According to his autobiography, Chan first received the nickname “Jackie” at a job on a Canberra construction site while visiting his parents, who worked at the US embassy. Although the construction site fight is an action movie staple — along with the warehouse or factory fight — it seems fitting that this Australian set film’s best action scene take place in one.
The second film of Jackie’s “Aussie duology” — after Jackie Chan’s First Strike — Mr. Nice Guy is set in Melbourne and surrounds. Even without the text overlay at the start of the film, this would be obvious because we see bikies, a gang is named after an AFL club and there are trams to be creatively used in action sequences. Although there is the heightened sense of silliness that comes with watching what is basically a Hong Kong action comedy set in your own backyard, it’s fun nonetheless to know you could walk in Jackie and co’s footsteps without going overseas.
Jackie plays a chef — his parents’ real life occupation at the embassy — and co-host of a cooking show, who unknowingly winds up in possession of a videotape of a gang murder. Caught between the gangs involved, Jackie runs, jumps, swings and otherwise does what he does best, while trying to extricate himself and those around him from the predicament. It’s nothing special, but at least it’s a bit different.
Along for the ride are three ladies essentially representing various international markets. Miki Lee fares the worst of these, saddled with the distressed girlfriend part that requires much yelling of “Jackie!” and waiting to be saved. Aussie Gabrielle Fitzpatrick has a more active role, as the reporter who starts off the whole escapade and doggedly tries to follow it through to the end. However she also gets an unfortunate and unnecessary scene in her underwear that makes it hard to escape the feeling she’s more than window dressing.
Another Aussie representing here is Richard Norton as the main villain of the piece. Playing a cleanliness-obsessed drug kingpin with a nasty streak, he reminds me of Gary Oldman in the same year’s The Fifth Element. The campy delivery of some of his lines is quite hilarious. No stranger to Hong Kong action, the biggest disappointment here is that he doesn’t get to reprise his final fight with Jackie in City Hunter. A showdown is teased in a scene where he taunts a restrained Jackie, but there’s no payoff. In what clearly seems the intended ending, due to the amount of planning and setup required, we instead get a bizarre vision of what might happen if a disgruntled mine worker decided to get revenge on their billionaire boss.
Action elsewhere in the film is not bad. The first chase through the streets warms up to a wedding (cake) crashing conclusion. There’s a multi-story mall battle complete with escalator-jumping that pales in comparison to the finale of Police Story, but once the battle spills outside it gets more inventive with the fight moving along briskly on a horse and carriage. Watch out for those trams. However, the all important construction site brawl is definitely the best action scene. There’s a funny build up with Jackie trying to dodge goons through a series of empty rooms with multiple doorways and when the fighting proper begins it’s of the prop heavy, visual gag variety Jackie excels at. Wooden pallets, a wheelbarrow and a circular saw all flash in and out of the frame.
A couple of other points of note. 1997 was the last year Sammo Hung would direct (this film and Once Upon A Time in China and America) until this year’s The Bodyguard. He also has an amusing cameo as a cyclist repeatedly in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is also the first appearance I’m aware of for Bradley James Allan, an Aussie who would go on to become a member of Jackie’s stunt team and later a stunt coordinator and action director himself, working on such films as Peter Pan (2003), Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
All this background doesn’t make Mr. Nice Guy a better movie, just a more interesting one. The construction site may be an iconic fight location, but once that scene is past, so is the best of this film.