In honor of Indiana Jones week here at FSR, today’s installment of Foreign Objects will take a look at the best Raiders of the Lost Ark homage/rip-off ever made. Luckily (and not coincidentally) it just so happens to be a foreign film. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic, and while the sequels vary in quality, the first one’s legendary status is inarguable. You could try to argue against it I suppose, but you’d look like a fool so why bother? There have been quite a few crappy rip-offs, both foreign and domestic, most recently evidenced by the National Treasure flicks, but to find the best you’ve got to go halfway around the globe to Hong Kong.
Over twenty years ago, Jackie Chan released Armour of God and introduced Asian Hawk, a globe-trotting adventurer known for his ability at acquiring any artifact money can’t buy. Four years later he followed it up with a sequel, Armour of God II: Operation Condor, and while neither movie will win any awards for screenplay, plot, character development, or narrative cohesion, the two films combined deliver more action, stunts, slapstick, and adventure than any one film ever could. Unlike the innumerable and inferior rip-offs, Chan smartly kept the two most integral aspects of the Indiana Jones films… the amazing action and the fun. If you’re not familiar with Chan’s work, or even worse if you’re only familiar with him through his recent and/or American films, the Armour of God movies are a great starting point. (His first three Police Story films are an even better one though…)
Armour of God presents Jackie playing a chump named Jackie, a common trait in Chan’s films. I’m not sure why this is except that repeated impacts between Chan’s head and harder objects may have had an effect on his short-term memory… but as I inferred above, plot and character development aren’t really the strong points of a Chan film. Suffice to say, Jackie as Jackie as Asian Hawk is tasked with collecting three pieces of the Armour of God that when brought together with the remaining two pieces imbue the owner of the metallic quintet into an all powerful, invincible, super duper, ruler of the world, blah blah, not important. What is important is the kick ass action and fight scenes, and the self-effacing slapstickery that screams trademarked Jackie Chan. Mad kung-fu monks, spectacular car chases and stunts, Chan skydiving to and climbing down from the top of an air balloon in flight, and a fight finale that pits Chan against four Amazonian black women in leather and heels… who mysteriously (and hilariously) become Asian men in blackface and drag whenever the scene actually involves action or fight choreography. This is also the movie notorious for containing Chan’s closest brush with death. A routine stunt jump to a tree ended with a 15’-25’ fall to the ground, Chan’s head hitting a rock, and skull fragments shooting into his brain. And it’s all caught on film for your enjoyment!
Armour of God II: Operation Condor, like any good sequel, ramps up both the action and the laughs as Jackie finds himself on a quest for Nazi gold hidden somewhere in the Saharan desert. The slapstick comedy is turned all the way to eleven with three bumbling broads channeling (poorly) the Three Stooges in their interactions with each other, Jackie, and the cast of dimwitted bad guys in pursuit. The inclusion of these three is actually the only real weakness on display (some entertaining hotel room scenes involving towels, skin, and judicious editing aside…) as their annoyance factor is pretty high. Jackie bounces down a mountain side in a giant inflatable ball, smashes up more cars in a frenetic chase scene, and has a climactic battle inside an industrial sized wind tunnel. Not all the jokes work and parts of the film may seem sexist/racist to PC (and humorless) eyes, but the action is still incredible. As always, watch through the credits for behind-the-scenes footage of close calls and flubs of both lines and stunts.
Both of these movies were made back in Chan’s nimbler, faster, and funnier days, and they belong in every film fan’s library. His use of props has never been better than it is here, so much more natural and fluid looking than the by-numbers predictability on display in his last several films. Try to avoid the US DVD releases if possible. Aside from being edited and dubbed, the studio responsible for releasing them domestically actually swapped the films order. They refer to Armour of God as the sequel to Operation Condor. Can’t imagine who would be so careless and dense with their Asian film acquisitions… cough, Miramax/Dimension Films, cough. Not that there’s any risk of continuity loss between the two, but it’s the principle of the matter. Regardless of how or where you find them, do seek them out. Their deft mix of action, adventure, and comedy make them two of the best Indiana Jones homages ever, in any language.