The Protector (1985)

The Protector, written and directed by James Glickenhaus was another attempt to break Jackie Chan into a global market bereft of the late Bruce Lee and needing a South East Asian leading man with the martial arts skills to boot. Chan had starred in several US / Hong Kong co-productions which had faired well in the Western markets, but Chan need more exposure, so when producer Raymond Chow watched a screening of The Exterminator (1980) he had found his director in Glickenhaus and the ball began to roll on The Protector production. I first watched The Protector on a VHS rental video way back in 1985 and, even though it was a truncated 4:3 print, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was familiar with Chan, his video release posters adorned the six or so Video Shops where I lived and frequented all of the time, so watching this film I already new him as an ‘action star’. It was not until the release of Chan’s Hong Kong film output onto the same VHS rental market and going to a screening of Police Story (1987) at the ABC Piccadilly Cinema in London, did I fully grasp what an actor and martial artist he really was.

The film itself had a somewhat trouble production, with conflict between Glickenhaus and Chan over the film content. This led to two versions of the film being released, Glickenhaus’ was the more global release, while Chan created his own cut, adding another story arc and some more dramatic scenes with some extra martial arts sequences, which faired well in the South-East Asian market. Raymond Chow had no issue with both versions of the film, as he was producer on both and could see why the two men had their issues and so agreed to two releases. I have watched both, Glickenhaus’ version of the film is lean and works well in terms of a West meets East story, Chan’s cut is more in keeping with the Hong Kong style of movie making, with an eclectic mix of both drama, humour and action, with the obligatory song also added, which again faired well in its market.

The plot of The Protector starts with New York cop Billy Wong (Jackie Chan) wanting to avenge his partner’s murder at a bar in downtown district. Chan hunts and kills all the assailants and as a reward, he is re-assigned. He is given a new partner, Danny Garoni (Danny Aiello), and put on probationary assignment at a fashion show hosted by Martin Shapiro, a probable gangster and hosted by his daughter Laura. However,  Laura is kidnapped, the authorities suspect that Laura’s father is involved with Mr. Ko, a Hong Kong drug lord. Laura is traced to the island so Billy and Danny are sent to Hong Kong to investigate, ingratiating themselves with the local police who do not want any trouble form outsiders. Billy, in familiar territory enlists the help of  Lee Hing, an ex-Triad member and his daughter Soo Ling to find out as much information about Mr Ko as possible. It soon becomes apparent that the kidnapping was nothing more than the move  bigger game between two warring drug lords and the lucrative drugs game. Lee Hing is murdered by Ko’s men and Ling blames Billy and Danny for the murder. Both Billy and Danny decide to for go their police ethics and bring the war to Ko and his gang in an all out attack on Ko’s base of operations in a Hong Kong marine port with explosive results.

The action and plot are nothing original, though both Chan and Aiello have a good on screen chemistry which serves them well. The New York and Hong Kong locations are cool, especially the Hong Kong scenes which play out well. In terms of the action, it has the typical American attitude of slowing down the martial arts action as not to ‘confuse’ the audience, which Chan took exception too, even offering to choreograph the fight scenes on behalf of Glickenhaus, but the director refused. As another attempt to break Chan into a Western audience, the film ailed to do this, but on  he home video market it did very well. Chan’s cut of the film faired well in his native market. To be fair on The Protector, it is a very watchable film. Watching the feature on a newly restored Blu Ray disk I also appreciated the film in it’s correct aspect ratio and also I had a chance to re-visit Chan’s cut o the film as well, which was also presented on the aforementioned disk. I have viewed it several times over the years and enjoyed it every time, as I am a fan of Glickenhaus’ work since watching The Exterminator (1980). As a long time fan of Chan, any film with him  I would watch, The Protector is not Chan’s best film, or his worst, but for a cool piece of retro entertainment it is a worthy watch.

Artist Chris Achilleos

As a note of interest, the film poster artwork for both the UK and USA releases uses an illustration by the famed artist Chris Achilleos, which I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Achilleos in London in 2019, he was a lovely man to talk to and a superb artist, very unassuming but willing to talk about his work.

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