The Big Brawl (1980) / Action-Comedy
aka Battle Creek Brawl
aka Battle Creek
aka Sha Shou Hao
MPAA Rated: R for violence and sensuality (PG-13 by today's standards)
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Jackie Chan, Jose Ferrer, Mako, Ron Max, Kristine DeBell, H.B. Haggerty, David Sheiner, Rosalind Chao, Lenny Montana, Pat E. Johnson, Mary Ellen O'Neal, Chao Li Chi, Joycelyne Lew
Director: Robert Clouse
Screenplay: Robert Clouse
Review published October 11, 2004
I realize that this film, the first attempt to introduce Jackie Chan (Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon) to American audiences, has been somewhat maligned over the years, but I'll always have a special fondness for it. The Big Brawl (or Battle Creek Brawl as it is sometimes known on video) was the first movie I had ever seen with the incomparable Chan (not counting Cannonball Run), beautifully mixing kung-fu and slapstick in a way I had never seen before. Previous to this, the only martial arts films I had come to know were the revenge films of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, or the cheesy chop-socky films they'd show late at night with horrendous dubbing and terrible choreography.
I'll grant you that this isn't Jackie's best film, and the fighting in it, while definitely better than most other kung-fu films made in the United States up to that point, isn't as spectacular as Jackie's Hong Kong films. However, I like Jackie in this film a great deal, and I even enjoy some of the bad jokes, oddball side jaunts, and the simplistic confrontations. It's a breezy but affectionate slapstick fight flick that is so absurd at times, I can only like it all the more.
Set in 1920s (or 30s?) Chicago, Jackie stars as Jerry Kwan, the son of a struggling grocer who has been feeling the squeeze by the local mob to pay "protection" money. Although Jerry's first inclination is to fight back, his father disapproves of these tactics, so the pressure only continues. During a scuffle with some mob henchman, Jerry catches the eye of the mob boss, Domenici (Jose Ferrer, Lawrence of Arabia), who has a plan to win the "last man standing" brawl that means so much to him (and his betting prowess), by recruiting Jerry to his side with his amazing fighting technique.
Anachronisms abound, as we watch 70s style outfits in the superfluous roller derby scene, the Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars sneakers worn by one of the main fighters in the brawl, and a curious lack of segregation in many of the situations that would have been taboo at the time, including an interracial relationship that goes by unnoticed even to the obvious racists in the film. The setting also changes from time to time with little sense, from Chicago to San Francisco to Texas, but everywhere they go it is as if it's just around the corner from where they live. These kinds of inconsistencies are an annoyance, but this is a fairly schlocky film, so you just have to swallow them down for the sake of the action.
The Big Brawl was directed by Robert Clouse, who would earn his claim to fame directing the Bruce lee films Enter the Dragon and Game of Death, and give him credit in playing the film to Jackie's strengths as a defensive martial artist and his penchant for slapstick, rather than try to make another Bruce Lee-type vehicle. Many of the set pieces are exhilarating to watch, and along with the colorful supporting cast, The Big Brawl ends up being a fun flick to watch for the good action and bits of silly humor.
What fan of Jackie Chan hasn't seen this? It comes on cable every other week or so. Bolstered by a memorable Lalo Schifrin (Dirty Harry, Cool Hand Luke) score, The Big Brawl is a lighthearted kung fu action-adventure that features the trademark Jackie Chan blend of action and laughs.
©2002 Vince Leo