When struggling sports equipment salesman Jackie Chan (Jackie Chan, who knew?) foils an armed robbery with his awesome kung fu skills he becomes a media sensation. His newfound fame draws shifty private eye Liu (Eric Tsang) who believes orphan Jackie might be the long-lost son of Korean billionaire Park Won Jung (Joh Young-Kwon). Now on his death-bed, onetime triple-agent Jung challenges his son to a globe-hopping game to test his mettle. The grand prize is his fortune. A trail of clues leads Jackie from Seoul to a bank in Istanbul where he finds not just the money but details of a new wonder drug that makes him the unwitting target of rival gangs, the CIA and a ruthless drug lord.
After years of struggle Hong Kong action icon Jackie Chan finally gained mainstream success with the flawed but popular Rush Hour (1998). Happily, rather than abandon his native film industry for Hollywood the experience steeled Jackie's resolve to pitch his Hong Kong productions at a broader international audience. Hence, The Accidental Spy was filmed in English rather than the standard Cantonese although evidently the cast were not as deft at the language as international distributors Miramax would have liked given they dubbed the film anyway. At least Jackie got to do his own dubbing so the film sounds a lot less artificial than past efforts. Unfortunately the Weinstein Brothers, working through Miramax's genre division Dimension Films, also saw fit to re-cut The Accidental Spy extensively on the pretext of making this typically eccentric Hong Kong production more palatable to western tastes. Whereas the original Hong Kong cut ran 110 minutes the abridged American version ran a paltry 83 minutes. The biggest casualty was the curtailing of the elaborate sub-plot involving multi-talented comedian and filmmaker Eric Tsang who appears in different guises throughout playing a pivotal role in proceedings. For the Cantonese audience Tsang's appearance was a big deal, not just because he was a big star but on account this marked his reunion with Chan fifteen years after the latter fired him as director of Armour of God (1986) after a botched stunt almost cost Jackie his life. Clearly they were friends again, which was nice.
Although not always so deftly handled by director Teddy Chen, the plot of The Accidental Spy proves surprisingly intricate for a Jackie Chan vehicle and indeed compelling. Chen debuted as a director with sexy ghost comedy Pretty Ghost (1991) but following a run of some of the least distinguished action movies to ever emerge from Hong Kong, including the infamously awful Purple Storm (1999), later proved to be a filmmaker to be reckoned with following the heartwarming drama Wait Till You're Older (2005) and award-winning period thriller Bodyguards and Assassins (2009). Accidental Spy opens with a disarmingly impassioned set-up interweaving Third World debt, western exploitation, genetically modified food and international terrorism, screenwriter Ivy Ho, who later segued into directing, deploys the familiar Hitchcockian conceit of the innocent dupe caught in a conflict he does not understand and manipulated by forces both sinister and benign. Think North By Northwest (1959) albeit not quite in that league.
On a visual level Chen seemingly took his cue from Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible franchise aping its glossy look, exotic international locations and shamelessly lifting a few motifs from Mission: Impossible II (2000) directed by fellow countryman John Woo. However, Accidental Spy does not share the same cavalier attitude towards violence with Jackie's character shaken by his exposure to violent death. At the same time, although co-stars Kim Min-Jeong (as a reporter) and Vivian Hsu (as the drug lord's captive concubine) do not rank among the more memorable female leads in a Jackie Chan film, there is a welcome attempt at complexity given Hsu's character is a tortured drug addict. The role proved a stepping stone for Hsu, formerly a teen pin-up off the back of children's favourite Shaolin Popeye (1994) and its sequels, along the path towards more mature roles in The Shoe Fairy (2005), The Knot (2006) and The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011). While there is no shortage of comedy The Accidental Spy has a disarmingly dramatic edge. It pulls off a few poetic and affecting scenes including one unexpected, surprisingly dark twist. Even so, audiences flock to Jackie Chan films to laugh at the gags and cheer at the stunts and the filmmakers did not lose sight of that. By far the most famous set-piece is a fight that starts at a Turkish bath-house and ends with a naked Jackie battling bad guys through a bazaar whilst struggling to retain his modesty. How they managed to sneak this sequence past strict local censorship is a mystery but it remains a hilarious highlight. On top of that the film also includes a superb set-piece wherein Jackie races to save a Turkish family from a speeding truck set to explode. It is a suspenseful finale that seems like Jackie's attempt to outdo Speed (1994) though one can't help but wonder whether the plot is more coherent in the original HK cut.