James Glickenhaus was a drive-in/grindhouse moviemaker whose oeuvre found a perfect “home” in the home drive-in of my youth (home video, that is). Movies like The Exterminator (1980) and The Soldier (1982) were among the very first ones that my friends and I rented – and we loved them. We also saw Exterminator 2 (1984), but it wasn’t really the same (and it turns out that Glickenhaus pretty much had nothing to do with it, so no surprise). The next movie to appear on the shelves with his name attached (as director) was The Protector (1985).
The Protector stars Jackie Chan and Danny Aiello. I suspect I had seen Aiello in a few things by that point, but I didn’t really know him. Chan I had seen in The Big Brawl (1980), which I wrote about previously, and The Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984). In spite of liking him a lot in The Big Brawl, I didn’t quite appreciate who he was either because I hadn’t seen any of his Hong Kong movies. I wouldn’t discover those until the latter half of the 1990s, when I became an instant fan.
Looking at The Big Brawl and The Protector now, is a very different experience than it was in the 1980s. The Big Brawl at least features Jackie’s signature charm and sense of humour. He’s just so darn likeable in it that you can’t help but cheer for him. The Protector, on the other hand, features a very different kind of Jackie Chan; a dark, brooding Jackie Chan; a more serious Jackie Chan. His character is closer to Dirty Harry than The Drunken Master, and you can feel the difference in the first five minutes of the movie.
Jackie was apparently not a fan of the resulting film, although according to director James Glickenhaus, Jackie had a good time making the film and got along well with Glickenhaus during production. Glickenhaus gave his permission to Golden Harvest, his Hong Kong producers, to recut the film for certain Asian markets (making the martial arts scenes longer and including more of Jackie’s signature humour). Glickenhaus was adamant that western audiences would not be interested in that kind of film. He was possibly right at that time, but only ten years later Jackie would finally triumph in North America with movies like Rumble in the Bronx (1995).
According to Glickenhaus, Golden Harvest approached him at the Cannes Film Festival and asked him if he would like to make a Jackie Chan movie. He said yes, but only if he could have complete control. He was not interested in doing a typical Jackie Chan movie (with the comedy, etc.). He wanted to make his kind of movie; something closer to The Soldier, perhaps. Golden Harvest agreed with his vision, and so did Jackie Chan. It’s clear that Golden Harvest (and presumably Jackie Chan as well) was very interested in breaking into the North American market. I wonder why they thought that Glickenhaus was the filmmaker to do it? His brand of gritty drive-in fare was fairly different from Jackie’s signature style. Perhaps Golden Harvest was simply approaching every American filmmaker at Cannes and Glickenhaus was the one who said yes. Or maybe they met Glickenhaus, legitimately liked him as a person, and thought they would like to work with him. Whatever the case, one has to wonder what might have happened if they had found a director with a style that was more in sync with Jackie’s. I suppose we’ll never know.
The Protector is an interesting movie. It’s not quite a James Glickenhaus movie in the way that The Exterminator and The Soldier (1982) were, but it’s not quite a Jackie Chan movie either. It’s a strange hybrid of the the two. It has gritty grindhouse elements, like full frontal nudity and extreme violence, but it also has glimpses of Jackie Chan’s sense of humour and amazing athleticism. For fans of Jackie, it is most interesting because of the differences, but it will never thrill like some of his best movies. For fans of violent, edgy drive-in movies, it will provide some thrills – but not as many as true classics of the genre (like The Exterminator in my opinion). Still, it’s an interesting attempt at bringing Jackie into this world, and it apparently inspired Jackie to make Police Story (1985), which is much more of a fan favourite.
Back in the ’80s, I probably saw The Protector as a cool movie that fit right in with the other Glickenhaus films (notice they are all called “The ______” – a word that describes their main characters). It didn’t stick with me, like the first two, however. I also didn’t enjoy it as much as The Big Brawl, so perhaps I already preferred the likeable, funny Jackie to the gritty serious one. This is a bit odd, because I loved Dirty Harry and Charles Bronson movies. On the other hand, I also loved Mel Brooks.
Jackie Chan and Danny Aiello have great chemistry in this movie, and in some ways The Protector anticipates the Rush Hour films. Chan and Aiello go to Hong Kong to try and rescue the kidnapped daughter of rich American businessman. It’s almost like a cross between Rush Hour (1998) and Rush Hour 2 (2001) – only made fifteen years earlier.
The Protector (1985) is not my favourite James Glickenhaus movie, nor is it my favourite Jackie Chan movie. It is, however, a historically significant piece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema from my younger days, which entertained me back then, entertained me last week, and will probably entertain me on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – provided I live long enough to get back to it.