THUNDERBOLT (1995) review

Drawing from Jackie Chan’s own passion for cars and car racing, Gordon Chan’s Thunderbolt has him play Chan, a mechanic who runs a small business with his father (Yuen Chor) in Hong Kong. Occasionally, he also helps the police in checking illegally upgraded cars. That is how he crosses paths with Krugerman (Thorsten Nickel), a psychotic street racer. When Krugerman tries to escape the police, Chan gets in a car and stops him after a very dangerous chase. Later, Krugerman gets revenge by destroying his business and kidnapping his two sisters ; if he wants to get them back alive, Chan must confront him in a race. The most striking thing about Thunderbolt, is that Jackie Chan is extensively – and obviously – doubled in every fight scene. Having injured his ankle while shooting Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie had no choice but to resort to a stunt double, and it shows. The two or three big fight scenes are up to his usual great standards of choreographing excellence and invention, but they are edited mostly in quick cuts and they feature a whole lot of shots where “Jackie Chan” is turning his back to the camera. This makes for a frustrating spectacle : it’s no secret the thrill of watching a Jackie Chan film comes from the knowledge and evidence that he is doing everything we see his character doing. Take away that factor, and even with the same choreography, it all looks mundane.

Similarly, the racing scenes were supposed to be shot in Japan, but because of the rain, the shoot had to relocate to Malaysia, where the safety regulations were such that they had to be shot at a safe speed, then sped up in post-production. There again it shows, as the speeding-up makes the racing scenes look more cartoonish than dynamic. So as far as action is concerned, Thunderbolt is only half what it could have been, and is often a very frustrating watch. But the film is also surprisingly humorless ; now, Jackie Chan has proven with films like Crime Story or Shinjuku Incident that he doesn’t need humor to shine as an actor, but Thunderbolt doesn’t have these films’ tight plotting and realistic tone. It has a very silly plot and a laughable villain, which makes the serious tone and dour Jackie Chan performance all the more puzzling and inappropriate. All we’re left with is a charming performance by Anita Yuen as a reporter torn apart between the temptation of a big scoop and her growing love for Chan.

Long Story Short : Even though it’s out of bad luck rather than incompetence, Thunderbolt is a deficient film as far as action is concerned. But it also makes the mistake of treating a silly plot in a serious tone, making for a very frustrating watch. *1/2


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