Operation Condor (1997)
Abandon all reason, ye who enter here. In *Operation Condor*, Jackie Chan, action star par excellence, has done it again, crafting a spectacular movie that transcends the time honored rules of narrative and storytelling. Anyone stuck on sensible plots, character development, narrative arc and scintillating dialogue should just stay home, because *Operation Condor* can claim none of the above. Nonetheless it is a delightful trifle full of slapstick, supersonic stunts and amiable political incorrectness.
The plot, such as it is, is straight from the Indiana Jones files, with a little James Bond whipped into the mix. Chan is United Nations secret agent Jackie, code-name Condor, and his mission involves retrieving a fortune in Nazi gold hidden somewhere in the Sahara Desert. With a lovely U.N. attache as his guide, and aided by the granddaughter of the Nazi commandant who originally stashed the gold, Jackie battles Arab terrorists, spear-throwing Saharans (don't ask), Nazis and unaffiliated mercenaries.
None of which matters at all, of course, as the episodic story merely serves up occasions for spectacular fights and chases where Chan, performing his own stunts as always, laughs in the face of certain death again and again. *Operation Condor* features an imaginatively staged car chase that wreaks havoc on Barcelona, babies and ever-vulnerable produce merchants. An inspired, elaborate fight set in a wind tunnel gives rise to extended and hilarious gags as bodies fly about, stick to walls, and battle gales. Chan takes his inspiration from Buster Keaton, and his action sequences are every bit as inspired as those of the silent film master. Chan's physical prowess, also reminiscent of Keaton's, is unmatched in modern moviemaking. A natural acrobat who seemingly hops over ten foot walls as easily as he walks down the street, Chan brings an inimitable grace and elegance to movie mayhem that his muscle-bound action contemporaries, like Van Damme, Seagal and Schwarzenegger, just can't match.
The Chan movie persona is an affable, goofy fellow who never loses his good cheer even when surrounded by gun-toting villains. He is not unflappable, and not immune to pain, however, and much of the humor in Chan's movies is derived from the occasional fearfulness of a man who is so agile and fast, so obviously superior, so impervious to bullets, spears, and other projectiles. There is little in the way of character development beyond that, however. *Operation Condor* will not reveal anything about secret agent Jackie's homelife, his lovelife, nor his motivation, all of which are effectively non-existent. He's a good guy who does good things, and that's good enough.
*Operation Condor*, directed and co-written by Chan, contains about as little dialogue as is possible. In fact, it has about as much dialogue as might be found in a silent Keaton film, perhaps less. What little dialogue there is isn't too badly dubbed, however, with Chan actually dubbing his own lines in a welcome change. Jackie's accomplices in *Operation Condor* mostly squeal with girlish fright and fight to preserve their dignity and modesty, roughing up a few bad guys along the way as well, none of which requires them to say very much.
*Operation Condor* is not a new film, but is actually a 1991 film, newly released to American theaters. Chan has long been one of the most popular stars in the world, but, until recently, was an undiscovered gem in America. There are dozens of films in the Chan oeuvre which have never seen the light of a projector on this continent (although Chan fans in the know circulate videos); following the success of *Rumble In The Bronx*, his films are being re-released at a fast and furious pace, but not necessarily in chronological order. The drawback of looking backwards into Chan's film past is that with each successive film he makes, he gets inexplicably and impossibly better, raising the stakes by creating ever more spectacular, elegant and imaginative stunts. To see his older work is not always to see him at his best -- two films released last year, *First Strike* and *Supercop*, now available on video, are much better than *Operation Condor*. Regardless, the wonder of Jackie Chan's films is that they really do transcend narrative conventions and language barriers, and the shortcomings of *Operation Condor* don't really diminish the goofy fun of it.