Retrospect is a funny thing. Back in the 1980’s, Golden Harvest was pecking around the US trying to sell Jackie Chan to an American studio willing to make a Western break-out hit. They stumbled upon The Big Brawl, a burly fighting flick that toyed with a mixture of styles and failed to leave as much of a bruise. Enter director James Glickenhaus, requesting total control over The Protector to drop Chan’s comedic fighting forte.
The end result is a helplessly coarse, implausible buddy cop flick with no heart. Direct-to-video studios would crank these out throughout the ’80s and ’90s looking for video store gold. The difference here is that Warner pushed Protector out to theaters.
Part of the misfire is expectation. Imagine being in the audience in 1985 with no knowledge as to Chan’s physical flair and watching him run across docks to chase down a cowardly villain. Despite the tepid direction, the sequence is extensive, and filled with wild leaps of faith. It seems slow knowing Chan’s penchant for risk-taking now, but American film cops in the ’80s were unaware. It carries some differentiation from the more rugged American action form.
The Protector’s faults are entirely on the style. Chan plays Billy Wong, a 10-year veteran of the NYPD, chasing down a cocaine smuggler who happens to be in Hong Kong. The New York grit is everywhere, including a wholly pointless opening theft sequence that seems to take place in a post-apocalyptic world. Little people toy with red lights, people wear spikes, and live in burned out buildings.
Oh, that was the ’80s?
Anyway, Wong partners up Danny Garoni (Danny Aiello) who takes over the comedic elements in a total waste of talent. The reversal of expected roles is tragic to the film’s soul, Garoni hopeless in his professionalism. He comes off as a tired clone of Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop, just without the street wise charms.
Protector loves America, or at least raw American cinema. Gunfights supersede fisticuffs, loaded with blood. Walls are splattered as bodies fall. Handguns blow bad guys back through glass windows, because glass is awesome. Of course, the violence is driven by contrivances. Nudity is hilariously displayed as female cocaine packers perform their duties sans clothing. An entire camera set-up is designed low as to further sell the T&A as the women walk into their corner “office.”
Chan would take the film across the pond, re-edit the piece, add in more colorful brawling, and excise the nudity entirely. That cut is faster as nearly 10-minutes are trimmed, and while it is not a total salvage of dry material, it does suit the martial arts action star’s personality. That is preferred, but unfortunately, not what Shout Factory includes in HD here.
Where do you begin with this? Were it not for Echo Bridge’s treatment of Project A 2, it would be hard to believe any Jackie Chan film – nay, any live action film could look worse on Blu-ray. This is the bottom level of HD where films go to die because no one wanted to spend money on a master rendered in anything close to even 1080p, let alone future-proofing 2K or 4K.
Shout’s encode is… passable. Out of all of the issues and concerns, compressions lies on the low-end. With only a handful of shots revealing noise, mostly in thick smoke, it is a bit impressive when you consider Protector is packed on a single disc with Crime Story. Film stocks seem to be shuffled around with some regularity, the New York scenes flattened with a thicker grain, Hong Kong material a hair brighter and cleaner.
A jumpy source is one thing, but this all comes down to resolution. Fine detail, in any capacity, does not exist here. It has been wiped from the frame via miserable definition. This will not appease anyone, least of all the videophile types. Muddy establishing shots of docks, boatyards, shipping containers or cities are devoid of sharpness. Close-ups are crushed by haze entirely created by the mastering process, along with a total loss of shadow detail.
While not immediately evident, there has been some grain management applied. Comparisons to prior DVD releases (or even the SD version of the Asian cut included here) reveals far coarser grain structure. Apply noise reduction to a minimal resolution source, and apparently, you end up with The Protector. Clean-up has been lackluster too, leaving behind small scratches and dirt. If judder completes the miserable image quality puzzle, you’ll find it at 1:03:19.
Even beyond the lack of fidelity, transfer and/or encoding errors exist. Bright backgrounds leave behind a visible interlacing-like effect along edges. That goes for faces or objects. That is as one-of-a-kind as you’ll find in terms of flaws. You’ll find nothing similar across over 1,200 reviews on this site. Then again, not much sinks as low as this effort.
As if Protector was not trying hard enough to appeal to Americans, this DTS-HD mix takes the audio and artificially props it up. Take your pick as to what you’ll notice first:
1. The clearly added gunfire in the surrounds that seems roughed up to match the failing fidelity of the original source.
2. Echo effects that should not be present, desperately trying to convey interior gunfights where the original design does not.
3. The jarringly powerful bass during explosions that is completely out of balance with the rest of the film… which has no LFE activity to speak of.
4. The ambient effects of parks, cities, or more that fail to blend in any capacity, just so something is in the surrounds.
Source material here has a natural fade that is acceptable for something pushing 30-years old. Only one pop exists on the source, and the rest is typical audio design of the day. Sometimes, it is best to leave well enough alone.
From New York to Hong Kong with James Glickenhaus is a short but very recent interview that details the project and a supposed tenuous relationship with Jackie Chan on the set. Locations: Then and Now tries to recreate some of the shots, but modern New York has changed so much, it is hard to recognize some of these spots. A behind-the-scenes featurette comes from Hong Kong with no subtitles, although it carries some good outtakes. Two trailers are here as well.
Also note the Asian edition of the film is here as a bonus. It comes from a standard definition MPEG-2 transfer, heavily compressed so that at times it is unwatchable.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.