SIX YEARS before the first “Fast & Furious” movie, Jackie Chan delivered his thrilling take on the world of underground street racing! We take a look back at this motoring-mayhem action thriller!
International superstar Jackie Chan took his real-life passion for racing and fast cars to the big screen, playing mechanic and racing ace “Chan Foh To / Feng Jim / Alfred Tung”, depending on which version you are watching.
Former Miss Hong Kong competitor-turned television and movie actress Anita Yuen Wing-Yee plays news reporter “Amy Ip”. As the female lead in Derek Yee‘s 1993 tear-jerker “C’est la vie, mon chéri”, she won several Best Actress awards. She has forged a solid career in both television and film in dramatic, romantic and comic roles. Aside from her appearance in this movie, martial arts films fans may recognise her as Cheung Wing-sing, Ip Man’s wife in the Anthony Wong led “Ip Man: Final Fight”.
Michael Wong Man-Tak plays specialist cop “Steve Cannon”. Wong has had a long and varied career in Asian cinema since the eighties, appearing alongside the likes of Jackie Chan, Brandon Lee, Chow Yun Fat, Donnie Yen and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, he is best known for his roles in “Beast Cops”, “In the Line of Duty“, “Legacy of Rage”, “City Hunter“, “Knock Off“, “From Vegas to Macau” and “Skiptrace“.
German actor and martial artist Thorsten Nickel stars as the cold-hearted “Warner ‘Cougar’ Krugman”. Having lived in London for a while, Nickel was advised to go to Hong Kong in 1995, where he landed roles as a Russian villain in Jet Li’s “My Father is a Hero / The Enforcer”, and as the main bad guy in “Thunderbolt”. He later featured in the Philip Ko-Fei movie “Techno Warriors”.
Veteran movie director and occasional actor, Chor Yuen plays “Uncle Chan Chun Tung / Alfred”, Foh’s father. Credited with over 120 films as a director, over 70 films as a writer, and over 40 films as an actor, he is best known to martial arts movie fans as Chu Tao, the gang boss in Jackie Chan’s first two “Police Story” movies. Actresses Daisy Wu Oi-Yan and Annie Man Chung-Han star as Jackie Chan’s younger sisters “Dai Mui / Daphne” and “”Xiao Wei / Sammi” respectively.
Look out for some familiar faces from Jackie’s career including Kenya Sawada as “Saw”, Ken Lo as “Kong”, Corey Yuen Kwai as a Doctor and Chin Ka-Lok as “Mirakami’s Assistant”, along with many regular members of the JC Stunt Team.
Foh is an expert mechanic, recently returned from Japan after a master course at Mitsubishi Motors. He runs a small automotive business in Hong Kong along with his father and two sisters.
In his spare time, he also helps the police out by checking cars that have been illegally upgraded.
During a night-time police stakeout, a psychotic street-racing driver Warner Krugman, aka Cougar, speeds past Foh and the cops. With ambitious reporter Amy in the passenger seat, Foh risks his life to stop Cougar. It emerges that Cougar is Interpol and the FBI’s “Most Wanted”, a dangerous killer who works for “The Syndicate”.
His gang soon break him out of custody in a deadly attack on the police station where he is being held. Looking for revenge on Foh, Cougar smashes his business up and kidnaps his sisters. The only way Foh can get his sisters back is by racing Cougar in Japan. Foh must retrain himself in race car driving so he can be at his best to beat Cougar.
Thunderbolt Action Highlights
Jackie Chan sings us in with a jaunty little number over the opening credits as his character Foh studies and trains at the impressive Mitsubishi factory.
Our introduction to the villain of the piece, Cougar, is a brutal demonstration of just how ruthless he is, as he tows a failed lackey behind his car.
Jackie Chan’s First Fight…
Our first hint that there is more to Foh than being a good driver, is when he teaches a couple of lecherous hooligans a lesson for upsetting his sisters. It only lasts a couple of seconds, but is enough to let you know he has some serious fighting skills and is not to be trifled with.
When Jackie pursues Cougar in an exhilarating chase, it’s obvious this is different from any action scene we have witnessed him in before. There have been notable car sequences in Chan’s previous films, including some co-ordinated by the legendary Rémy Julienne (RIP: 21 January 2021) in the “Armour of God” films, but nothing quite like this.
Awesome Drifts & Jumps that even Hollywood would be Proud of!
Stunt arranger Frankie Chan and director Gordon Chan have the cameras slung low, panning around the speeding vehicles. There are some spectacular drifts and jumps that any Hollywood production would be proud to feature. Using the widescreen format to great effect, the footage is cut rapidly inside and outside as the drivers change gear and swing their cars from lane-to-lane, giving the audience a real sense of speed and urgency.
Bring on the Flips & Swings: Classic Acrobatic Chan
The first proper fight sees a gang of thugs turn up to intimidate Foh at his garage. This is classic Jackie Chan material, as he acrobatically flips and swings around the gantries, using everything around him to frustrate and fight the bad guys.
Sammo Hung Serves-Up the Goods as Action Director
“Thunderbolt” saw Jackie reuniting with his “big brother” Sammo Hung, bringing him in as an action director, reflected in the trademark hard hits and falls suffered by the stunt performers.
Unfortunately, Jackie Chan was recovering from an injury (reportedly the broken ankle he suffered on “Rumble in the Bronx”), requiring Chin Ka Lok and Sam Wong Ming Sing to frequently stand in for him. There is still enough authentic Jackie Chan here though to dazzle the fans.
Die-Hard-esque Action Included
Cougar’s jailbreak is startlingly violent for a Jackie Chan film. In a sequence that looks like it could have come out of an R-rated “Die Hard” movie, grenades detonate, machine guns spray bullets, and blood spatters across the screen.
