The Accidental Spy (2001) Movie Review

Halfway through Jackie Chan’s latest effort, The Accidental Spy, a thought occurred to me. It was this: If I was a cab driver (irregardless of country, or city of work) and someone, a total stranger, got in and told me to “follow that car” — pointing to a car in front of me that was driving off — I wouldn’t. I would say, “No way I’m following any car. I’ve seen this movie before, and it never works out well for the guy who does the following.” Just a thought.

Now onto the movie.

The Accidental Spy marks a new direction for Jackie Chan. He’s no longer the carefree clown who does bone-breaking stunts for the sake of doing bone-breaking stunts. Perhaps it’s the influences of having worked with Western actors in Hollywood movies, or perhaps he’s just gotten older and realized he isn’t capable of all the stunt work that he used to perform at least a half-dozen times in every movie. (To be sure, there are moments like that in this movie, so fans of that sort of thing won’t be left out.) Whatever the reason, I must say that I like this Jackie Chan much better than the clown of old. Maybe it’s my steady diet of American movies, or my preference for Western-style acting, but I find Jackie Chan’s low-key performance in Spy to be a nice change of pace for the often-described “Clown Prince of Kung-fu.”

Chan, as Spy’s producer, seems to be going for an international flavor, with stops in South Korea, Turkey, and a variety of other exotic locales. Teddy Chan (no relation) is the director, and seems to have more control over the proceedings than many of Jackie’s previous directors. Jackie Chan movies being Jackie Chan movies, the action is usually choreographed as the movie is being shot, hence much of the movie is in-progress from beginning to end.

Acting as his own stunt choreographer most of the times, Jackie has firm control over many of his movies, and the credited director is usually left to do “second unit” type work. As is the case with many action-oriented Hong Kong productions, the person billed as “director” is not always the top dog on the set. In Spy, director Teddy Chan seems to be earning his money, and brings a controlled pace to what might have otherwise been another chaotic Jackie Chan movie. Teddy Chan brings focus to the movie.

Spy opens with a very Jackie-like sequence. He’s a gym equipment salesman who, on his lunch break (and completely in Jackie-like fashion) runs into a robbery-in-progress. Jackie, of course, stops the robbery, is dubbed a hero by the media, and is soon sought out by a down-on-his-luck private investigator working on behalf of a retired South Korean spy seeking his son. Jackie just happens to be the right age, an orphan, and is plagued by images of the parents he doesn’t know. After a brisk opening action sequence involving the robbery and Jackie stealing the robbers’ loot and taking off with it, the movie slows down for some exposition and great characterization on Jackie’s part.

I must admit to being surprised (but pleasantly surprised) by Jackie’s low-key performance after the robbery sequence. The aforementioned robbery sequence and the final Speed-like sequence seems out of place in the movie’s more controlled environments. I suspect both sequences were put in simply to give long-time Jackie fans, those who revels in his crazy stunts, something to remind them that Yes, you are watching a Jackie Chan movie.

Which leads me to my second thought. If I ever come across a situation where I am being pursued, I will avoid the rooftops of buildings at all costs, because invariably you’ll be forced to leap off the rooftop you are on and onto the adjacent one. Like the Rule of the Taxi, the Rule of the Rooftop never fails. The third rule, of course, is never go into a bathhouse in a foreign country. Especially a Turkish bathhouse.

Jackie’s action scenes, and there are a lot of them, shifts between cartoonish stunt work to serious fights. While some of the cartoon fights are humorous, I must confess to preferring the serious fights. But of course I realize this is a Jackie Chan movie, and you can’t have a Jackie Chan movie without cartoon fights. Still, Jackie proves that he can do straight-up fights with gusto, and I hope he continues on this course. I realize, of course, that he will lose a lot of fans by going the serious route, but one can’t grow without shedding skin. Jackie’s dramatic work in this movie proves that he has the chops to do a straight action movie, and he should continue doing so. A Jackie Chan movie with a serious (most of the time) Jackie Chan would be the next logical step for Jackie as an actor.

All that being said, is there anything bad about The Accidental Spy? Yes, of course, it’s not a perfect movie by any means. Jackie resorts to clownish fights way too often for a movie with intentions of being a straight action film. The female co-stars and love interests are much too young for Jackie, who is in his ’40s. Both women, I believe, are in their early ’20s. The movie’s “A” plot takes half of the movie to finally come to fruition, and even then it takes another 20 minutes or for us to fully get the scope of the movie’s plot.

It also seems Jackie Chan has learned the fine art of product placement — or as Jackie loudly proclaims to the bartender, “I’ll have Tiger Beer!”

And in case I forgot, there’s a fourth rule. I call it the On the Tarmac Rule, which states that if you should ever find yourself on a taxing airplane when suddenly a crazy guy appears on the tarmac in front of you on a smaller vehicle (say, a motorcycle or car), be sure to stop the plane and get out, because you are almost always guaranteed to lose this particular game of chicken.

Teddy Chan (director) / Ivy Ho (screenplay)
CAST: Jackie Chan …. Buck Yuen
Eric Tsang …. Many Liu
Vivian Hsu …. Yong
Min-jeong Kim …. Carmen Wong

Buy The Accidental Spy on DVD