The Protector – Written and directed by James Glickenhaus, The Protector was Jackie's last attempt to gain entry to the US market until Rumble in the Bronx. With Battle Creek Brawl and appearances in the Cannonball Run series failing to set the States alight, Jackie went the way of the New York cop.
Jackie plays Billy Wong, a member of New York's finest whose partner is killed during a hold-up. After taking out the murderer with no little property damage, Billy is busted to guard duty, and finds himself at a fashion launch party with officer Garoni (played by Aiello). The party is crashed by masked hoods who kidnap the hostess, the daughter of the biggest New York crime boss. After learning that she is being held in Honk Kong, Billy and Garoni get themselves sent there to rescue the girl, take out the crime lord responsible and in doing so bust up the biggest heroin route between China and America. Using guns and swearing.
Within seconds of Chan's first scene, his dodgy accent is swiftly explained by his having arrived in the country ten years previously. Billy Wong is obviously not a fast learner. The South Bronx is set as one of those urban nightmares so popular with late 70s and early 80s American cinema – full of gangs wearing unrealistically complex outfits out of an Adam Ant promo. Think dwarf pirates. It's not an 80s generic crime movie unless someone is thrown over a bar, but the Protector is eager to please. The Protector ticks a lot of the stereotype boxes of the police revenge genre, with lots of swearing, bloody shootouts, big explosions, a screaming police captain, and even obligatory nudity, in this case in a massage parlour rather than the genre favourite strip joint, although it gains points for achieving nudity by having all the women in the bad guy's drug factory inexplicably work in the nude. Bizarre.
Whilst the crime picture side of things is thoroughly generic, it fares better with the Jackie Chan input, offering up some good stunts in the HK harbour and a handful of typically inventive fight scenes. However, the martial arts do take a back seat to the copious gunfights and slow-mo squib deaths. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem if it made something of the gunplay, but there is nothing here to rival Tsui Hark or John Woo. Danny Aiello is good in a limited role, and the Hong Kong backdrops of back streets and junk boats make a nice change to the glorification of skyscrapers and luxury clubs in the heroic bloodshed films coming out of the island in the mid 80s, but the good points aren't enough to pull this film above the rest of the crowd. To finish things off, the country-pop ending song “One up for the good guys” by Chip Taylor is awful.
Considering this is one of the more recently produced films released as part of HKL's Ultrabit series, the picture doesn't look any more impressive than their regular releases. The picture quality is good, but overall it retains some of that fuzziness found in 80s pictures, and the blacks are particularly blurry. This time extras are not confined to trailers, and a commentary with Andrew Staton is included. As he explains some of the background to the troubled production, it comes across as odd that HKL have decided to release this original version, and not Jackie's that was re-shot and re-edited for the Hong Kong audience.
Some criticisms of this film are based on this being a radical departure for Jackie, not in keeping with his usual knockabout roles and over-reliant on firearms rather than fisticuffs. It isn't right to slam it based on this fact alone, but when judging this against other 80s cop movies it is thoroughly generic, with little helping it stand out from the crowd bar the few trademark Jackie Chan stunts and fights. Without those scenes, there is nothing to lift the Protector above its peers, such as Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop, so in all it is hard to recommend the film as either an entry into the Jackie canon or as a cop movie.