Asian Hawk is back! Now renamed Condor for some reason! It’s definitely the same chewing-gum-chomping character, tasked with tracking down some treasure by the same gentleman who put him up to it in Armour of God, except the daughter played by Lola Forner from that movie is never mentioned, so Jackie (as he’s still sometimes called) is lumped with a few other, less useful female characters instead. Continuity was not a priority in this cinematic universe.
Operation Condor begins in the same fashion as its predecessor, introducing us to Jackie as he helps himself to some ancient artifacts before arousing the ire of their owners and escaping. Unlike the Indiana Jones character Condor is inspired by, there is not even the pretext of preserving these things in a museum. He’s a plunderer, plain and simple. So we have an Asian making off with items from a caricature of a jungle tribe — that’s a politically charged knot to untangle and an interesting contrast to the characters wanting to preserve Chinese heritage that Jackie (the actor) has played in films like Dragon Lord, Rush Hour, and Chinese Zodiac. In the end though, the moral of the story is that perhaps being greedy makes people blind to what really matters.
The sought-after booty this time around is a hoard of gold stashed by a horde of Nazis in a subterranean complex in the North African desert. Various parties besides Condor are converging on the cache, including a woman with a tie to the gold’s history (Eva Cobo), a duo of bumbling Arabs (played by westerners) and a host of mercenaries escorting a mysterious bloke in a wheelchair (Aldo Sambrell), providing ample chances for dust-ups along the way. As a series of set pieces Operation Condor brings plenty to the table, beginning with Jackie squirming inside a zorb and bouncing to the foot of a mountain. Ideas are brought up and discarded so quickly they are almost gone before they can register, as when a grounded chandelier is illuminated and extinguished repeatedly as its switch is bumped during a scuffle.
This is perhaps the apogee of Jackie Chan’s slapstick silliness on film. (Police Story 3 matches it as far as action creativity goes, but holds back a lot of the humour.) There’s barely any straight brawling and heaps of stunts, chasing, fighting with props, and broadly proportioned comedy with awkward bits sticking out everywhere. The modern setting also allows the use of fancy gadgets and vehicles, which seem as retro today as the buried Nazi base. Jackie’s learned colleague Ada (Carol “Do Do” Cheng) gets much mileage out of her bulky suitcase laptop and Jackie gets to show off his four wheel drive’s remote-control searchlight.
The journey through the film is one of peaks and troughs. An early chase in Spain has Jackie swinging like a gymnast dodging airborne cars and motorbikes. Shifting to Morocco brings some fresh sights and Momoko (Shoko Ikeda) as the third lady to join the travel group, but pacing droops in the desert heat. A stop at a hotel holds the movie up for a long time and a later rescue mission after a couple of the ladies are kidnapped could have been excised without being missed. There’s a nice approach shot to a desert market at night, but that’s about it.
Once the action moves underground it’s a strong finish. A couple of plot twists are unearthed and there’s stacks of scrapping. Jackie and his pursuers clamber, vault and tumble around a cavernous room that looks like a thinly disguised stunt training facility, especially the bit where blows are exchanged on a series of see-sawing platforms. Jackie’s female cohorts finally get to do more than stand in for various international markets, although even then it doesn’t do them much credit. This is topped off by a confrontation in a wind tunnel that is gimmicky in the extreme, but a great summary of Jackie’s influences and approach to fighting. There’s little reliance on martial artistry, but lots of pratfalls and visual gags drawing on cultural references and silent film, particularly a Buster Keaton scene from Steamboat Bill Jr. Yet like kung fu films of old Jackie calls out the (very non-traditional) names of his techniques as he does them.
With all the bad guys slugged into submission, all that’s left is to escape the facility. As the adventurers are ejected into the sand dunes and the dust settles there’s little to show for their efforts. Still, they had an exciting journey and given this was the most expensive Hong Kong movie ever at the time, hopefully the audience did too.