The original title positions this as the fourth in Jackie’s Police Story series, but apart from Stanley Tong returning as director after Police Story 3: Supercop and Bill Tung appearing in a few brief scenes as Jackie’s senior in the Hong Kong police, there is no connection to the previous movies. This is surely deliberate, allowing Jackie’s first American release post Rumble in the Bronx to build on the momentum begun by that film, without being billed as the fourth in a series unknown to a mainstream audience. Much simpler to name the film after the star and have his character also called Jackie in the English dub! This time around, he also lacks the hard-edged passion of earlier Police Story films that caused him to flip out and do stuff like take his police superintendent hostage. He’s still the determined and indefatigable everyman, using everything — from a pool floatie, to an aluminium step ladder in the film’s standout fight sequence — to keep ahead of his opponents. He’s just less prone to losing it, which makes for a more lighthearted tone.
GoldenEye came out the year before, and First Strike borrows heavily from its script with a background of international government agencies, conspiracy, and nuclear black market double-dealing. The main theme music is even melodically and rhythmically reminiscent of the famous James Bond theme. There is one direct joking reference to 007 in the dialogue, but for the most part First Strike is almost an accidental James Bond spoof, simply by combining the international spy milieu with Jackie’s typical goofing around and creative slapstick action shenanigans.
After slickly shooting an electronic tracker onto a target vehicle, Jackie is almost immediately held up at gunpoint and made to strip to his fluffy koala underpants and beyond. There have been a number of James Bond snow chases over the years, but First Strike’s conscious homage to these sequences has Jackie spending most of his time while careering down the slopes attempting to stay upright while wearing a cute seal hat. It must be said that this scene does conclude in spectacular fashion, though, and seeing Jackie desperately clawing his way out of a semi-frozen lake at the end of it all once again shows his dedication to action film-making.
As may have been guessed from the koala underpants, one of the international destinations in First Strike is Down Under, adding extra interest for Aussies. In fact, most of the movie was filmed here. Much of what is supposedly the Ukraine is actually Victoria’s Falls Creek skiing area — the snowgums give it away — and a decent chunk of south-east Queensland appears as itself.
The opening vistas of the Hong Kong cityscape and surrounds hark back to the years of films set there, so it’s a treat to see places we can visit within our own country appear in a Jackie Chan flick. Underwater World is still open for business on the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane’s Chinatown Mall, Old Museum building and Holy Trinity church are all situated in suburbs just north of the city centre. I was sad the day the railing Jackie forward rolls down while wearing stilts was replaced, but these locations are still very recognisable. Then there’s simple background details. That’s a Telstra payphone! That’s the Queensland police! That’s an atrocious Australian accent! That’s Nathan Jones!
While it’s fun to see all the local scenery, there’s an odd double effect. Hong Kong action comedies require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief to enjoy; not difficult to do for a seasoned viewer. When the genre is transplanted overseas, this becomes harder to maintain as the usual schtick seems more bizarre outside its home territory context. This effect is greatly magnified when the setting is your own backyard.
Importantly though, First Strike is still decent fun. As far as Jackie Chan riffs on James Bond go, this turned out far better than The Tuxedo. If only I had discovered the joys of Hong Kong cinema a year or two earlier perhaps I could have snuck into the background as an extra.