The Accidental Spy
There’s just something about Jackie Chan’s graceful moves that make any movie of his worth watching. The balletic kicks, the perfectly-executed somersaults and the inventive use of the most mundane of things – from medical equipment to doorways to straw brooms – are simply breathtaking. These are action scenes worth watching. Jackie Chan action scenes are the only ones I don’t use as an opportunity to dash to the loo.
In The Accidental Spy, Chan has excelled again at both choreographing and performing his own scenes and stunts. In interviews, Chan has explained that although many of the stunts in Hong Kong’s most expensive film ever could have been done using special effects, it was cheaper just to do them properly.
And much, much more effective. There’s no digital gauze between the audience and what’s happening on the screen, making the crane that smashes into a skyscraper look devastating, the collapse of a wharf frightening, and even the car chases interesting. (Did I just say I enjoyed a car chase scene?!!) This is real action by real actors. It’s the strong point of the film.
The plot, however, is far-fetched and fanciful. Chan plays Hong Konger Buck, an exercise equipment salesman who’s very good at somersaults and dreams of a more exciting life. He has his chance one day when he’s caught up in a bank robbery that he helps to foil, and gets his name in the papers. This leads him to Liu (Eric Tsang), a private investigator who is searching for an orphan born in 1958 – Buck fits the criteria.
Liu convinces Buck that he’s the son of a Korean bad-guy, one Mr Park, who’s been involved in the development of a powerful chemical weapon known as (don’t laugh) Anthrax II but is now dying of cancer in Seoul. Buck heads to Seoul to see Park, who on his death bed challenges him to a little game of hide and seek.
Buck follows Park’s trail and finds a stash of cash in an Istanbul bank – but it’s not game over yet. Someone thinks Buck has found more ("the thing" everyone keeps calling it, "the thing"), and they’re out to get either it or him. This leads to the film’s most hilarious scene: Buck running down a crowded Turkish market in the nude. It’s a complicated procedure to protect one’s modesty while also knocking out oh, around a dozen or so Bad Guys, but Buck pulls through with masterful aplomb.
It turns out that another Korean big man, Mr Zen (Wu Hsing Kuo), had negotiated with Park to get the Anthrax II for some French buyers, and now he thinks Buck has it. There’s also CIA interest, and if you can follow the plot any further, good on you.
Chan’s performance is undoubtedly what holds this movie together, and Tsang plays a close second. The two female stars, undercover CIA agent Carmen (Kim Ming Cheong) and the heroin-addicted but sweet-faced Yong (Vivian Hsu) are stilted and unnatural actors, but even their mediocre attempts pale in comparison to the male CIA agent who – in just a few lines – manages to steal the prize for the film’s most truly appalling acting.
The thrill of this movie is not the climax of the overall story, but in the individual scenes and snatches of humor. A burning petrol tanker driving at full speed through the streets of Istanbul for a good ten or fifteen minutes without slowing down might be a bit unbelievable and utterly tangential to the plot, but it makes for a gripping ten or fifteen minutes. And it culminates in one of the most impressive on-screen explosions for quite some time. Just sit back and let it wash over you.
Don’t dash out before the end, either. Even though the lights in the cinema will probably be blazing – when will the light turners-on in Bangkok learn? – the series of bloopers from the film at the end are stomach-painfully funny, and demonstrate that sometimes, even the master stuffs up.