Director: Gordan Chan
Starring: Jackie Chan, Michael Wong, Anita Yuen, Yuzo Kayama
A mechanic and accomplished racer, Chan Foh To (Jackie Chan) assists the police on their crackdown on illegal street racing and dangerous vehicle modifications. After successfully running down street racer and international criminal Cougar (Thorsten Nickel), his family comes under attack by the ruthless criminal’s goons. Demanding a rematch, Cougar forces Chan to compete in high stakes track race in Japan. Pulling all his resources, Chan must build a car and beat Cougar in secret, also while avoiding the scoop seeking advances of a beautiful reporter (Amy Yip).
It is no secret that Jackie Chan has a love for Mitsubishi. Numerous appearances in his films and spokesmanship status for the brand, the Japanese car manufacturer and Chan have gone hand in hand for many many years. No more so is this evident than in the 1995 actioner Thunderbolt. Featuring fast cars, insane racing, and a splash of martials arts, it is a guilty pleasure of sorts among Chan’s filmography. Featuring hammy and over the top performances, there is little to write home about concerning natural acting, but it is so full of energy and that odd bit of 90’s HK humor that I find myself revisiting it regularly.
Jackie, fresh off of his injury in Rumble in the Bronx, takes the film easily for most of the running time. He takes a strong, silent approach wanting to push forward his character’s hardworking mentality. Almost playing the straight man among some of the odder bits of humor, this stands out for being one of Jackie’s least humorous performances, relying instead on supporting characters and goofy sentimentality. At odds with this is the surprisingly dark material concerning Cougar’s attempts to coerce a rematch with Chan. A very violent shootout at a police station and some dark revenge scenes feel out of place amongst the generally family friendly racing subplot.
The action is quite memorable with two pretty solid and extended fight sequences; one in a garage and another in a Japanese pachinko parlor. Considering his injury (a broken ankle), a number of stunt doubles (Ngai Sing, Chin Kar-lok, and Wong Ming-sing) are evident during these fights but the fast pace and award winning choreography by Corey Yuen, who also cameos, more than make up for it, especially the pachinko parlor fight against Ken Lo and Kenya Sawada. The final climactic race is heavily under-cranked but features such destruction and hilarious car choreography that it is near impossible to keep a grin from your face during its VERY long length. Terrific car stunts by Frankie Chan showcase the distinct difference in real stunt work versus the use of computer effects.
Ultimately, while the plot and acting is more than lacking in most respects, Thunderbolt has an undeniably fun center that brings a smile to my face. While it is easy to nitpick this film to pieces, keeping the idea of entertainment at the fore is the only real way to watch films like this. I totally miss this type of film from HK, perhaps the nostalgia carries it a bit farther along for me than for others, it is very possible and probably true. Fast cars, race queens, yakuza, and martial arts; what more do you really need?