I Saw A Film!
Or as it was called on the VHS I owned way back, The Big Brawl, is a schmorgasborg of Chan stunts, with a fairly silly fight film wrapped around it. It’s one of the earlier of the no-holds (or often enough, weapons) barred type event films, and is set in pre-war Chicago. It was one of Chan’s first cross-over projects bringing his style of comedy/clowning and kung-fu to a larger audience with more money to spend. Truth be told this film is nothing without him, and with him it’s still a tricky one to revisit, as I loved it as a young man, but had forgotten just how hokey the premise was.
Chan is Kwan, a son of a Korean food merchant, ordered by his dad to stay away from his martial arts training uncle (played by Mako) and to not fight. Soon enough, however, organized crime thugs are raising hell in his dad’s shop and Chan can’t control himself. We are introduced to the bareknuckle brawling during the credits, as we watch old Judo Gene LaBell take on a mustachioed strong-man in a brutal, pro-wrestling style contest (there’s no missing that carrot top!). Chan comes to the attention of Jose Ferrer who is in the market for another fighter to win back some gambling debts. First Chan won’t fight for him, but when Ferrer’s thugs kidnap a young woman meant to be his doctor brother’s bride, he’s soon forced to.
We get lots of Jackie Chan training fun. We also get him on roller-skates, dangling like a monkey from city infrastructure, and generally being sweet with his girlfriend played by Kristine DeBell (hmmm there’s a DeBell and a LaBell in this film) from Meatballs. The film also features fight choreography from Pat Johnson who worked on the Karate Kid films, and was an old Chuck Norris buddy from the Karate way back. While most of the fight sequences look a little slapstick (Chan’s entertainment genes rarely let him do straight impressive kung-fu) there are a few solid technique sequences from him in this film that are jaw-dropping. No one moves like Jackie could (not sure he still can with all the screws and plates holding him together), but Jackie took care not to just become a replacement Bruce Lee. This, in Chan’s early work, was always a concern, as the kung-fu film kind of missed the boat on Bruce’s star, and were scrambling to locate another who would capture the West’s imagination like Bruce’s very short career did. As a youngster I despised Chan’s comic kung-fu (I was much too serious), but as an adult I began to appreciate that these very serious fight films needed the levity.
Of course, in the end, the kidnapped girl is released, and Chan kicking some ass solves the problems. Even the Mob loves him and everyone is happy. If only social problems could be solved with martial arts!
This is running free on Prime (USA) and well worth the investment if only for the wild roller-derby sequence.