The Big Brawl
AKA: Battle Creel Brawl
Director: Robert Clouse
Stars: Jackie Chan, Jose Ferrer
After the enormous success in Hong Kong of Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, Jackie Chan found himself in a dilemma. He was still under contract to the inept director Lo Wei, who was trying to make Chan into the next Bruce Lee. Chan had long resented trying to be molded into Lee, and with his recent success, he thought he had proven that other forms of martial arts films could do well. However, Lo thought the same formula he had used with Lee on Fist of Fury would work for Chan, and didn't hesitate to keep using it over and over, even though the dismal box office returns told him otherwise. Eventually, Chan walked out on Lo in disgust during the filming of Fearless Hyena 2 and signed with the Golden Harvest studio. Chan thought Golden Harvest's success would free him from Lo's clutches, but Lo had some tricks up his sleeve. He was connected with the Triads (Hong Kong gangsters) and sent thugs to the set to threaten Chan. Eventually, things got so bad that Chan's manager Willie Chan suggested that he travel to America for his first starring role in the States.
On the surface, things looked good. The movie was being backed by the Warner Bros. studio and would have a budget bigger than any of Chan's Hong Kong movies, and was going to be directed by Robert Clouse, who had helmed the most popular kung fu film of all time, Enter the Dragon. Thematically, it was to have contained many elements from the Hollywood Golden Age (films from the 1930's and 40's) that Chan admired so much. In fact, the film was pitched to Chan as an "Eastern Western" -- something that was a dream idea of Chan's. However, one thing lurked beneath the surface -- something that would make Chan miserable and turn this film into the horrible mish-mash that it is. Everyone involved -- the producers, the director, the studio -- wanted Chan to become the thing he had run away from in Hong Kong. They wanted him to become the next Bruce Lee.
The film's shadow of a plot revolves around Chan inadvertently putting the proverbial monkey wrench into gangster Jose Ferrer's plans. Eventually, Ferrer puts the squeeze on Chan's family and Chan finds himself competing in a bare-knuckle fighting tournament to save the family business (which is, of course, a laundry). Really, the particulars don't matter. This movie's horrible from beginning to end. The script, the cinematography, the acting -- they're all bad. Probably the biggest disappointment are the fight sequences. No one on the set allowed Chan any input at all, and as such, well, they're just pathetic. One of the movie's major sequences has Chan battling the gangsters during a roller-skating race. Now, this could actually be good; anyone who's seen Rollerball could attest to that. But in this movie, it comes off as what it is -- a bunch of people who can barely skate attempting to create a fight scene under the supervison of a director who has no idea of what his star can do.
This may (and I stress may) be worth a look for major Chan fans who want to see his US debut. But, honestly, this kind of movie is better left forgotten.
And to wrap up the long-winded story I've set up in this review, Chan was able to go back to Hong Kong via some help from old-school star Jimmy Wang Yu, who had his own Triad connections. He was eventually able to make his Eastern Western (albeit twenty years later) with Shanghai Noon. After the dismal failure of the film, Robert Clouse found himself regulated to doing B-list martial arts movies... and, in perhaps one of the most pathetic attempts to cover ones' tracks, later stated in the documentary The Deadliest Art that Chan was "one of the best people he had ever worked with."
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