Five years after his first American production, the unsuccessful THE BIG BRAWL, Jackie Chan teamed with New York action director James Glickenhaus (THE EXTERMINATOR) for a second shot at impressing the North American market.
THE PROTECTOR is not highly thought of by Chan fans, but it deserves a better rep. Granted, it doesn't use Chan to his full potential. It’s a solid cop flick filled with chases, fights, and bloody shootouts, but it appears as though Jackie is being doubled for the more spectacular stunts.
New York detectives Billy Wong (Chan) and Danny Garoni (Danny Aiello), both on the Commissioner’s shit list for excessive use of force, are working security at a fashion show when designer Laura Shapiro (Saun Ellis) is kidnapped by masked gunmen. They deduce she’s been taken to Hong Kong. Touting Billy’s Chinatown contacts and Danny’s familiarity with the island during his stint in Vietnam, the new partners convince the New York brass to send them to Hong Kong to find the girl.
Of course, being maverick cops, Wong and Garoni proceed to tear hell out of half the city, as Glickenhaus subjects them to enough exploding cars, machine gun bullets, anonymous kung fu fighters, broken glass, and giant squibs to keep any undiscerning action fan occupied for a couple of hours. Highlights include Jackie’s running and leaping across an obstacle course made of junks and a climactic fight with a racist bodyguard played by Bill “Superfoot” Wallace. THE PROTECTOR is clearly a James Glickenhaus joint, from the slow-motion free-falling bodies to the giant squibs blowing apart stuntmen’s chests, and if you got a kick out of Glickenhaus' THE EXTERMINATOR or THE SOLDIER, you’ll like this one too. Just don’t ask me what the opening scene is all about.
Somehow, THE PROTECTOR failed to attract American audiences, probably because of a resistance to an Asian leading man, and it wasn’t until RUMBLE IN THE BRONX made waves in 1996 that Chan finally found mainstream U.S. success. THE PROTECTOR is a much better movie than RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, so perhaps timing was everything.
In an unusual move, Chan was allowed to create his own version of THE PROTECTOR for Asian markets, eliminating a lot of Aiello and all the nudity and directing additional fight scenes. I prefer the Glickenhaus cut, but I can understand why Jackie’s fans would prefer his.