Throwback Thursday: Operation Condor Is a Great Introduction to Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong Filmography

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past, “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.

How do you describe a movie with bad cinematography, questionable acting, and—due to Dimension films not liking to release a film in Cantonese—a horrible English dub? How about “fun”? I’m talking here about 1991’s Jackie Chan import Operation Condor.

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Original American theatrical poster. It gives off a Bond vibe, but it isn’t even close to a Bond film.

Ostensibly a sequel to the 1986 film Armour of God and originally titled Armour of God II: Operation Condor, in the US it was simply released as Operation Condor. You don’t need to have seen the original film to understand this one—in one sentence, Jackie Chan plays Jackie, or Condor, a treasure hunter/secret agent who is tasked with finding a hidden cache of Nazi gold.

Really, though, you don’t go to see Jackie Chan films for plots. You go for fight scenes and choreography, and this one has some doozies, including a multifloor fight in a hotel, a fight atop a generator and tin drum, and even one inside a wind tunnel with the wind being controlled to allow literal midair punches and kicks. I admit I’m a fan of old-school fight choreography for which the camera holds back and allows you to see what went into a scene. Many modern-day films rely too heavily on CGI and mega cuts that put so many different edits and camera angles into a scene it’s sometimes hard to determine the flow of the action. The majority of Hong Kong films still rely on the “held back” approach, and it shows the artistry that goes into a lot of films. On the other hand, these are primarily stunt teams and not actors, which causes the acting in the film to suffer a bit. Keep the plots easy and let’s focus on the action.

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Fighting in a wind tunnel can be funny.

Jackie Chan got his start as a stunt man and extra in the ’70s and continued to work his way up to starring in his own films in Hong Kong. He tried breaking into the States in 1981 in Cannonball Run, but unsuccessfully. It wouldn’t be until the next decade when he’d hit it big with a Hong Kong import, Rumble in the Bronx, which allowed him to try the Hollywood game again with a much higher success in Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon, and their sequels.

In Hong Kong, however, he has been a huge movie star for the better part of four decades, bringing his own personality as a lovable, don’t-fight-until-you-have-to protagonist to multiple films and series, including Drunken Master, Police Story, and Armour of the Gods. One technique he took from Cannonball Run that he continues to use to this day is that at the end of a film, he will show outtakes, which show some of what goes into the fights—including getting rapped on the knuckles by a prop, missing a step, and even seriously injuring himself. On Operation Condor, there is an outtake of a stunt in which Jackie tries climbing a chain about 20 feet off the ground, but misses his grip and ends up falling. They show the crew immediately run to help him and then him giving the thumbs-up sign, but in actuality he broke his sternum on that stunt. It’s amazing to watch some of the outtakes after seeing the finished stunts in the movie and realize how precise some of these movements have to be and how many times the actors have to practice and film them to get the perfect take.

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Jackie using the wind to his advantage

Personally, I’m not a fan of dubbing and would much rather hear the original language and read the dialogue, but lowest-common-denominator Hollywood studios generally don’t think that typical Americans want to read subtitles. The way I see it, though, there’s not a lot of dialogue going on during fight scenes, so subtitles aren’t that intrusive or distracting. Someday official releases with original dialogue and subtitles will be the norm, but for now, most Hong Kong action films still rely on dubbing when being brought to the States. (Or there are always region-free discs, but quality will vary.) I will now step down from my soapbox.

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Jackie using a spear to his advantage.

Operation Condor is a great jumping-on point to see what Hong Kong Jackie Chan films are like. It’s fast paced, it’s a little quirky, and it has amazing fight choreography from the middle of Chan’s career. Another good one is Rumble in the Bronx, but it is funny to see mountains in the distance in that one—I never expected to see mountains from the Hudson Bay. If you like these then definitely try his Police Story series and Drunken Master films.

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Using a jacket to his advantage.

This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful. What are some of your favorite Hong Kong films?

If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.

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