The Big Brawl (also known as The Battle Creek Brawl) came out in 1980. I remember watching it in the theater. Back then, martial arts was still a big hit at the cinema, Chuck Norris was at the height of his career and, ten years after its original release, you could still catch Enter The Dragon at the theater. In fact, back then they still had double features and I watched The Big Brawl along with either Enter The Dragon or Lone Wolf McQuade (with Chuck Norris). The audience, die-hard martial arts movie fans, was lively.
Even Jackie counts The Big Brawl as a disappointment. It should be understood that this movie was made before America knew how awesome he was. The director, Robert Clouse stifled Chan's creative talents. The now-iconic Jackie Chan just couldn't do his stuff on the set of The Big Brawl. And you can tell. While there are some good stunts and decent fight scenes, they just don't compare to most of Jackie's work. Jackie puts finesse into every move his character makes and Clouse just wouldn't let him do it for this movie.
However, our super-star's usual charm still shined. Some things you just can't squash. The interactions between characters are priceless and the comedy still tickles me to this day.
The movie is set in 1930s Chicago. Our protagonist's father owns a restaurant and is generally unhappy and disappointed with his son's obsession with martial arts and would rather he got into something more lucrative. Chan spends a good amount of his time playing around and having fun with his girlfriend. His relationship with his girlfriend implicitly explores some social issues, because it's an inter-racial relationship, something that was dangerous in the 1930s.
The Mob wants a cut of Jackie's father's restaurant and they send their goons over to harass him. Jackie, of course, intervenes. Many hilarious scenes occur between him and the Mobsters, who are generally portrayed as racist buffoons. This is, after all, 1930s America. Race would have to play a part in a movie set in this time period, about a Chinese-American family.
The gangsters find out how good our hero's fighting skills are and decide they'd like him to fight for them at a tournament in Texas called The Battle Creek Brawl. Of course, they kidnap his brother's fiance to make him do it.
Our hero gets the help of his uncle, played by rather famous second fiddle Mako, who just so happens to be a master of Kung Fu and who helps him train for the competition. The training scenes are quite fun and entertaining.
The rest is too much of a spoiler, so I'll end the story-line review there.
There are various scenes that have great entertainment value, including a battle Jackie has at a roller-derby-esque competition in which he has to fight in roller skates. His uncle, the Kung Fu master, is also a skilled Chiropractor and scenes between him and a heavy-set patient, who is also his romantic interest in the story, are rather priceless.
An interesting aspect of this movie, and an intentional statement the movie was trying to make (I think), is that the majority of Chan's adversaries in the movie are big, hulking bruisers that don't know anything but brute force; Jackie manages to defeat them all with smarts, agility and finesse. I take this as a general statement common in Chan's movies that brutishness is basically wrong and also as a statement about cultural differences.
Jackie still managed to make some very exciting fight scenes in spite of his lack of creative control. The scenes show his usual athleticism and are often acrobatic and spectacular. As stated, you won't see what you're used to, considering his more recent hits, if you are a major Jackie Chan fan. But as far as I'm concerned, the movie still doesn't disappoint.
While you might take some points off for less-than-Jackie-inspired fight sequences and stunts, the movie still has the usual Jackie Chan charm and finesse. Definitely worth watching.
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