by guest contributor James John
First off, Jackie Chan in this film does a good job being, well, Jackie Chan! By 1986 he was a global superstar, 32 years old and still in his physical prime. He was a Cantonese Buster Keaton, all visual, even the gags, that is why he was able to crack the language barrier globally. It was a great decade for Hong Kong cinema in general.
This Golden Harvest studios Jackie Chan directed Cantonese action-comedy, “Armour of God” (1987) was obviously an inspired Hong Kong homage to the all-time classic Steven Spielberg directed, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). The film will also be remembered for the fact that Jackie Chan nearly died after suffering a fractured skull after a stunt went badly wrong (it can be seen in the outtakes while the end credits roll).
It is a cute, charming enjoyable Jackie film, full of gags, slapstick, adventure, great stunts, punch ups and sultry women! It nearly feels like a romantic comedy in some places and was set in its day, 1986-1987. There are also inventive, over the top acrobatic martial-art fight scenes and daredevil car-chase action sequences. It is a death-defying spectacular thrill ride with great cinematography.
Make no mistake; “Armour of God” is a very European looking film (the wide lens scenery looked fantastic), with many European actors cast. It was also filmed mostly in Yugoslavia (now Croatia and Slovenia), Paris, Austria, France and Spain. There were also shots outside of Europe in Morocco, North Africa. Just like the Indiana Jones films, a lost mythical legendary Biblical artefact is used as the catalyst for our hero’s adventure. The term, “Armour of God” is actually derived from the Bible, Ephesians 6:11, which is found in one of the so-called “Pauline Letters” which were supposedly written by St. Paul the Evangelist (Saul of Tarsus). The quote was, “Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” However, like the Biblical Ark of the Covenant mythology used brilliantly in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” there is no historical evidence to suggest there was a literal physical Armour, but rather it was a metaphor for “Holy” protection. The film grossed HK$35,469,408, which became Jackie Chan’s biggest domestic hit ever.
In this easy-going action-adventure film, a gum-chewing Jackie Chan stars as the arrogant-hard-as-nails ex cheesy pop band member and archaeological mercenary artefact looter, “Asian Hawk! His treasure hunter for hire “Hawk” character was fun and fearless, a really cool guy, his car even had gadgets! He was an Indiana Jones/James Bond-esque type character which Jackie plays brilliantly. His acting was one of the highlights, it was top notch for the tone of the film and works very well, his sarcastic comebacks were hilarious. Whenever he appeared on screen you expected something to happen. Real life Hong Kong “Cantopop” singer turned actor, Alan Tam, plays Jackie’s bumbling, funny sidekick and ex-pop band member, “Alan.” Surprisingly Alan Tam shows great comedic timing and presence here. He had good chemistry with Jackie throughout the film.
The beautiful Spanish actress and former “Miss World 1979” Lola Forner, appeared as “May Brannon,” the daughter of a powerful, intriguing, eccentric European noble called “Count Bannon,” who was played credibly by veteran Croatian professional actor, Bozidar Smiljanic, who also later played a small part in another Jackie Chan vehicle, “Project A Part II” (1987). Lola Forner does a decent job here as “May”, proving a capable actress in the dramatic scenes with Jackie. Her character seemed to have great deal to do in this film, even becoming a sniper when she teams up with Jackie. Forner had previously appeared in Jackie Chan showcases, “Project A” (1983) and the popular “Wheels on Meals” (1984). Rosamund Kwan plays “Lorelei” a top fashion designer and ex fellow pop band member who is Alan’s current girlfriend. Jackie Chan’s character seems to have a soft spot for her (ex love). Some of Rosamund Kwan’s other notable films are the Sammo Hung directed, “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars” (1985), “Project A Part II” and the brilliant Jet Li martial arts vehicle, “Once Upon a Time in China” (1991). The Satanic black hooded arch villain of the film was played delightfully evil by Ken Doyle, who also starred with Chow Yun-Fat in “The Seventh Curse” (1986).
The adventurer, treasure hunter and ex pop backing singer of “The Losers” called “Asian Hawk,” played by Jackie Chan steals a sword from a feisty native aboriginal tribe in a jungle/rain forest, before making an exciting getaway in a tiny plane out the country. After the successful capture of the sword, he indirectly auctions it off to the highest bidder, an aristocrat called “May Bannon” played by Lola Forner, whose father is a rich Count and relic collector, played subtle by Bozidar Smiljanic. Because of this, he is reunited with his estranged former pop band member, “Alan” (played by Alan Tam) who needs “Asian Hawk’s” help because his young girlfriend and ex-pop band member, played by Rosamund Kwan, has been kidnapped by a Eastern European based Satanic Cult of monks seeking the other missing coveted ancient Armour pieces of the so-called mysterious “Armour of God” (which included the sword Jackie stole from the jungle). The Cult already somehow had the two other Armour pieces, while the rich Count had now acquired the other three pieces (there were five in all). So they blackmailed “Alan” to get his ex-friend and band member, Asian Hawk to retrieve the other Armour pieces for them (as the Cult intended in the first place, very smart!).
