[box cover]

Jackie Chan is The Prisoner (Huo Shao Dao)

The thing to know going in about Jackie Chan is The Prisoner is that the title's a bit of a misnomer. Indeed, Jackie Chan is in the film, and yes, he's a prisoner. But a more accurate title for this 1990 outing (known, among other things, as Island of Fire when first released) would be Jackie Chan and Samo Hung along with Tony Leung and also Andy Lau and Jimmy Wang Yu Are The Prisoners. Since Chan is the only one of the lot who actually has a high-profile movie career on these shores, it's little surprise that Columbia TriStar put his name and face on the DVD boxcover, but it's a shame that a lot of folks will spin the disc with the wrong expectations, hoping for another Supercop or First Strike. The Prisoner is worth it for fans of HK cinema, but not as a traditional Chan-flick. Instead, it features some HK all-stars in an ensemble piece, a saga of cops, corruption, and incarceration, complete with several action sequences and a stylish shoot-'em-up finale more reminiscent of John Woo than Bruce Lee. Andy (Leung) is a Hong Kong cop with a choice mission from the police commissioner — get busted, go inside a local prison, and then uncover the corrupt officials who are suspected to run the joint. Not a hard task at first, as a brief bar-fight sends Andy to the clink. But once there he forms an affinity for a few prisoners, including John (Hung), a gregarious felon who has a reputation for escaping (he tries to see his son once a year, and the young lad has no idea his dad's a con). Returning to the general population after an extended stay in solitary is notorious gangster Lucas (Yu), while a pool-shark who accidentally killed a mob lieutenant (Chan) arrives for the first time, which means he has a price on his head — and no lack of enemies who would love to plant a shiv between his shoulders. These men — along with the mob boss (Lau) who wants Chan dead — all have separate agendas, which sometimes fit with each other, but often do not. Still, they share a common enemy, the prison superintendent (Ko Chuen Hsuing), who sees prisoners as expendable human beings, and often will use them for his own purposes. While not the best that Hong Kong cinema has offered over the past 20 years (and certainly not in league with The Killer, Once Upon a Time in China, or the more popular Chan vehicles), there is a lot to enjoy in The Prisoner, in particular the leading actors, who all come from different backgrounds in the HK film industry. Chan, arguably the most successful Asian film star since Bruce Lee, is given a few choice hand-to-hand sequences, including an extended knife-fight where he shows off his stuff, but fans of the burly Samo Hung — currently of the TV series Martial Law, and one of Asia's most beloved celebrities — will enjoy the fact that he gets much more screen-time than Chan, with whom he often collaborates (and plays second-fiddle). Tony Leung got his break in Asian television, moving on to dramatic films roles, notably in Wong Kar-Wai's Happy Together and Chunking Express. Andy Lau is famous not only as an actor, but a pop star, and Jimmy Wang Yu built his career in the early days of Kung Fu movies — today he is one of Hong Kong's most veteran film actors. It's not unusual for such stars to share the screen in major HK pictures — what's unusual is that this sort of genre item has been given a high-profile DVD treatment in North America from a major studio, and as such it's bound to have Jackie Chan fans seeking out more titles from his collaborators here. But even though The Prisoner has been given better treatment than one should expect, it should be noted that the chief drawback of the disc is that there is no original Chinese-language track, with an English dub in its place (a French dub is available as well). Nonetheless, the English dub — while full of the amusing moments that always make these tracks unintentionally funny — is largely better than the type originating from Hong Kong, performed mostly by American actors who read with American inflections (not that they're great actors to begin with, but still...). The source print, which is of good quality, is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1, and the audio has been generously re-mixed to Dolby Digital 5.1, with Dolby 2.0 Surround available in English and French. Also included is a commentary track from martial arts expert/film director Phillip Rhee (of The Best of the Best film series), who has an unbounded enthusiasm for all of the actors here, and Hong Kong cinema as a whole. Trailer, English subtitles. Keep-case.

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