GORGEOUS (1999)

If this keeps up, I'll have no choice; 2000 will be my year of seeing mediocre Jackie Chan movies where the only saving graces Action has, in fact, looked much, much better.were something other than Jackie Chan.  After kind of liking Shanghai Noon for the goofy charm of Owen Wilson, I'm here to talk admiringly of just about everyone in the cast but Jackie.  First and foremost, I'm here to sing the praises of Qi Shu, an actress of absolutely incredible charm (and I hear she's even better in other recent HK films).  She plays Bu, the impetuous girl from a poor coastal town in Taiwan who travels to Hong Kong in search of her true love.  The opening of the movie sets Gorgeous up to be a cute and sweet fairy tale about a small town girl finding love in the big city, but the movie never quite makes it there.  When Bu meets millionaire bachelor C. N. Chan, the movie hits an obstacle on its path to whimsical charm.  That obstacle is C. N. himself, played by the man himself, Jackie Chan.

I can sort of imagine how this movie came about; the director is making his little fable and needs someone for the role of  a rich but decent seeming guy, Jackie is looking to expand his image and is always a sucker for romantic comedies, and the deal is done for Jackie to come in and play the role of the unattainable bachelor who Bu falls for.  But then something happens.  Maybe Jackie gets cold feet about putting out a movie where he doesn't do his patented stunt work and fight scenes, or maybe he doesn't like the director's cut of the movie, or maybe even the director got swept away with making a Jackie Chan movie. But what starts as a romantic comedy in which a girl and her gay friend go about making a rich and successful man fall in love with her becomes a sort of out-of-shape Jackie Chan movie where an inessential subplot takes over the movie.

Now, there probably wasn't much of a loss in tossing away the original romantic comedy since a good chunk of the scenes are interesting only for Qi Shu's incredible charm and great delivery--she manages to effortlessly convey sweetness and romantic longing, girlishness and a levelheadedness.  Tony Leung, a long, long way from Hard Boiled, has the role of gay sidekick Albert, and if Ellen Degeneres and Anne Heche think they've had it rough since coming out, they should see Tony--wearing pink, and mincing around while snapping advice at Bu.  There are guilty laughs in watching Albert's equally stereotyped gay friends pretend to be gangsters and threaten Bu in order to catch C.N's interest, but they're very guilty laughs that would have gotten old quickly.  But the subplot that takes the over the movie is not only equally dull, it's obviously supposed to be in another movie altogether.  In it, C.N. is in competition with boyhood chum N.S. (Emil ChowWah-Kin, a familiar face to me) who owns a competing company.  After trying repeatedly to have C.N. beaten up, N.S. hires a foreign fighter (much shorter than C.N. to increase the humiliation) to beat C.N.  Chow Wah-Kin plays N.S. with a strangely ingratiating mix of joy and genuine sorrow at seeing C.N. get his comeuppance, and the resolution of his relationship with C.N. was actually touching.

Also terrific is James Alan Bradley as the foreign fighter hired to beat Jackie.  If I'm not mistaken, Bradley is also one of the two guys who beats on Jackie in Who Am I?, and he exudes charisma and skill here as a fighter who treats his fight with C.N utterly seriously but without the typical sadism of a H.K. villain.  His initial match with Chan and their later rematch gives his character more personality than any kung-fu villain in recent memory.  At certain points, Chan seems to be trying to make the fights a brutally even match-up (like his bouts with Benny 'the Jet' Urquidez in Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever).  But they're not, and I kept getting the feeling that the problem was Jackie.

Now, let's be honest.  Although I respect him enough to continue to support him long into his cinematic dotage, Jackie Chan is not a young man; he was 45 years old when he made this film and he's 46 now.  He's just not going to be the fighter he was at 30 when he made Wheels on Meals and I respect that.  But I was surprised at how listless the setup and execution of the fight scenes were in this film, as if he didn't really want to give a lot of thought to choreographing them.  A scene where's he's chased about a yacht by gangsters feels like a similar scene in Dragons Forever, but so sluggishly as to feel like it's slow motion.  A fight with thugs wearing rubber masks is a cheap blend of two fights in Police Story I.  I don't mean to sound like a jaded veteran here; I think anyone who saw this movie as their first Jackie Chan movie would be kind of bored, particularly since this kind of stuff is everywhere now.  When the fights of a H.K. Jackie Chan movie are roughly the same caliber as those in an episode of Martial Law (where Sammo Hung, bless him, only has a week with stuntmen of varying ability to work with) then something is wrong.  Add to that the feeling that a star has hijacked a movie that was supposed to very different (and, if you're a gossipy type, add in the extra-ooky feeling of watching 46 year old Chan do a romantic comedy with a 24 year old who looks like a teenager (and you also know about the teen girl who recently had his child while he's married to someone else)), and Gorgeous becomes a tough film to recommend, despite the charms of its interesting cast.

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