighter, do things get at all interesting, and that's really only relative to the other fights.

There really isn't much to recommend here - Jackie tries to incorporate some touches from his Chinese efforts, such as using benches and chairs as shields and weapons. But many of these attempts seem overly posed and oddly paced here. I don't know if this is from using a different set of stuntmen or what, but after viewing the original versions of these stunts, these versions come off as a cheap knock-off.

This is barely a two-star effort, so it's no wonder it caused Jackie to fall back before mounting another attempt to enter the American market several years later. In the meantime, the festival moves back to China for the next entry, the Jackie Chan-directed Dragon Lord.

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