Jackie and Alan proceed to strike a deal with the Count that they will borrow the three pieces he now owns to bargain with the evil Cult (who also moon light as international drug smugglers along with a penchant for illicit activities!) who have Lorelei in their procession. They promised they would complete the Count’s collection of the Armour by retaining the other Armour pieces held by the Cult. To make sure they keep their word, the Count’s daughter, May, goes along for the ride. They later secretly infiltrate the Satanic Cult base (using a tip-off from a campy waiter) not knowing they were expected all along! The Asian Hawk, Alan and May rescue Lorelei and make they escape, however Lorelei has been brainwashed (Manchurian Candidate style) by the Cult to retrieve the other pieces of the Armour. She later drugs her boyfriend Alan and they make off with the three pieces of Armour and take it to the Cult’s monastery.
The Asian Hawk and May must journey back to the monastery taking on the monks (yes, we are treated to an exciting monk fight scene in the dining hall at the monastery!), rescuing Lorelei and Alan before discovering the whole collection of the “Armour of God” hidden in the cave. The so-called Satanic “Grand Wizard” played by a delightfully hammy Ken Boyle, who was head of the shadowy Satanic Cult, gathers his four assassins (four angry buxom, scantily-leather-clad high-heeled-curvaceous black females) to fend-off Asian Hawk from the Armour. After defeating the four women in a hard fought, painful battle the hero finds himself absolutely surrounded by the Cult, but he came prepared, under his jacket revealed sticks of dynamite! He bluffs that he will light the sticks and blow them all sky high. He accidentally lights the fuses of the sticks in his bomb packed jacket and runs for his life out of the cave. It was a stunt that blew up the cave and the monastery, leaving the so-called “Armour of God” under the rubble. Asian Hawk makes a daredevil escape out of the cave on a hot-air balloon in a climactic grand finale!
There are not many out and out martial arts scenes in this adventure. With exception to the action packed end, the martial arts scenes in this film are too brief in my opinion! You can’t help to want to remember the 20 minute mano a mano showdown in “The Young Master” (1980). But the well crafted class and flair of the living legend Jackie’s ambition is in full view in this 1987 picture with great landscape shots and action choreography. The production was slick. It is a mostly fast-paced film and the other actors do a good job of supporting Jackie in this first ever introduction of the daring Asian Hawk character, a character who also later appears in its sequel, the well received, “Operation Condor” (1991).
It was the opening scene shots in which Jackie nearly lost his life. It was during production when Jackie jumped for a tree branch off a castle ledge that accidentally snapped resulting in Jackie severely cracking his head on the rocks below, it was a mishap deleted from the film. It was a stunt that nearly killed him but he still finishes the film months later because of his incredible work ethic.
It is noticeable that Jackie has short hair at the opening of the film and longer hair for the rest of it. That is because the head wound he received left a hole that had to be covered by a plastic plug. He already had a perfect take of the shot (which was used in the film), which was fairly simple, but being the perfectionist that he is, he tried to do another take which went horribly wrong and he fell 15 feet. He was hospitalised and was in a coma for two days.
It was this great spectacular opening action scene in the film which reminds you of Indiana Jones. Jackie’s gum-chewing treasure hunter extraordinaire, Asian Hawk steals an ancient sword which was worshipped by the forest Aboriginal natives as an idol (not knowing it was apart of the mythological “Armour of God”) during a human sacrifice involving a semi-naked woman on a slab. It led to a wild pursuit with Asian Hawk sliding down a very steep green hill (great scenery shots!) then making a daring escape on a mini plane with many extras and stunt men playing the native pagan Aboriginal tribe on his heels.
There is an outrageous, bloody terrorist scene where the “killer” monks dressed in hooded-black outfits concoct a plot to shoot up a dinner banquet with machine guns (AK-47’s) in order to kidnap Rosamund Kwan’s character, “Lorelei,” who was close enough to Asian Hawk (ex love interest) that blackmailing “Hawk” for the remaining pieces of the Armour could be possible in the eyes of the sinister Satanic Cult. It was a scary scene of gratuitous violence, where many people were shot, including a photographer through the eye (which was shown viscerally in close-up).
There is also an interesting brief flashback action sequence when “Count Bannon” played by Bozidar Smiljanic, discusses the origin of the sacred “Armour of God” treasure with Jackie and Alan Tam. It shows a bloody battle during the dark ages in Europe, a war supposedly in the name of good. There is a long, exciting and dangerous sequence of stunts during a multi-car and motorcycle chase in the narrow pedestrian streets of the Croatian city (which used to be a part of Yugoslavia at the time).
