IF SHOE AND soda endorsements are the benchmarks of American stardom, then Hong Kong action icon Jackie Chan didn't officially arrive in the U.S. until his lighthearted, fast-paced kung-fu antics became the basis for a recent Mountain Dew campaign. If you listen carefully beneath the jingle, you'll hear the mournful sighs of die-hard Chan fans, feeling cynical and unsettled by his move from cult exaltation to full-on commercial viability. But it's still Jackie doing what he does better than anyone in American cinema. And in using his art to market pop, it's clear that he knows what he's getting into.
On the other hand, it's doubtful that Chan had controlling interest in the purchase last year of three of his HK features--Project A, Drunken Master II, and Armour of God II: Operation Condor--by stateside distributor Miramax Films. The latter of these titles was shortened to Operation Condor and released last weekend through Miramax's Dimension Films subsidiary on over 1,000 U.S. screens. This new version features English-language dubbing, an updated rock soundtrack, and some careful editing stitches intended to buff up the piece for American audiences.
"We hope the [Miramax alterations] haven't decreased the quality," says Ange Hwang, executive director of Asian Media Access in Minneapolis. As a fundraising benefit for their Asian Youth in Media project, AMA is screening all three Chan flicks at the Riverview Theater over the next few weekends, including the same cut of Condor as the one playing at multiplexes.
"It's a different way of editing," Hwang says of the U.S. aesthetic, previously employed by Dimension for Chan's Supercop and by New Line Cinema for his Rumble in the Bronx and Jackie Chan's First Strike. "They try to make it look tighter, take out some of the comedy, tighten up the action. They realize there are different kinds of audiences--some will be satisfied with the [subtitled] Cantonese version, but others will prefer the dubbed one."
Cara Cambria, manager of regional publicity and promotion at Miramax, insists that Condor's U.S. makeover is a benevolent fine tuning that makes the film's sound "more pristine" and its look "a little cleaner" than the HK version.
Of course, Miramax would be foolish to tamper too heavily with Chan's brand of combative acrobatics, and if reactions to a recent preview screening are any indication, the American version sports as many thrills as the original, and might even be enjoyed more readily without subtitles. Still, and despite the fact that Chan himself read for the overdub, arguments over the integrity of the performances and the value of the original language are sure to ensue.
"[Chan] has such great facial expressions and great choreography, and the stories are pretty straightforward, so there's no real problem keeping up with the subtitles," says Hwang. "I really hope Miramax will realize that. They should have two prints--one dubbed for mainstream release and one original for the art-houses. Since they hold all the U.S. distribution rights, it would seem that they'd have some room to distribute the Cantonese version. But maybe that's just too small of a profit to be worth looking into."
Operation Condor is playing at the Riverview on Saturday at midnight to benefit Asian Media Access's Asian Youth in Media project; see Film Clips, p. 48, for review.
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