The Protector (1985)
Director: James Glickenhaus
Writers: James Glickenhaus
Starring: Jackie Chan, Danny Aiello, and Moon Lee

The Plot: Billy (Jackie Chan) is a decent cop who has been in America for the past ten years paying his dues. He’s a bit of a ladies man and is so fiercely dedicated to his job that he sometimes finds himself in trouble with his superiors. When his partner is killed, Jackie is paired with veteran officer Danny Garoni (played by Danny Aiello). The duo become fast friends and are quickly wrapped up in a kidnapping case when the wealthy heiress that they were supposed to be looking after, is abducted by a crime syndicate. When a phone number pops up on the heiress’ phone bill coming from Hong Kong, something seems fishy, but when it turns out that the kidnappers may be affiliated with the evil Hong Kong druglord Ko – things seem even worse. Billy and Garoni are soon on their way to Hong Kong so that they can investigate these matters further, but they eventually find themselves wrapped up in a story that far exceeds anything they could have ever imagined.

The Review
When you ask most people what they think Jackie Chan’s first American movie is, chances are they’ll probably tell you Rush Hour. Not that there’s anything wrong with this line of thinking, because you truly can’t blame them for having never seen The Big Brawl or James Glickenhaus’ 1985 cop thriller The Protector. This particular gem, made after Jackie had reinvigorated the oldschool martial arts world in Hong Kong but before he had updated the martial arts film world with Police Story, the movie has long been considered more interesting because of the backstage drama involved in its production and not necessarily because of the actual content of the movie. Directed and written by James Glickenhaus, the low budget action film director best known at this point for directing the grisly New York-based crime shocker The Exterminator, the movie marks a true clash of cultures that unfortunately did not see cooler heads prevailing. There will be more on this in a second, but ultimately The Protector is its own film and deserves at least a clear-headed examination – no matter how unfair it was to Jackie Chan’s career.

There’s no question that watching The Protector can be a bit of a surreal experience. Without Jackie Chan in the lead role, this could very well be an interesting little dark thriller that stands out as a slightly less exploitative continuation of what Glickenhaus captured within The Exterminator. If that were the case, this might have truly been something special and could have maybe cemented his name as a filmmaker worthy of praise. However, instead we’re dealing with a very Glickenhaus-esque film that features a star whose talents are so incredibly underutilized that the movie is no longer recognized as anything other than a gigantic waste. From what James Glickenhaus says, he was up front with Golden Harvest about his intentions of putting Jackie into a serious crime thriller. He thought that Jackie’s style of action seemed silly (an idea that he is apparently unashamed of, despite how silly he looks in retrospect) and he wanted to throw Chan into deep dramatic waters. Despite the fact that Jackie’s English wasn’t at its best during this period and such a role was very foreign to Chan. Glickenhaus claims to have got along perfectly with Chan and that the production was very smooth, but there have been rumors that Jackie had actually walked off the set during production of the film. Later, when the film was to be released in Hong Kong, Jackie edited the film himself and added some additional shots in order to punch up the action within the film. Unfortunately, not even this would work and the movie was not nearly as successful as Jackie’s usual work during this period. Bringing in Jackie Chan for this particular film and not letting him do what it is that makes him special is about as logical as taking an architect who is the best in the world when it comes to designing skyrises, a architect whose entire career has been about stacking floor after floor on top of one another and making it look great along the way, but then flying him across the world and then tell him you want him to work on your two-car garage. James Glickenhaus had a great deal of talent, but his mix with Jackie Chan’s style was like oil and water.

I am confident that the first fifteen minutes of The Protector will blow the mind of any uninitiated audience member. The movie opens in a dark alley that is only lit by garbage cans that are ablaze with trash, a scene that seems like something taken out of an Italian postapocalyptic film. We skip forward and during these first fifteen minutes we are introduced to uzis, excessive bloodshed, Jackie Chan using the “F word,” and some extremely American action-film generalities. This is hardly anything that audiences expect to see from even the most bizarre Jackie Chan films. No, instead, this is a very hard boiled crime thriller with lovable Jackie Chan stuck in the lead. Once the film relocates to Hong Kong, the movie starts to lightly become more of a Jackie Chan venture, but it is obvious that he is being restrained at every step along the way. The action scenes are sluggish, Jackie doesn’t fully extend with his kicks, he shows no form, and he is ultimately made to look more like a brawler than a martial artist. Unfortunately, as the movie makes this transition, it also stops feeling like the gritty urban thriller that it once was, but instead becomes a more mediocre adventure tale.

One thing that you can say about The Protector is that they don’t make action flicks any more straightforward than this. The plot has one or two embellishments along the way, and there are some superflous subplots that fill up the story, but by and large this is a clear cut A leads to B type of action film. Glickenhaus keeps us entertained by giving the audience a little blood early in the movie, then he layers things with a dose of sex and nudity towards the second half, and before you know it the movie is over. This nudity has become a controversial part of the film, especially the bit where we see a squad of nude women cooking up dope in an underground factory. Much of this nudity was edited out of Jackie Chan’s version of the film. Personally, I found the less-talked-about sequence at the massage parlor to be the most eyebrow raising of the film. The scene ultimately shows a massage parlor where a young woman comes into the room, strips nude, then lays down flat on a cart that she rolls underneath the massage bed and perform fellatio on Danny Aiello’s character, who lays down with his junk poking through a hole, whilst another girl dances on his back. Sure, this just sounds like some random kinky idea, but it also reenforces some of the ridiculous stereotypes that one might expect to hear being whispered amongst friends who talk about all of the weird sex that they see throughout the world. Especially from Asia, which has always had the “exotic erotic” motif thrown at it. Still, it takes all flavors, and this thin layer of exploitation is something that I actually enjoy about The Protector. It is over the top and wholly unnecessary, but that sort of thing can be fun every now and then. Such stupidity is ultimately needed in order to break up this rather mundane action vehicle.

The Conclusion
A lot has been said about The Proector throughout the years, and not a lot of it has been good. Most of the things written have come from Jackie Chan fans, but I will say that there was promise within this movie at one time during pre-production. It may not have ever been a promising Jackie Chan film, but if his character had been played by someone else, maybe another foreigner alongside Aiello, then this could very well have been something dirty and fun. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The movie instead earns a two out of five rating from me, but there’s still a lot here worth checking out. The Shout Factory bluray set is a fantastic bargain. Featuring the original cut of the film, Jackie Chan’s re-edit, a comparison of locations from the film and how they look now, and most importantly it features an interview with James Glickenhaus who talks about the film. This alone would be enough to warrant a purchase, however, you throw in the fantastic Jackie Chan film Crime Story on the same disc and you’ve garnered a must buy for Jackie Chan fans.

Screen Caps not taken from the Bluray release from Shout! Factory