Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Protector (1985)

James Glickenhaus was a drive-in/grindhouse moviemaker whose oeuvre found a perfect “home” in the home drive-in of my youth (home video, that is). Movies like The Exterminator (1980) and The Soldier (1982) were among the very first ones that my friends and I rented – and we loved them. We also saw Exterminator 2 (1984), but it wasn’t really the same (and it turns out that Glickenhaus pretty much had nothing to do with it, so no surprise). The next movie to appear on the shelves with his name attached (as director) was The Protector (1985).

Poster for The Exterminator (1980) by James Glickenhaus who later made The Protector (1985).

Poster for The Soldier (1982) by James Glickenhaus who later made The Protector (1985).










The Protector stars Jackie Chan and Danny Aiello. I suspect I had seen Aiello in a few things by that point, but I didn’t really know him. Chan I had seen in The Big Brawl (1980), which I wrote about previously, and The Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984). In spite of liking him a lot in The Big Brawl, I didn’t quite appreciate who he was either because I hadn’t seen any of his Hong Kong movies. I wouldn’t discover those until the latter half of the 1990s, when I became an instant fan.

Looking at The Big Brawl and The Protector now, is a very different experience than it was in the 1980s. The Big Brawl at least features Jackie’s signature charm and sense of humour. He’s just so darn likeable in it that you can’t help but cheer for him. The Protector, on the other hand, features a very different kind of Jackie Chan; a dark, brooding Jackie Chan; a more serious Jackie Chan. His character is closer to Dirty Harry than The Drunken Master, and you can feel the difference in the first five minutes of the movie.

Jackie was apparently not a fan of the resulting film, although according to director James Glickenhaus, Jackie had a good time making the film and got along well with Glickenhaus during production. Glickenhaus gave his permission to Golden Harvest, his Hong Kong producers, to recut the film for certain Asian markets (making the martial arts scenes longer and including more of Jackie’s signature humour). Glickenhaus was adamant that western audiences would not be interested in that kind of film. He was possibly right at that time, but only ten years later Jackie would finally triumph in North America with movies like Rumble in the Bronx (1995).

According to Glickenhaus, Golden Harvest approached him at the Cannes Film Festival and asked him if he would like to make a Jackie Chan movie. He said yes, but only if he could have complete control. He was not interested in doing a typical Jackie Chan movie (with the comedy, etc.). He wanted to make his kind of movie; something closer to The Soldier, perhaps. Golden Harvest agreed with his vision, and so did Jackie Chan. It’s clear that Golden Harvest (and presumably Jackie Chan as well) was very interested in breaking into the North American market. I wonder why they thought that Glickenhaus was the filmmaker to do it? His brand of gritty drive-in fare was fairly different from Jackie’s signature style. Perhaps Golden Harvest was simply approaching every American filmmaker at Cannes and Glickenhaus was the one who said yes. Or maybe they met Glickenhaus, legitimately liked him as a person, and thought they would like to work with him. Whatever the case, one has to wonder what might have happened if they had found a director with a style that was more in sync with Jackie’s. I suppose we’ll never know.

The Protector is an interesting movie. It’s not quite a James Glickenhaus movie in the way that The Exterminator and The Soldier (1982) were, but it’s not quite a Jackie Chan movie either. It’s a strange hybrid of the the two. It has gritty grindhouse elements, like full frontal nudity and extreme violence, but it also has glimpses of Jackie Chan’s sense of humour and amazing athleticism. For fans of Jackie, it is most interesting because of the differences, but it will never thrill like some of his best movies. For fans of violent, edgy drive-in movies, it will provide some thrills – but not as many as true classics of the genre (like The Exterminator in my opinion). Still, it’s an interesting attempt at bringing Jackie into this world, and it apparently inspired Jackie to make Police Story (1985), which is much more of a fan favourite. 

Back in the ’80s, I probably saw The Protector as a cool movie that fit right in with the other Glickenhaus films (notice they are all called “The ______” – a word that describes their main characters). It didn’t stick with me, like the first two, however. I also didn’t enjoy it as much as The Big Brawl, so perhaps I already preferred the likeable, funny Jackie to the gritty serious one. This is a bit odd, because I loved Dirty Harry and Charles Bronson movies. On the other hand, I also loved Mel Brooks.

Jackie Chan and Danny Aiello have great chemistry in this movie, and in some ways The Protector anticipates the Rush Hour films. Chan and Aiello go to Hong Kong to try and rescue the kidnapped daughter of rich American businessman. It’s almost like a cross between Rush Hour (1998) and Rush Hour 2 (2001) – only made fifteen years earlier. 

