Things get a little too wacky in Wong Jing’s live action adaptation of Tsukasa Hojo’s manga
[musical sting plays] “City hunter!”
That musical theme is heard throughout the movie, and every time it comes on, it’s at a moment that you wish could be the status quo: Jackie Chan’s character has just done something awesome, he turns to the camera and gives a dashing smile. There’s a feeling that comes with that moment: that the scene you witnessed was worth the energy to film and time to watch. City Hunter is a movie that is unfortunately not loaded with many of those moments.
Chan plays Ryo Saber (or Ryu Saeba according to my DVD), a private investigator in Tokyo. In the opening sequence, he tells us how his partner Makimura was killed during an investigation, and now looks after his sister Kaori (Joey Wong), who has grown into his assistant. Kaori has feelings for Ryo, and disapproves of his constant womanising. Ryo has been assigned the task of locating Shizuko Imumura (Kumiko Goto) by her father, the CEO of a prominent newspaper. While evading capture, she steals some guy’s clothes, which contains a ticket for the cruise ship Fuji Maru, which she decides to just go on.
Meanwhile, Kaori, tired of Ryo, takes a holiday with her cousin who inexplicably wants to plow her. Ryo sneaks on board (I can’t remember why), and slowly discovers a terrorist plot to hijack the ship and take people aboard hostage. Also there’s a fan-service police officer (Chingmy Yau) there, too. I guess she’s part of the manga’s main cast? It’s sort of all over the place.
On surface level, City Hunter looks like a standard Jackie Chan product of its time: misunderstandings with women, plenty of slapstick, a giant white guy who can’t act as the main antagonist. It checks all the boxes. I guess where it suffers is that it’s an adaptation of a manga – that I’ll admit I’ve never read – and thus feels the need to follow certain beats, and introduce characters. City Hunter is loaded with characters who don’t need to be in there. Ryo’s dead partner, that police officer and her friend, the weirdly horny cousin. It’s all so out of left field. Some of them are cool – the card-playing guy (played by Leon Lai!) is the best thing in the movie by a long shot, but he’s still kind of a pointless character. The whole movie is fun, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s so disjointed it’s tough to really get into.
The majority of the fight scenes are what you’d expect from a Jackie Chan feature, with some excellent choreography. This isn’t too unusual: the majority of Chan’s best movies combine goofy humour and dangerous stunts, but City Hunter operates in cartoon world, where Ryo can lead a skateboard chase through thick glass windows, and a man throws cards like shuriken. And then everyone becomes Street Fighter characters. Oh, and there’s also an impromptu musical number. The physics and realism are bonkers, and people only get hurt when it’s necessary, so the dramatic stakes that come from the fights – which are, again, really good without the context of the movie – are heavily diminished.
And this is a problem throughout most of the film. Half the cast are underdeveloped, meaning you won’t care about what happens to them and the rest don’t seem to suffer at all, despite everything that happens. I’m not expecting to doubt whether Ryo will survive – of course he will, he’s the hero – but I shouldn’t have to wonder if any stakes will present themselves. He’s on a boat for days, with no cabin or food but it doesn’t seem to make a difference to his performance as the City Hunter, so why is this even a story thread? Aside from having him point out how hungry he is, it served no purpose.
It’s a shame, really, because this could have been a really good Chan comedy, possibly even as good as Police Story or Project A. Jackie Chan playing against type as a confident, cool PI and his adventures around Tokyo could have made for a decent film series, but as it stands, City Hunter was just kind of boring, pretty generic and too cartoony compared to its likeable leads and good fight sequences. I don’t regret seeing it, but you’d be better off with something else.
Verdict: Not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, City Hunter simply fails to do much correctly.
Overall score: 5/10
White guy acting: 2/10
Coincidences: The entire first half
Slapstick: So much slapstick
Chun-Li: Good luck getting that image out of your mind
City Hunter: Spent surprisingly little time in the city
City Hunter (1993)
Director: Wong Jing
Writers: Tsukasa Hojom (manga), Wong Jing (screenplay)
Jackie Chan as Ryo Saber
Joey Wong as Kaori Makimura
Leila Tong as Kaori as a child
Kumiko Goto as Shizuko Imumura
Chingmy Yau as Saeko Nogami
Carol Wan as Saeko’s friend
Leon Lai as Kao Ta the gambler
Richard Norton as Col. Donald “Don Mac” MacDonald
Gary Daniels as Kim
Michael Wong as Hideyuki Makimura