The violence continues as Cougar exacts his revenge by demolishing Foh’s scrap yard. It is an impressive set-piece as Jackie is tossed around like a rag doll inside a shipping container suspended by a crane as it is smashed into the surrounding structures.
The only downside to this is where the use of bizarre, stuttering, slow motion filming commences, that dogs the rest of the action sequences to come. It would be okay if it was used sparingly to highlight particular action scenes, but in this case it’s used for entire sequences.
Jackie Drives with his Trademark Kung-Fu Intensity
Foh must prepare himself for Cougar’s racing challenge. In place of the usual training montage of Jackie doing handstand presses or other crazy exercises, all the skills are transposed to driving. We see Jackie tuning vehicles, practicing gear changes, and test-driving with the same intensity he delivers when doing his kung-fu forms in his older movies.
Jackie Chan vs Kenya Sawada & Ken Lo
The best of the fighting action takes place in a Japanese pachinko arcade against some Yakuza gangsters. With Kenya Sawada and Ken Lo leading the assault on Jackie, this is a high-kicking dust up out of the top drawer.
There is even a little nod back to the end fight in “Drunken Master 2” between Chan and Ken Lo, this time played out on top of the arcade machines. Even when Jackie isn’t doubled he still looks as flexible and agile as ever. It’s mostly well shot apart from a nicely choreographed sequence with Jackie disarming knife-wielding, tattooed Yakuza thugs with nothing but a strip of cloth, where once again, the jerky slow motion rears its ugly head.
Feel the Speed: Up Close & Personal with the Tarmac
The last fifteen or twenty minutes of the film are taken up by some tense but thrilling racing sequences. The camera more often than not, is right in amongst the cars, just inches from the tarmac so the viewer can really sense the speed.
Spectacular Crashes & Near-Miss Overtaking Moves
There are some spectacular crashes and plenty of near-miss overtaking manoeuvres. There are frequent shots revealing that Jackie Chan did some of the driving himself. It’s a shame that a lot of the footage had to be sped up due to wet conditions in Japan and safety regulations in Malaysia where the racing sequences were filmed.
The usual outtakes at the end reveal some of the injuries suffered by Jackie and his stunt team, as well as a lot of the fun they had making this film!
The 1990s was a decade of evolution for Jackie Chan movies. It started with fan favourites such as “Armour of God II: Operation Condor”, “Police Story 3: Supercop” and “Drunken Master 2”, all follow ups to previous hits.
A string of films in the mid-nineties brought with them a stronger draw to worldwide audiences, often featuring international locations, Caucasian actors and English dialogue. The success of films such as “Police Story 4: First Strike”, “Mr Nice Guy”, “Who Am I?” and “Rumble in the Bronx” in particular, finally established Jackie Chan as a truly global star with mass appeal, leading to the box office smash hit “Rush Hour”, in 1998.
“Thunderbolt” was made at the outset of this evolution with a definite eye on one of Jackie’s biggest markets; Japan.
The car-modding and street racing scene was huge in Japan during the nineties, with groups like the notorious “Midnight Club”, who became world famous for racing at speeds reportedly exceeding 190 mph. Where this film excels is conveying that sense of speed in the exhilarating motor-racing scenes. Although the footage is quite obviously sped up in some parts of the final race, the editing and stunts make it very exciting to watch.
The more traditional stunts and fighting audiences expect from a Jackie Chan film are perfectly adequate, but often slightly spoiled by the rather bizarre use of a “stuttering frame” slow-motion effect in the footage. Even so, not many other action films quite deliver set pieces such as the demolition of Foh’s scrap yard or the mass brawl at the pachinko arcade, quite as stylishly as a Jackie Chan film.
I can’t help but wonder if “Thunderbolt” had been directed a little more cinematically, with a little more humour, and more in keeping with the broader, international flavours of the three or four films that came after it, this wouldn’t have been considered one of Chan’s better efforts of that particular decade.
When you look at the multi-billion dollar success of the “Fast & Furious” franchise in the new millennium, we can see that Jackie was perhaps way ahead of the curve!
- “This one’s got a booster rocket!” – Uncle Chan
- “Just concentrate on the race. This race is your chance. You’ve gotta leave your problems outside the car.” – Mirakami
- Released in Japan titled “Dead Heat”.
- Jackie Chan suffered a broken ankle while filming “Rumble in the Bronx”, so stunt doubles were used more often than expected for many of the fight scenes in this movie.
- Two different openings were shot for the film. In the Japanese print, Jackie, while training at the Mitsubishi car plant in Japan, breaks company rules by test driving a prototype without permission. As a result, he has to return to Hong Kong. In the Hong Kong print, Jackie simply completes his training, has an amusing encounter with the boss’s daughter, then leaves Japan of his own accord.
- The Japanese print is missing Jackie’s slow-motion fight with tattooed members of the Yakuza.
- Winner at the 1995 Golden Horse Film Festival for Best Action Choreography (Corey Yuen).
- Director Gordon Chan was chosen following his success with Jet Li’s “Fist of Legend” the previous year.
- Jackie Chan reportedly disliked how the film turned out which may explain why this didn’t get as wide a release and coverage as his other mid-nineties movies.
- With an estimated budget of almost HK$30 million, at the time “Thunderbolt” was one of the most expensive Hong Kong films ever made.
- Jackie Chan has had a long held fascination with sports cars and motor racing. He was sponsored by Mitsubishi for a number of years, with their vehicles appearing in several of his movies. He is currently co-owner of the Jackie Chan DC Le Mans Racing Team.