The Prisoner by Chu Yen-Ping
After a fairly late night of watching movies and working on Opus, I decided to ease into the second day of my marathon with a little lighthearted kung fu mayhem. So I popped in The Prisoner, expecting a riotous action/comedy flick à la Supercop or even Rumble in the Bronx. After all, this was a Jackie Chan film, right? That’s what the packaging said, what the trailer said. But talk about false advertising.
First, don’t be fooled. This isn’t a Jackie Chan film. Oh sure, he’s in it… but it’s not his film. At least, not exclusively. Although it boasts a lot of Hong Kong stars (e.g., Chan, Sammo Hung, Andy Lau, Tony Leung Ka Fai), no one star dominates the film. It’s more of an ensemble picture than anything else, and surprisingly, Chan’s character (a pool player named Steve) is one of the least developed.
The film starts out with Andy (Leung) going undercover to figure out why supposedly executed criminals are turning up as hitmen. But once he gets thrown in prison, that story takes a backseat to the others. There’s John (Hung), who is intent on constantly escaping so he can see his son. There’s Steve, a pool player falsely convicted of murdering a local crimelord’s brother. And then there’s the crimelord (Lau) who gets into the prison to kill Steve.
Eventually, the movie gets back to the original plot, and actually does a good job of doing so. But in-between are a series of vignettes of prison life, as our “heroes” try to make it behind bars. At times, it feels like The Shawshank Redemption in the regard. Criminals banding together against sadistic guards, supporting each other, and doing what they can to make their life have some meaning.
In this regard, the movie works at times, and at other times, does nothing at all. There are some genuinely good scenes, with touches of humanity and humor. And then there are some scenes which are just silly and/or stupid.
Now, since Jackie Chan is in the movie, you’re probably expecting some martial arts, right? Well, keep in mind what I said. This is not a Jackie Chan picture, which means that there simply isn’t wall to wall action. Since the movie’s focus isn’t on him, despite what is said by the advertising, there’s no reason for lots of gratuitous kung fu, and thankfully, the movie realizes that. There are a handful of scenes related to Steve’s capture, as well as a fight between Steve and crimelord, and that’s about it.
I do feel a little misled by the advertising, since I was expecting a typical Chan film. But that’s not what I got, and I don’t really feel disappointed by it. Oh sure, it’s not a classic by any means but it’s a far sight better than what I thought it would be. I guess that’s something.