There were explosions and car crashes which were edited together well. Jackie even drives an odd Mitsubishi car with funny Bond-Q like gadgets. There was a great extraordinary stunt when it leaps across a freeway closely followed by a villain’s motorcycle. Lola Forner even gets to use a sniper rifle from a building to ward off the vicious monks. There are great stunts, but the martial-arts don’t really come into it until the end, at the monastery. The “monk” fight at the dining hall, despite being short is worth seeing for its sheer entertainment value, it even has a food fight!
Jackie as usual uses any thing he can get his hands on, this time he uses a big log which he sets alight so he can keep his enemies away, despite this in the end, he has to use his wits and martial art skills to get out of the situation. It was memorable to watch as a seemingly outgunned Chan somehow take on this entire battalion of evil monks without the slightest bit of help (pop star Alan Tam was no fighter here!). However, the monks seemed like inept martial arts fighters for the most part. It seemed in this scene, Jackie was back to his marvellous best, one man against many goons all at once. But the scene in the cavernous fortress was outstanding, one of Jackie’s most notable ever…the main villain, the “Grand Wizard” of the Cult, unleashes four henchmen in dark -hooded clothing. What we got was totally original and amusing.
Watching Jackie furiously fight off a bunch of angry black women seems entertaining enough. Watching Jackie furiously battle a bunch of angry, curvy Amazonian black women (not the male stunt stand-ins) in skimpy leather outfits showing their physical accoutrements –goes from proclaiming, “I just don’t like to hit women that’s all” to knocking the seven bells out of them! Jackie had to resort to dodging round- house kicks in high heels until he sussed them out (check the scene where the assassin woman’s heel gets stuck in the gap, it was a picture when the sly smile on Jackie’s face appears just before he threw a single punch to her chest while she was disabled).
The women were fighting in a unison fashion with flying kicks in their heels, even aiming to kick his groin into submission! One of the women comes at Jackie from around eight feet in the air, Jackie swivels and directs a kick while she is in mid-flight which sent her spinning around before crashing hard into the dirt -yikes! It was a great stunt, very hard hitting and worth the wait though! There were many very painful-looking kicks and punches, many of the stunt people landing in awkward positions. In all, it was thrilling and at the same time, hilarious -Jackie showing again his quick wit during a fast-paced fight scene, up against multiple opponents.
“Armour of God” is mostly remembered today for all the wrong reasons. It has gone down in many reviews as, “the film that nearly killed Jackie”, by fans instead of the stunning slap stick comedy-action adventure film it is. The film just is not as full-on as it could have been martial arts-wise, mainly because of the early horrific injury Jackie sustained when the tree branch stunt went wrong in production. It was quite scary! It reminded you how far Jackie would go to entertain the audience.
Despite the opening being an intended homage to the Indiana Jones adventure franchise vehicles “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Temple of Doom” (1984), it did work fine in the context of this film however silly it might have seemed (the Aboriginal natives were a outdated caricature)! The end climax goes from one great action set piece to another. There was no room to catch your breath. People forget that Jackie’s acting was very good here with Asian Hawk in this film: maverick, rough and ready, rather cold and sarcastic in some parts, even to his friend. There was also a brief touching moment between him and the Lola Forner character “May” when it seemed they were getting close and he ruined it by hilariously saying something like, “Do I have to pay for it?”
Chinese actress, Rosamund Kwan could have been used a lot more in her part, she was the girl who came between the “Hawk” and Alan in the first place when they were a part of the pop band. Spanish spitfire Lola Forner as “May” was sizzling, but her character was pretty unnecessary when you think about it. There was some unintentionally funny dialogue between her and one of the sick monks at the monastery who she was trying to convince she was a prostitute as a distraction. She says, “I’m a prostitute,” the monk replies, “No, you’re a well-bred girl,” she replies with, “I’m not, I’m a whore.”
The main bad guy Ken Doyle was good and creepy but underused, plus he was no fighter so disappointingly there was not a showdown between the villain and Jackie at the end. But the jaw-dropping fights against the monks and the four women of the Apocalypse make it required viewing, Jackie at his mesmerising best –in short, if you’re fan of the main man, Chan and action cinema, then, see this film!
- This was actually the first of the so-called “Operation Condor” franchise, but was labelled “Operation Condor II” because the actual sequel, “Operation Condor” (1991) was released before “Armour of God” (1987) in the USA.
- Jackie Chan’s father appeared for the first time on film when he attended to his son’s horrific injury on set -seen on the outtakes during the end credits.
- The fictional pop band in the film, “The Losers”, was a spoof based on an actual Cantopop band called, “The Wynners.”
- The 4 Amazonian female guards in the film were stunt-doubled by men dressed in drag.
FILM RATING: 8/10
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