The Protector (1985) is not my favourite James Glickenhaus movie, nor is it my favourite Jackie Chan movie. It is, however, a historically significant piece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema from my younger days, which entertained me back then, entertained me last week, and will probably entertain me on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – provided I live long enough to get back to it. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Battle Creek Brawl / The Big Brawl (1980)

I remember renting The Big Brawl (1980) in a giant clamshell case back in my earliest days of home video viewing.

Okay, I didn’t actually rent the big clamshell case. I looked at it in the store, and then took it up to the front, where they exchanged it for a plain plastic case (either black or transparent depending on which store I was in) with the Beta tape inside of it. At least one of the stores I frequented used a tag system. Instead of bringing the box up to the front, you brought up a small tag which was attached to the box with velcro. If the tag wasn’t there, you knew the movie was rented.

The Park Theatre showing College Swing back in 1938 (which is a movie I like and own on VHS).

I don’t think I’d ever heard of Jackie Chan at that point. I had heard of Bruce Lee, who was a bit of an icon, but I don’t think I’d seen any of his movies. I had probably already seen Jackie Chan in The Cannonball Run (1981), which my whole family had gone to see in The Park Theatre, “the largest log cabin theatre in North America”, while on summer vacation. Jackie played one of the drivers of the Subaru in that movie. I certainly remember him in that, but I don’t think I had any idea who he was at the time.

I loved The Big Brawl when I first watched it, and I’m pretty sure I immediately watched it a second time (which I often did with movies I rented in those early days). I may have even squeezed in a third viewing before having to return the tape by 5:00 PM the next day. To me, the movie was non-stop action, with a bit of comedy, and I don’t think I’d ever seen anything quite like it. I used to watch AWA Wrestling on Saturdays, and in some ways, The Big Brawl evokes a bit of that atmosphere, as our hero has to face off against very large guys who look just like professional wrestlers (and in fact were, in some cases).

I couldn’t help but laugh, as Jackie Chan looked so tiny standing next to the other contestants in The Battle Creek Brawl. He may have been smaller, but as we were about to learn, he could fight like nobody else.

Jackie Chan, aside from being a really good fighter, was just so darn likeable. He was sympathetic, and seemed like an ordinary guy with problems with which other ordinary people could identify (such as a strict father who didn’t want Jackie to follow his passion; studying martial arts with his uncle). Jackie wasn’t a super-macho hero who always looked cool. He was funny, and he wasn’t afraid to look extremely “uncool” is some instances. Again, anyone who had ever felt awkward or embarrassed could identify.

I was surprised that I didn’t see more of Jackie Chan over the next few years. But I don’t think my Mom and Pop video stores had a huge selection of Hong Kong movies, and unfortunately, The Big Brawl had not been a rollicking success and Jackie did not appear in a lot of other mainstream Hollywood films at that time.

Fast forward to the 1990s, and I (along with the rest of North America) rediscovered Jackie Chan when movies like Rumble In The Bronx (1995) came out. The mainstream audience was finally ready for Jackie, and couldn’t have been happier. I explored many of his older films, like Drunken Master (1978) and I was amazed at how great they were. 

Watching The BIg Brawl for the first time in more than thirty years, it was obvious how restrained it was for a Jackie Chan movie. It is certainly not in the same category as films like Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978). My understanding is that they were trying to make Jackie Chan more accessible for the North American audience. They believed that western audiences would not be able to handle the pure, unadulterated Jackie Chan. It’s hard to say if they were right or wrong, but The Big Brawl failed to find mainstream success in North America. Was it because audiences weren’t ready for Jackie (even in a watered down form)? Or was it because they had tampered with Jackie (and watered him down)? I suppose we’ll never know.

However, I found The Big Brawl to be a delightful, nostalgic return to my childhood. It contains some great moments, and Jackie is as charming as ever. Of course it can’t compete with some of the better Hong Kong movies, but that’s okay. It is what it is, and I like it. I was surprised by how well I remembered the music by Lalo Schifrin, which I found extremely catchy. The movie was directed by Robert Clouse, who is perhaps most famous for Enter the Dragon (1973) and maybe Black Belt Jones (1974) – both movies I like a lot. Enter the Dragon is the best of the bunch, and far superior to The Big Brawl in a lot of ways. But I have more of a personal relationship with The Big Brawl. It was the first movie of it’s kind that I ever saw, and as such, will always be very special to me. 

Battle Creek Brawl / The Big Brawl (1980) is a fine example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema. There are better Jackie Chan movies, but none that I saw on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn when I was young.