Jackie Chan Tag Teams with a Shark and Brawls with a Ladder

Jackie Chan’s weaponization in First Strike extends to sharks, stilts, and snowboards. Chan even concocted the idea of tables, ladders, and chairs a few years before the concept caught on in pro wrestling.

Warner Bros. smushed this wildly effective fourth Police Story film, dumping it into the States with 20+ minutes cut. The limited story remaining (in what was titled First Strike) is a paltry mixture of nukes, Ukranians, and koalas (!). It barely carries relevance or coherence. American composer J. Peter Robinson replaces the native score, stereotypical enough to be as derided as the Oriental riff. A year before Rush Hour finally broke Chan into Western stardom, that was the best American fans could ask for.

At least the stuntwork remains, ranging from ludicrously dangerous frozen water escapes and high rise climbing to a sensational ladder brawl. First Strike may not be a synonymous name, but say, “Jackie Chan ladder fight” and it’s likely known. A majority of First Strike is wild and so internationally decorated, the film feels larger than it is. Traveling cross continent, Chan tracks arms buyers in the Ukraine, Australia, and Hong Kong.

First Strike never ceases to find concepts. Jackie Chan at the aquarium. Jackie Chan on a submarine. Jackie Chan on a snowmobile. Jackie Chan almost dying as he hangs from a helicopter. Or, the usual Thursday for him. Toss in a barely oxygenated, underwater spiff with a shark, and First Strike never loses focus on its action.

Warner is showcasing what paying audiences want even if this means getting there with uncomfortable rapidity.

Warner was not inherently wrong in their decision. The same way people attend zombie or dinosaur movies to see only zombies or dinosaurs, Jackie Chan’s action movies exist because of Jackie Chan’s technique. It’s sensible. Foreign drama is of little consequence once removed from its homely social landscape. Warner is showcasing what paying audiences want even if this means getting there with uncomfortable rapidity. The jerk move is never releasing Police Story 4 in full, and the studio hogging all international distribution rights.

What that means is dealing with flaky edits and a bogus dub, where Chan’s Inspector Chan Ka Kui is known only as, “Jackie.” English work exists to make his name a localized standout rather than show an evolution an exemplary, stupendously brave cop. Hideous accents and dopey translations handicap First Strike in a way only such a jingoistic major studio would know how.

Unexpectedly though, Police Story 4 still holds together even post-Americanization. It’s a sterling piece of action cinema, raucous and charming as anything Chan ever put together. There is a flavor and uniqueness which, even if his films are stacked against one another, keeps First Strike/Police Story 4 churning in the conversation – usually near the top.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Ninja mode @ 1:05:59

How little Warner cares about this film, dumping it onto Blu-ray with zero consideration for quality. Mastering work is ancient. Take your own pick from the faults. Either the rampant edge enhancement or the ridiculous level of resulting aliasing will make the disc too ugly to continue. Maybe it’s the unnaturally coarse grain structure, made worse by compression parameters. Early in the film as fog fills the frame, First Strike is covered by a noisy haze.

Not yet? Maybe the color will be cause for alarm, pushing reds from their confines and causing a neon bleed. Saturation matches those masters from the earliest days of DVD when the unusually bright color was a selling point. Now, it’s obnoxious. Magenta is evident in flesh tones. Contrast is ballooned and is another issue bringing out grain where it shouldn’t be.

There is little in the way of improved resolution either. While cinematography carries a notable, acceptable softness, limitations of the master fail to help. Definition is soured by the rigidness of edge enhancement. Even when facial details pop out, they’re awkward and over defined by digital tweaks.

Jackie Chan fans have been given worse treatment on Blu-ray. Some of Echo Bridge’s offerings like Dragon Lord and Project A 2 were tragic. Project A 2 may well be one of the worst discs (in terms of video) on the format. First Strike is not on their level. However, it’s not much higher.

Video ★★☆☆☆ 

Warner’s DTS-HD mixing work is indicative of such translations. “Make it louder,” is the consistent mantra. Dynamic range is bloated, making explosions overpowered and losing their fidelity. Odd is how little their weight is supported by the low-end. Water gushing from a busted aquarium is the only LFE support of significance.

Mixing is heavy on the fronts, keeping track of helicopters, cars, or snow vehicles. Gunfire tightens up, specific in rear speaker location and as a result, sounding dated. The approach is equivalent to early surround audio where the mere existence of something coming from behind a listener was novel. Creating a natural sound space was less important.

An original language track? No, no. Not here. Only the dub with the elevated dialog of such processes.

Audio ★★★☆☆ 

Warner inserts the US trailer as a bonus, which is cool only because it’s narrated by Peter Cullen. Optimus Prime meets Jackie Chan – that’s awesome.

Extras ★☆☆☆☆ 

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.