Chockfull of gaudy cartoon visuals and gorgeous women, this live-action manga adaptation is curiously unappreciated by many Jackie Chan fans. Yet City Hunter was a huge international hit and remains one of his liveliest, most fun-filled outings. After losing his partner Makimura (Michael Wong) in a hail of bullets, girl-crazy private detective Ryo Saeba (Jackie Chan) promises to take care of his kid sister, Kaori, who rapidly grows up to be beautiful Joey Wong. She becomes his new partner but, harbouring a not-so-secret crush on the feckless Romeo, is prone to smacking Ryo with a giant hammer whenever he chases after a hot babe.
The feuding pair are hired to track down runaway teen heiress Kiyoko (popular Japanese pinup Kumiko Gotoh), who sneaks aboard a luxury cruise with Ryo in pursuit, while Kaori eludes advances from her sleazy cousin (Tan Lap-Man). Ryo’s attention is soon distracted by sexy undercover cop Saeko (Naked Killer (1992) starlet Chingamy Yau) and her busty friend (Carol Wan Chui-Pan, so top-heavy she keeps falling over), who are pursuing renegade Colonel MacDonald (Richard Norton) and bronzed, martial arts narcissist Kim (Brit kung fu kicker Gary Daniels). Also onboard is suave card shark Kao Ta (Cantopop idol Leon Lai), who proves handy with a deck of razor-edged playing cards when MacDonald’s cadre of gun-toting ninja commandoes hijack the ship. Ryo and the girls swing into action and slapstick mayhem ensues.
Tsukasa Hojo’s long-running manga and anime series is hugely popular across Asia. It spawned a feature-length outing (City Hunter: Magnum of Love’s Destiny (1989), a number of television specials that continue to this day, and partly inspired the excellent Hong Kong sci-fi/wu xia/romance Saviour of the Soul (1991). Eager to score points with his Japanese fanbase, Jackie Chan jumped aboard this outlandish comic book caper that doubles as a typical Chinese New Year comedy. This is a very profitable genre in Hong Kong and writer-producer-director Wong Jing is its king. Hence City Hunter includes his trademark sexual innuendos, brash musical numbers, movie spoofs, cartoon violence and bad taste gags alongside the spectacular slapstick stunt-work we expect from a Jackie Chan movie. Neither man emerged from the experience as great friends. Even today, Chan is prone to uttering expletives whenever the movie is mentioned, while Jing swiftly countered with High Risk (1995), wherein Jacky Cheung plays a cowardly kung fu movie star who fakes all his stunts.
However, the cartoon subject matter successfully melds these two filmmakers’ disparate comedy styles. Jackie choreographs some memorable fight sequences, like the scene where he whirls Chingamy Yau around like a sharp-shooting dance partner, his blistering stick duel with Aussie villain Richard Norton, or the celebrated Game of Death (1978) parody where he takes on two, giant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar look-alikes thanks to some top tips from an onscreen Bruce Lee! Jing ensures the goofy gags, outrageous action choreographed by Ching Siu Tung, eye-catching comic book sets and costumes, and deliberately broad performances all capture the breezy tone of the original anime. He shelled out big bucks for the infamous Streetfighter II sequence, wherein Jackie and Gary Daniels (later to headline another manga movie: Fist of the North Star (1995)) transform into characters from the famous videogame. They yelp battle cries, zap each other with energy beams and leap around like human yo-yos in a scene so deliciously nutty it could only happen in a Hong Kong movie. Never one to waste an investment, Jing also made Future Cops (1993), a star-studded sci-fi outing for the Streetfighter characters that predates the Hollywood movie.
Staying true to the anime, Jackie’s Ryo Saeba is crazy about food (He’ll beat a man to a pulp over a slice of toast) and goes gaga over a plethora of pretty co-stars, culminating in a poolside encounter that hilariously merges his two obsessions: bikini girls alongside a breakfast buffet! Purists may lament the substituting of an Under Siege (1992) spoof in place of the anime’s well-crafted storylines, but the wayward plot delivers something fun for everyone. It even morphs briefly into one of Wong Jing’s trademark gambling movies, with a tense standoff between Norton and poker ace Leon Lai - who later took over as star of Jing’s God of Gamblers series.
An extended musical spoof of cruise entertainers involving Jan Lam Hoi-Fung and Erik Kot Man-Fai as an obnoxious Ant & Dec style duo falls somewhat flat, but even that compensates with Chingamy Yau in leather hotpants. This hails from the period when Wong Jing would showcase his red-hot, real-life girlfriend in almost every movie he made. Typically, Yau is given a show-stopping entrance but thankfully has talent to match her looks and outguns Lara Croft as a scene-stealing all-action girl.
Indeed all the girls get to prove themselves more than mere eye-candy and kick serious butt, which isn’t always the case with Jackie’s self-directed efforts. Kumiko Goto does a nifty high-wire routine, Joey Wong is plenty funny and feisty and all three ladies relish high-kicking a gay terrorist played by Ken Lo, Jackie’s real-life bodyguard who gets beaten up in almost all his Nineties movies. Yes, the plot descends into chaos, but it’s campy, colourful chaos and highly entertaining to watch various Hong Kong superstars outfox crimson-clad ninja terrorists. And you’ll be humming Jackie’s City Hunter theme song for days.