For a casual follower of Jackie Chan, you remember the movies by the stunts. For instance, First Strike is the one where he takes on a whole slew of guys utilizing a ladder. Operation Condor? It’s the wind tunnel brawl.
Maybe it seems somewhat disrespectful, remembering only a fight scene a decade out, totally ignoring the characters or the plotting. That’s understandable, but it’s also a sign of how spectacular the ingenuity and energy is here. Staging a martial arts brawl inside a tunnel crafted by Nazis, not to mention crafting the whole thing so maneuvers hit with added impact? Who thinks like that?
Americanization, or so it’s called, can be a clumsy thing. You’re dealing with dubbing, trimmed scenes, and the fact that this is actually the sequel. Operation Condor 2, or so it’s titled here in the States, is the original. Who lets that get in the way of profits though?
Confusion aside, the English dialogue pieces together a coherent narrative about Nazi gold, dead soldiers, and the quest to recover it. The gold MacGuffin is used to energize this one into motion, Chan stuck in the middle of two female sidekicks with a tiring damsel in distress act. If it sends Jackie into action, so be it.
Action this one has too, the kung-fu/stunts star here in his prime with an elaborate motorcycle chase involving what has to be a near record number of boxes and ludicrously insane leap of faith to finish it off. There’s even a play on the old plate glass/mirror gag as two movers cross the street. The Nazi facility holds bouncing electrical grates, a humor enhancer as much as a fight device, and the desert is home to a grand fall down the sand dunes.
Operation Condor has a drive for perfectionism, no doubt fueled by Chan’s infectious energy and total lack of fear when the cameras roll. As is the norm, the end credits roll off a series of botched stunts or choreography goofs, one pushing Chan precariously close to steep drop, another showing a chain give way leading what should be a neck-breaking fall. And to think all of this was done before he even landed in the arms of American producers on a quest for super-stardom in Rush Hour.
Echo Bridge shuffles this one out onto a single disc with three other features (including the sequel… err, original), meaning this BD-50 is stuffed. It probably doesn’t help that Operation Condor’s master probably was finished sometime in the early ’00s either, with dated mastering techniques that obliterate the medium shots. That pasty, filtered, and heavily noise reduced look is unmistakable 30-seconds in, and it doesn’t alleviate itself afterwards.
And the compression? Oh dear, the compression. The codec jumps from single digits to near 40 Mbps, and yet it never seems in control of the material. When grain is visible, it’s thick, mushy, and noise. When it’s not, artifacts run rampant, swarming objects -and people- with visible mosquito noise or swimming in the viciously over saturated primaries.
The print used doesn’t help, any positives squelched by the irritation of damage, specks, or dirt. Hardly a scene passes by without some form of scratch or line. The iffy focus of the camerawork, spotty at best, only causes added issues. A savior comes in the form of black levels, mostly holding firm with a handful of instances where crush becomes a concern.
Operation Condor can play tricks on the eyes, close-ups of heated faces reproducing actual high-fidelity detail. The resolution boost isn’t a total waste after all, although those shots are fewer in number. Exteriors and the fight scenes are where it counts, hit with a case of smearing (either the meager encode or DNR), mild edge enhancement, and an instance or two of aliasing. Oh, and the whole thing is cropped to 1.85:1 from 2.35:1. This is all unacceptable late into the catalog field.
If the video is from the early ’00s, no one has touched the audio since the advent of DVD. It used to be impressive to feature hearty bass just because, but this floaty, rumbly, out of control LFE is souring in an era of uncompressed goodness. There’s no attempt to balance it with the rest of the elements, and the whole thing comes off as unnecessarily loud, even abrasive to a point.
The imaging works the same, though the stereos at least feel natural. Motion to the sides is precise. Surrounds, including a flurry of gunfire within the interior of a hotel, is obnoxious as it pings off everything. Spears thrown at the ragtag crew of heroes at 55:07 rush in from the surrounds and then collapse on themselves without too much focus on the fronts. It’s a, “Hey, listen! There’s stuff behind you and it’s cool!” moment that is straight out of the late ’90s.
With a wind tunnel and a self destruct button leading the charge at the end, blowing air becomes a fancy effect in the rears if, like everything else, overblown… bad pun completely intentional. This is the US version only as well, meaning tolerable, shaky dub is the only option with the flat, lifeless fidelity. Yuck.
The bonus feature is seeing how many movies Echo Bridge can cram onto a single disc. It would only be worse if they added something else.