Jackie Chan's terrific 1990 "Armour of God II," a martial arts variation on "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with Jackie in search of Nazi gold in the heart of the Sahara Desert, has been painstakingly reworked into an English-language version and retitled "Operation Condor." Trimmed by 13 minutes and fitted out with a dynamic new score and sound design, the film becomes far more accessible to Chan's mainstream fans.
Until Chan's recent U.S. breakthrough, his countless films, many of them delightful, inspired entertainments, could be seen outside Chinatown only in art theaters and only occasionally--and always in Cantonese with English subtitles. ("Armour of God" refers to an ancient suit of armor, a sacred relic, which Jackie tracked down in the first film.)
The first of Chan's films directed--and co-written--by himself to get wide distribution in America, "Operation Condor" is simplicity itself. Dimension Films' production notes tell us that Jackie is playing "the world's greatest secret agent," code name Condor, and who would argue with that?
He's been summoned to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, where a U.N. representative hands him an ultra-urgent assignment: locate 240 tons of Nazi gold buried somewhere in the Sahara before a terrorist group does.
In taking on the assignment he winds up accompanied by three beautiful women: Carol Cheng as his nominal boss, Eva Cobo de Garcia as the blond granddaughter of the German officer in charge of hiding the gold--she says she wants "to clear his name"--and Shoko Ikeda, who just turns up. They're on hand mainly for pulchritude purposes and some mildly risque banter, much like the glamour girls in an old Bob Hope movie or TV show.
Transforming "Armour of God II" into "Operation Condor" has rendered its story line extremely vague, almost to the point of nonexistence; some soundtrack narration could have helped. But you go to a Jackie Chan movie not for the plot but for his fabulous, pyrotechnic acrobatic and martial arts skills, his sunny personality and flawless grace as a world-class screen comedian.
In any event, Jackie is swiftly off to Morocco, with lots of high jinks and derring-do in a picturesque old caravansary-style hotel and then on to the desert, where the gold turns up hidden in a vast subterranean fortress.
Spacious, dramatic settings are the inevitable locales for the all-important climactic sequences in action-adventure thrillers, and this fortress fits the bill for "Operation Condor," especially since it's equipped with an enormously powerful wind machine that allows for some amazing stunt work.
Chan does his own stunts, and he has said that as a result, "My films show what is humanly possible." And that's why even adventure fantasies as slight and preposterous as "Operation Condor" are fun.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for martial arts action, some shooting, and sensuality. Times guidelines: The film is suitable for all ages.
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Jackie Chan: Jackie
Carol Cheng: Ada
Eva Cobo de Garcia: Elsa
Shoko Ikeda: Momoko
Alfred Brel Sanchez: Adolf
A Dimension Films presentation. Director Jackie Chan. Producer Leonard Ho. Executive producer Raymond Chow. Screenplay Chan and Edward Tang. English dialogue by Maggie Dickie. Cinematographer Wong Ngok Tai. Editorial consultant Rod Dean. Sound supervisor and designer Glenn T. Morgan. Music Stephen Endelman. Stunt choreography Chan and Stuntman's Club. Art directors Oliver Wong, Eddie Ma, Lo Ka Yiu. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.