The Accidental Spy (2001-2002)

The_Accidental_SpyDirector: Teddy Chen
Starring: Jackie Chan, Eric Tsang, Vivian Hsu, Kim Min Jeong, Wu Hsing Kuo
Music: Peter Kam (Hong Kong), Michael Wandmacher (U.S. re-edit)

The Accidental Spy is a hybrid spy / martial arts film in the usual Jackie Chan style. This film divides many people due to the fact that there appears to be quite a few versions floating around. There is the original Hong Kong version. A Hong Kong version that has been dubbed into English. And finally a version by Dimension Films, which is an American re-dub that has also been re-edited. It seems that the story changes quite substantially in the differing versions too. This review relates to the Dimension Films version.

The film opens on an ancient rural landscape in Turkey. A convoy of 4WD vehicles wind their way through the village to a hi-tech farming centre, where bio chemists are trying to create new ways of farming the land. In the convoy is an English news crew who are doing a story on the farm. But it seems that someone isn’t happy with the project. As the interview unfolds, a squad of terrorists, armed with machine guns interrupt proceedings and mow everybody down: farmers, chemists and newscrew.

Next we have the title sequence which shows us snippets from the film that is to come, and features a techo theme by Michael Wandmacher which pounds over the top. Wandmacher’s theme has just enough Bond-style brass cues to re-enforce that you are watching a spy film, but not enough to warrant a lawsuit.

After the cow-catcher and titles we land in Hong Kong and Jackie Chan (that’s his character name, played by er.., Jackie Chan) is preparing for another day at work. He works as a sales assistant at a Weider Fitness store, selling workout equipment. After he bungles a sale, Jackie takes a break at the local shopping mall. His timing is impeccable because a bank robbery is taking place. As the bandits flee, they take hostages, but Jackie intervenes by clobbering the assailants with a pram (don’t worry – the tot wasn’t occupying the pram at the time). The crooks drop their bundle of loot and Jackie quickly scoops it up and then scarpers. Naturally the bandits want the money back, so they pursue Jackie through the complex, conducting a running battle as they go. As with most Jackie Chan movies the choreography is excellent (arranged and performed by Tung Wai and the JC Stuntmen Team). The mayhem moves to the roof, high above the city and Jackie makes his escape by leaping onto a large industrial crane.

At the end of the day, Jackie is a hero and order is restored…so how does Jackie become The Accidental Spy? The press make a feature story out of Jackie’s daring heroics and he comes to the attention of a second rate gumshoe, Manny Liu (Eric Tsang). Liu is working for an elderly Korean, living in Seoul, who is trying to find his son. You see, in the television interview, Jackie’s whole life story came out. He grew up in an orphanage, after he was abandoned at the age of four months old, in 1958. All he can remember is a dangling necklace with a Catholic cross. Liu thinks Jackie fits the bill perfectly.

So Jackie is sent off to Seoul to meet the man who may (or may not) be his father. Park Won-Jung (the father) is on his deathbed at a Defence Department Hospital. As Jackie enters the room he notices the catholic cross around the old man’s neck. It appears that Park Won-Jung is Jackie’s father. And not only that, but in the espionage world he was also the most notorious double agent Korea has ever known.

Later after Jackie has left the hospital some opposition agents assault Park Won-Jung in his room. He dies, but leaves behind a carved wooden box with a Holy medal on the front – and inside is the cross necklace and a key. What does the key unlock? Nobody knows. But through the key, and a little game that his father cooked up before his death, Jackie is about to enter the world of espionage. A world that leads him to the rooftops, bath-houses and markets of Istanbul.

The McGuffin in this film is a super drug called Opium Maxa, which you may have guessed, was being manufactured by the bio-chemists who were slaughtered at the beginning of the film. Unbeknownst to Jackie, his inheritance is to track down this drug and not get killed in the process. Along the way there are Turkish thugs, Korean Agents, the C.I.A. and a nosey journalist, all of whom have an interest in getting their hands on the drug. For those interested, in the original Hong Kong version, the McGuffin was an ultra-lethal, weaponized pathogen called Anthrax II. But The Accidental Spy’s American release co-incided with the big Anthrax scare, after September 11. So it had to be changed.

The Accidental Spy was made when Jackie Chan was at the peak of his Western popularity, with hit films like Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour 1 & 2. But Jackie still received a lot of criticism that his films didn’t have the same charm and style that his earlier Hong Kong work did. The Accidental Spy seems like an attempt to address that. Even though this re-edited version is produced by Harvey and Max Weinstein (Miramax), this is still very much a Hong Kong film. Despite going back to his roots, this film isn’t one of Chan’s success’s. Sure it’s entertaining in it’s way, and as I mentioned earlier the stunts and fight scenes are choreographed very well, albeit with Jackie’s habit of verging into silly slapstick (the kids love it). The real problems is the script which appears to be written around the stunts rather than fitting the stunts to the story. The ending, which takes place on a tanker truck, while be a fairly entertaining set piece is really quite unrealistic…As my ten year old son said when he saw it ‘why didn’t they hit the breaks and get out of the truck?’ Well yeah –that would have worked too, but wouldn’t be as exciting.

Having said all that, as I have mentioned there are numerous versions of the film. Maybe in other versions the plot is fleshed out more and the ending is more believable – but I can’t see my self scouring the world for the alternative versions to check. In the end, this version of The Accidental Spy is a pleasant enough time killer if you are a fan of Jackie Chan, but as a spy film it is a trifle clumsy.

This review is based on the Miramax Dimension Home Entertainment / Buena Vista Entertainment (Australasia) DVD

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