In a game attempt to take up some of the slack left by the departure of the Baltimore Film Forum, the Charles will run the occasional retrospective film series, titled "Monday Screens at the Charles," beginning tonight with the first of five Hong Kong action films.
The timing is brilliant, as two vets of the Hong Kong scene, John Woo and Jackie Chan, have just made successful assaults on the American market; director Woo with his dazzling "Broken Arrow" and star Chan with the lighter-than-air astonishment "Rumble in the Bronx."
The series kicks off (literally) with "High Risk," an amusing parody of Jackie Chan that both mocks the form of the Hong Kong kung-fu action picture while also delivering one. Directed by Wong Jing and starring Jet Li and Jackie Cheung Hok-Yau, the movie is about as over-the-top as a movie can get.
Set against the backdrop of Hong Kong moviemaking, it presents the Chan character, Cheung, as a complete phony, despite his reputation for valor and fearlessness. The true hero is his bodyguard and stunt double, played by Jet Li, a former anti-terrorist commando haunted by the loss of his own wife and child in a hostage event two years earlier.
Wong shunts between incredible farce and incredible spectacle, the film finally coming to be a kind of "Die Hard" clone, with the terrorists taking command of a hotel while Li tries to take them out and Cheung tries to hide from them.
Wong cannot deny the temptation to top himself; in the early going, you watch as a car rides up an elevator and breaks into a hotel banquet room, crashes this way and that, spewing carnage and comedy with equal aggression. You think, wow, I never saw anything like that!
Oh, yeah, Wong is thinking, and he climaxes the movie with a similar stunt, only this time it's a Huey helicopter that's crashed into the hotel and is thundering about on the floor like a fish on a dock, its blades dicing good guys and bad alike. Amazing!
As something of a Jackie Chan fan, I have to believe the movie's parody is more slander than truth, but it has to be said that Cheung makes a very funny Jackie-puppet, and when he finally does stop whining and gets down to kung fu, he turns out to be a terrific fighter and his last go with a particularly nasty antagonist is spectacular.
Jet Li, the true hero of the film, is much less Chan-like. Modest, martial and disciplined, he lacks the charm that Chan has or even that Cheung has, but he's got some great moves that even a non-kung fu specialist can pick up on, one being a way of converting a missed left-foot kick into a delivered right foot kick in mid-air. Amazing grace!
Films in the Charles' Hong Kong series include: "High Risk," tonight "The Legend of Foo Sai Yuk," March 25 "The Tai-Chi Master," April 1 "Drunken Master," April 8 "My Father Is a Hero," April 15. Tickets are $6; call the Charles at 727-3464 for information.
Pub Date: 3/18/96