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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents

Jackie Chan is The Prisoner (1990)

"Note to self: next time escaping from prison on foot, lose weight first."- John (Sammo Hung)

Stars: Tony Leung
Other Stars: Andy Lau, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Barry Wong
Director: Yin-Ping Chu

MPAA Rating: R for language and violence
Run Time: 01h:36m:33
Release Date: 2001-02-20
Genre: martial arts

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- D+C-C C-


DVD Review

Have you ever noticed how a network will show a movie on TV and push the involvement of its stars? For example, NBC recently aired A Few Good Men as "starring Noah Wyle." Fine, except Wyle's part basically amounted to a cameo. It's misrepresentation. I hate it. It's annoying, and it glosses over the people who really worked on the project. So what does that have to do with Jackie Chan is The Prisoner? Well, let's just say a better title would've been "Jackie Chan is A Prisoner," because he is but one of four "featured" characters, and even then, his part is one of the smaller ones.

In retrospect, it's easy to see why Columbia TriStar tried to market the film as a Jackie Chan vehicle. Chan is a huge international star, and his last few films have been a big hit in America (witness the $100 million plus gross of Rush Hour). His name above the title will instantly draw a legion of fans. Also, the movie sucks and they needed something to distract the audience.

The story revolves around a character named Andy (Tony Leung), a cop who intentionally breaks the law so he can investigate corruption in a prison. Instantly, he becomes integrated into the prison life, forced to fight in brawls and treated like garbage. Although really, it doesn't seem so bad. His cellmate is a nice, nerdy, introspective guy with a pet gerbil, no doubt inprisoned for being too nice to old ladies (oh, and if you look closely at his face, you can see the big target that says "I'm not making it out of this film alive"). Meanwhile, another inmate, John (Sammo Hung), is a nice guy who escapes from prison to visit his son (who looks like an Asian Harry Potter). The two cavort around a carnival and gorge on cotton candy before John is arrested again. Except he promises to escape and see his son again, because it is important for a child to have a role model. Finally, we have Chan the Man, who is a professional pool player that was jailed after accidentally killing the brother of a local crime boss (Boss Lee, played by Andy Lau). Of course, Lee needs revenge, so he decides the most logical course of action is to get arrested and jailed too. Right.

As you see, the plot is sort of all over the place. So is the narrative. There isn't really a traditional story structure (or much of a story). Different plot elements are just thrown together, and not much makes sense. The "corruption in the prison" element is quickly forgotten. The revenge plot is glossed over. The John scenes are played for comic relief ("Look! He's FAT!"). And then there is an abrupt shift in subject and tone at the end of the film that really doesn't make any sense at all.

I'd blame the fractured narrative on editing for America audiences, but since the run time is the same in America and Hong Kong, I don't think that is the cause. However, the horrid translation doesn't help. This film has, flat out, some of the worst dialogue I have ever heard. I don't suppose the director was looking to provoke big bouts of laughter in the dramatic scenes, but I can't say the same for whoever wrote the translation. The horrible dubbed track doesn't help either. The voice actors seem to only be able to over-emote, resulting in some very funny moments, most too dirty to repeat here.

The best example I can think of to describe what is wrong with this movie is one of the few Chan scenes. His girlfriend has just been knifed the back. Cut to a shot of him running in slow motion with her body held like a rag doll. Ok, that part has to be seen to be appreciated. But the voiceover caps it. A doctor explains that she could live if she got a liver transplant, but it would have to be purchased on the black market for $100,000. Chan responds "I only know one way to make that kind of quick cash." Cut to... gambling! Talk about a shift in tone. Plus, I wasn't thinking gambling, but then, I have a dirty mind.

I think it's safe to say that without Chan's small role, The Prisoner would never have seen a release in America. The action is basically non-existent, with just one short Chan scene and a bad John Woo impression at the end. The storyline definitely isn't good enough to sustain interest without a fight every few minutes. Certainly there are better Hong Kong films that have not crossed overseas because of a lack of star power.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This transfer has a lot of problems. First of all, the print used wasn't in great shape - there are a lot of scratches and pops throughout, and in some scenes the picture seems to jump in the frame. In addition, the image has a very soft look overall. Fine detail is lacking, and the picture almost looks like it has a fine film of dust over it. There is quite a bit of film grain in the darker scenes. On the plus side, there was no visible edge-enhancement or artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: For a 5.1 mix, this is about as basic as you can get. Obviously the film was dubbed, and the wacky vocals come through loud and clear, with no hiss or distortion. The front soundstage isn't used to good effect; there is little in the way of panning or directional effects. Surrounds are used solely to enhance the score a little bit, and it actually sounds good enough. The most obvious element from the track is the bass, which is really expanded quite a bit, especially during certain segments of score. I just don't know if it is appropriate. I mean, the score should not have more bass that a fight or a gunshot.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by martial arts expert Phillip Rhee
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Aside from the usual features like cast bios and a (very misleading) trailer, the only real extra here is a feature-length commentary from martial arts expert Phillip Rhee. Rhee didn't actually have anything to do with the movie. I guess he just likes it. Anyway, his comments are mildly interesting, but amount mostly to pointing out little cinematic tricks that most people probably already know about, like stunt work and blood bags. My favorite comment, however, was in regard to the character in the prison that has a pet mouse. Rhee thinks perhaps that is where Frank Darabont got the idea for Mr. Jingles in The Green Mile. Good guess, but I'd wager Darabont got the idea for Mr. Jingles from Stephen King, who wrote The Green Mile.

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

Jackie Chan fans need not worry about getting this one; he only appears in about five minutes of the film, despite his prominence on the box art. Factor in the near total lack of action, the laughable dialogue, and some of the worst voice acting I have ever heard, and you've got a real winner all around. Recommended only to the most die-hard Hong Kong action fans.

Joel Cunningham 2001-02-25