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‘Hidden Strike’ (review)

I normally do not concern myself with the general critical reaction for the films I’m tasked to write about but Hidden Strike, the much anticipated collaboration between Jackie Chan and John Cena, seems to be the subject of so much harsh critique concerning script problems and shoddy effects that I feel compelled to point it out in order to have a productive discussion about the film.

Hidden Strike is not a perfect film: it has problems in construction and scripting that make the first forty minutes or so a slog, its production values vary wildly and it has some action beats that stretch credulity.

In this, it partakes of the same sins much of Hong Kong action always has.

What Hidden Strike has going for it is terrific chemistry between its leads, and a return to the core appeal of Jackie Chan as a clever underdog comedically clashing with a partner.

It feels to me that many critics have forgotten which of these is vital, and which is superfluous, while the audiences that have made one of Netflix’s biggest hits in recent memory seem to have the right idea.

I was right there with the doubters, the first forty minutes of this film feel like a rough draft.

It was only when Cena and Chan have their first fight, and Jackie uses a crate to pin his bigger, stronger, younger opponent’s foot to the ground for some easy hits that I realized that they were going for the feeling you got when you first saw Rush Hour or Shanghai Noon and I really began to enjoy the proceedings.

Cena is an excellent counter weight for Jackie– built like a Greek god and never able to completely shake the “produced” feeling that his wrestling persona had, he’s never going to be an actor of the caliber of even his fellow WWE champion, Dave Bautista, but he understands self depreciation and has comic timing that was honed working with James Gunn.

His role as a good-natured adopted protector of a small desert village plays to all his strength and exaggerates his weakness to such a degree that it feels self aware. I also really enjoy how they undercut the traditional language barrier comedy Jackie uses in English language productions by giving him a partner who speaks Mandarin.

I mentioned script problems and they’re legitimate, but the film’s final two acts congeal into a clever heist film that, if it had gotten script polishing, could have been better served and tightened into a very unique action vehicle.

Danish actor Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones) provides the all important villain role, and he’s fine but in no way memorable. Martial artist and stuntman Tim Man (Accident Man) is the heavy– a half tattooed mercenary who resists all John Cena’s attempts to formulate a nickname for him and thanks to a memorable look and a fun final fight with the leads, he leaves a much stronger impression.

I adored a gimmick later on in the picture where John Cena uses a pole both as weapon and mobility aid for Jackie who is fending off all comers on a ledge with no room to maneuver. Jackie was nearly 70 when this film was completed and his fighting is obviously aided by wires but for this sequence and the fight with Man that follows it, it did feel like they had recaptured a little of what had made his fights so wonderful and unique to begin with– mobility, rhythm, and clever use of what’s at hand. This may be one of the few western influenced Chan films directed by someone willing to frame fights wide and give them room to breathe.

Scott Waugh is tackling the next Expendables film and I think he mostly acquits himself here. There’s a few rough edits, who knows what was insisted on with so many producers and such a long lead time between shooting and release, but he understands what makes a Jackie Chan film work and right down to the final gag and outtakes, he mostly delivers.

The last Jackie Chan starring vehicle I loved was The Foreigner, but that film was Jackie consciously playing against type. This feels like a final aria from a brilliant tenor– too old to hit all the notes, but still with enough of the fire in him to remind you of why you loved him to begin with.

It deserves a fair watch and analysis beyond the efficacy of its computer effects.

Recommended.

Hidden Strike is currently streaming on Netflix

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Hans Canosa, Esmond Ren 
Written by Arash Amel
Directed by Scott Waugh
Starring Jackie Chan, John Cena, Amadeus Serafini,
Pilou Asbæk, Max Huang, Zhenwei Wang, Tim Man

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