Thunderbolt (1995) / Action-Drama
aka Dead Heat
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably would be PG-13 for violence
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Jackie Chan, Anita Yuen, Thorsten Nickel, Michael Wong, Ken Lo, Kenya Sawada, Kar Lok Chin, Michael Ian Lambert
Director: Gordon Chan
Screenplay: Gordon Chan, Hing-Ka Chan, Wai Chung Kwok
Review published May 11, 2003
If you watch Jackie Chan's (Crime Story, City Hunter) films only for the two or three lengthy, well-choreographed fight scenes, and are able to sit patiently through ninety more minutes of bad drama in between, perhaps you will find Thunderbolt to be worthwhile in the end. Be prepared to wait much more for any kung fu action, as this film centers primarily around street car racing, with a bad family revenge subplot that generates little interest.
Luckily, Jackie is able to get his kicks in, with two exciting scenes of nifty action and stunt work, but you'll admire these scenes for their spectacular ingenuity and death-defying nature, not really into them as part of the rest of the overall story. Fifteen minutes of excitement do not a good movie make, making Thunderbolt just another silly, forgettable misfire in the Jackie Chan filmography.
Jackie stars as Foh, a mechanic working at a factory run by his father, trying as hard as he might to keep himself and his family out of trouble. Things go awry when he reluctantly assists the police nab a hardcore, illegal street racer and underworld criminal of sorts, Warner Krugman (Nickel, Crisis), aka Cougar. A jailbreak springs Cougar out, where he exacts revenge on Foh in an effort to get him into a street car race, kidnapping his sisters on the condition that he compete in a grand prix to win back his family.
Thunderbolt easily ranks as one of the dumber plots in any Jackie Chan film, and if you've seen many of his films, that should tell you quite a lot. The lengths Krugman goes through in order to get a race out of Foh can't pass the snicker test, and in a movie that is almost completely devoid of Jackie Chan's trademark humor, the fact that you are laughing throughout is unforgivable.
Even the so-called exciting action scenes have their flaws. First, they are shot too close to really see much of anything. Arms flail, legs fly, glass breaks, but you'll have a hard time determining just what is going on throughout. The legend of Jackie Chan doing all of his own stunts and fighting no longer can hold water, as there is an obvious double for some of the fighting here, so even the staunchest of Jackie's fans have to be somewhat disappointed. Sammo Hung does do a fine job choreographing some amazing moves during the particularly impressive pachinko casino scene.
Obviously, the film is going to end in a race, and in the last half hour, we are treated to the grand prix featuring lots of smash-ups and crashes. As exciting as this is supposed to be, almost every shot is blatantly sped up, so even what is supposed to be a thrilling finale is misguided, and almost unintentionally humorous if it weren't so frustrating.
Thunderbolt is a mostly joyless, brainless action vehicle, that will likely only impress a very few, undiscriminating viewers out there, and thoroughly bore all others. Even those tuning in for the racing and kung fu are going to be shaking their heads at the poor directorial decisions by Gordon Chan (The Medallion, Fist of Legend), and come away extremely disappointed. For Jackie Chan completists only!
©2003 Vince Leo