The Accidental Spy

Reviewed by YTSL

There are people who do think that 2001 has (thus far) not been a great Hong Kong movie year.  While it may not rival my favorite years (1992 and 1994 -- go check my Top Ten Hong Kong Films List!), I think that many others would agree with me that any period in which Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow (vehicles) reappear on the Hong Kong movie horizon can’t be one that’s all that bad.  Unlike previous years though, Sing Jai and Sing Lung did not go head-to-head against each other until the summer (and the release of “Shaolin Soccer” and “Rush Hour 2”).  Instead, it was left to “Wu Yen” to be the biggest rival to “Big Brother” Jackie’s successful bid to be the year’s Chinese New Year box office champion.

The big budget Jackie Chan work utilized to mount the first major assault of Y2K1 on East Asian box offices was THE ACCIDENTAL SPY:  An international-style -- but still more Hong Kong than Hollywood feeling (and not just because the majority of the speaking parts go to Asian actors and actresses) -- action offering (produced by the film’s star under the aegis of Golden Harvest).  Although that which grossed over HK$30 million in HKSAR cinemas alone starts off plus mostly takes place in Turkey, its main character (who is, of course, played by Jackie Chan) hails from Hong Kong.  When he first appears in this Teddy Chan directed movie, Buck Yuen is an energetic -- but nevertheless not very successful -- fitness equipment salesman.  After some lunch break heroics get him on TV and noticed by a deceptively unassuming character essayed by Eric Tsang though, he -- who, we learn, had been placed in an orphanage early in his childhood -- soon is effectively sent on his way to having the kind of experiences that are far removed from his usual line of work (even while that has fortunately kept him fitter than the average person).
Buck’s adventures begin in earnest in South Korea.  Taken to a military hospital there by a lawyer portrayed by Alfred Cheung to meet a mysterious Mr. Park who -- Buck is told -- could be his biological father, he ends up also encountering a young woman named Carmen Wong (who is played -- not particularly well -- by the English-speaking Korean actress, Kim Min Jeong) and some goons who are looking to acquire some thing by foul and violent means.  After the movie’s very physically capable hero foils an interrogation attempt cum assault on the dying Mr. Park, the elderly man -- who gets revealed to have been a top North Korean spy who defected only two months ago --  tells his rescuer that he is going to be given a chance to become a very rich man.  This potentially golden opportunity comes by way of a guessing cum tracking game -- which involves doing such as unraveling the secret meaning of some English words found engraved on Mr. Park’s Chinese wife’s grave -- that turns Buck into THE ACCIDENTAL SPY, on whose tail trails more than one interested party.
The clues to what Buck initially thought was solely a financial fortune also send him to Turkey (where Mr. Park had been two months earlier).  In that extremely scenic looking Muslim country, he attracts the attention of a girl-woman named Yong (played by Vivian Hsu, who looks younger in this movie than Hsu Chi did in “Gorgeous”), a man with an dangerous air about him known as “The Fixer” as well as Mr. Zen (essayed by Wu Hsing-Kuo), and a CIA agent named Philip Ashley.  From the American (and Carmen Wong, who is less of a three-dimensional character than the individual entrusted with helping THE ACCIDENTAL SPY’s viewers make sense of the movie’s extremely complex story), Buck learns that Mr. Park was the middleman for a not-yet-completed deal involving a deadly manufactured substance known as Anthrax II and that many people -- all of whom very much want to get their hands on that which sometimes simply gets referred to as “The Thing” -- think that Buck is the one person left alive who knows the whereabouts of vials of this lethal toxin...
Although THE ACCIDENTAL SPY is recognizably a Jackie Chan film (not least by way of the spotlight being firmly trained on him and him alone), potential viewers are hereby given notice that that whose screenplay is credited to the same Ivy Ho who wrote “Comrades, Almost a Love Story”, “Anna Magdalena” and “And I Hate You So” looks to contain more plot twists as well as globe-trotting than kinetic, kick ass sequences.  Something else that they ought to be prepared for is that the admittedly well-choreographed and impressively-enacted action in this movie is more in the form of explosive stunts and amusing antics than extended and intense fisticuffs (as should be evident by this work’s most memorable sequence involving a naked Buck trying to cover his private parts (as he runs through a crowded section of Istanbul) as well as shake -- rather than directly fight -- off a group of attackers who had sought to ambush him while he was enjoying a Turkish bath).  Consequently, this 108 minute long effort does lack the “wows” as well as “oomph” and verve that would earn it a top spot in the pantheon of Jackie Chan vehicles.
All in all, there are quite a few signs in THE ACCIDENTAL SPY that even while the offering’s main man is in partial denial about his true age (not only in terms of his choice of female costars but also by way of his character feeling like it was written for a younger individual to essay), this still very fit and limber individual has mentally matured somewhat too plus latterly come to realize that his body can no longer withstand the sort of punishment that masochist he subjected it to in such as (the climactic fight of) “Drunken Master II”, never mind “Drunken Master I”.  Although this development may not inordinately please ultra-demanding fans of the 110%-eager-to-please “what will he do next?!” Jackie Chan, it is one that ought to help ensure that The Big Nosed One will be around to make some more good -- even if not great -- movies as well as for more years than would otherwise be the case.

My rating for the film:  7.

Reviewed by Brian

There are two major points against this film – it does not have any outstanding fights or even any individual who is able to give Jackie a run for his money  (Brad Allen is present but given no real opportunity) – and we have to witness Jackie’s naked bottom again. As soon as he only had the towel on, you knew it was only a matter of time until it dropped and against all my protests it happened like clockwork. How many movies is this now that he has found it necessary to bare his bum? I have nothing against his bottom – but I really wish he would keep it in his pants where it belongs. I know it sounds prudish but naked bottoms seem out of place in a Jackie Chan film. I wasn’t particularly thrilled to see Dodo Cheng’s derriere desnudo in Armour of God either  - so it’s not a male biased thing. Oddly though in looking back at the film, the scene in which Jackie streaks through the Turkish bazaar using various implements to cover his personal property has the purest sense of Jackie in the film. The rest often feels like Jackie being shoe horned into someone else’s role.

Yet I enjoyed this film to a large degree, but not so much as a Jackie Chan film as much as simply a very solid well produced action/spy thriller that felt much more influenced by director Teddy Chan (Downtown Torpedoes, Purple Storm) than by Jackie. The film is a mishmash of elements of James Bond, Speed, Hitchcock and Austin Powers – but it works surprisingly well and moves along very quickly. For a Jackie Chan film, it is much darker than one might expect and only contains a few splashes of his normal humor. Jackie’s restrained character is as much pulled by events as he pushes them and he spends much of the film in total confusion (though he magically figures out clues at opportune times). Is he the hero in the film or merely a pawn? The ending interestingly leaves this unanswered.

There were rumors that this film was to be released in theaters in the United States, but one has to wonder with a plot that mixes Muslims and anthrax whether that is now likely. On the other hand, the film displays the charms of Istanbul so well that it could almost double as a Turkish tourist campaign!

My rating for the film: 7.5