Review for The Armour of God
Which came first, The Armour of God: Operation Condor II, or The Armour of God II: Operation Condor?
It was the recent Blu-ray release of Drunken Master that got me looking for some classic Jackie Chan action in high definition, that and the comparatively lacklustre Railroad Tigers. Jackie Chan’s latter career has had its highlights as well as its dips, but most fans will look back most favourably to his Golden Harvest years, the late seventies through to the early nineties, when films like Police Story, Project A, Wheels on Meals, and My Lucky Stars were produced. Alas, a cursory search for that era of JC movies on high definition revealed very little legitimately available, authorised for release. Worse, they tend to get really poor transfers when they are released; certainly, some Region A releases like Police Story and Project A are hardly worth considering, with poor masters supplied by Fortunestar at best, mere upscales at worst. In the UK Region B market, I could find just two other classic Jackie Chan movies released on Blu-ray, this Armour of God disc, and its sequel Armour of God II (Blame the Americans for the Operation Condor mix-up). Armour of God II reputedly has a scaled up transfer, but this first film is genuine HD-ish.
Jackie and Alan were in a band together, but as so often happens, they went their separate ways due to musical differences. In other words, they fell out over a girl, Laura. Now, Jackie is a skilled treasure hunter, retrieving antiquities from the most difficult situations. His most recent acquisition has been one of the pieces of the fabled Armour of God. The fables around it are interesting, and there are a group of sinister monks who believe in the mythology, and want the Armour of God for their own purposes. They only need three more pieces, and a treasure hunter as skilled as Jackie can do the work for them. He just needs motivation. Which is why Alan shows up on his doorstep with the news that Laura has been kidnapped.
The 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p image is something of a mixed bag. It is a Fortunestar print, but looks to be genuine HD for the most part. The film itself doesn’t benefit from being shot on the prevalent 80s film stock, and so the image appears soft and grainy, with somewhat muted colour (although reds seem oversaturated). Detail levels are good, better than DVD good, but aren’t great. Darker scenes are indistinct, with black levels not quite deep enough. One or two scenes do on occasion feel as if they’ve been scaled up from SD, and there are a couple of moments where digital banding is evident. But at its best, particularly during brighter scenes The Armour of God offers a pleasing high definition experience. The film is stable though, and print damage is minimal.
It’s lossy all the way here, unlike the US release with its lossless audio. You have the choice between DD 5.1 and DD 2.0 English and Cantonese, with optional English subtitles. I was never going to touch the dub, and you can also forget the surround option, which is muddy and indistinct, the surround effect sounding awful. The 2.0 track is the way to go here, which other than a burst of static at 18:40, and an occasional bit of hiss, is clear and unmarred. The dialogue is clear, the music comes across well, and the action is presented with suitable impact, for a lossy low bitrate audio track that is. The subtitles are in a rather small and thin white font, but remain legible throughout. There is the odd typo, but more worrying is that during the last third of the movie, some of the subtitle captions are delayed by a fraction of a second.
This is a combo release, presented in an Amaray case with one of the discs on a central hinged panel. The DVD offers the same content as the Blu-ray, albeit in PAL resolution with speed-up.
The Blu-ray disc boots to an animated menu. The extras are presented in HD, but in the case of the interviews are scaled up from a video source. The Interview with Jackie Chan lasts 4:25, and he discusses the climactic fight in the film. The Interview with his manager, Willie Chan lasts 4:02, and he discusses Jackie’s accident while making this film.
You also get the UK Promo trailer and the Original Theatrical Trailer.
The Armour of God is one of Jackie Chan’s best action movies from the eighties, especially if you look for coherent narratives in films. If there is one thing that Jackie Chan movies weren’t renowned for, it was solid and engaging stories. Most of his films of the Golden Harvest period really just felt like a series of action set pieces loosely held together by a plot, and to be honest, as a fan of his films, I was perfectly happy with that. That’s what I wanted from Jackie Chan’s kung-fu comedies, lots of kung-fu, and lots of comedy. But The Armour of God has all that, and it has a decent narrative too.
Taking its cue from the Indiana Jones movies (as well as lifting some action set pieces for its opening sequence), we have a proper, modern day, Indiana Chan, a treasure hunter who will do whatever it takes to steal/retrieve priceless artefacts. We have an antagonistic friendship between Jackie and Alan, who fell out over Laura, which runs through the film, and we also a potential love interest in May, daughter of the Count who owns the artefacts. Then there is the James Bond plot, with the villainous monks scheming world domination, wanting the Armour of God to do so, and beginning by kidnapping Laura. It all hangs together surprisingly tightly, and feels much more like a coherent movie than most of the Jackie Chan films of the period.
Of course the action is stupendous, with Jackie Chan in his prime, kicking some serious villain butt, and performing the craziest of stunts. It’s a film that has you on the edge of your seat, marvelling at the amazing action choreography, the sheer movie magic that you see sparkling on screen. The comedy too is finely judged and timed sharply for the most part, although a bedroom farce towards the end of the film seems a little out of place. The only real weak spots for me now are that Mitsubishi ‘hero’ car, which just feels daft, and the final cliff-top jump sequence that is parody level absurd, and always has been.
This is never going to be a reference quality disc in your Blu-ray collection, and it pales in comparison to the sterling work Eureka did to get Drunken Master out on Blu-ray, but The Armour of God is at least in high definition, mostly, and it’s the best I’ve ever seen it. After some thirty years I can finally retire that VHS quality recording.