Skiptrace (originally titled Jue Di Tao Wang) is a 2016 action-comedy film directed by Renny Harlin and starring Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville and Chinese actress Fan Bingbing. It is about a Hong Kong cop and an avid gambler that must team together, each for their own reasons, and take down the Chinese crime syndicate and its mysterious leader ‘The Matador’.
It is a film that I, in all honesty, did not want to sit down and watch at first but did, due to unmentionable circumstances, and in my forced viewing of this easy-going and lighthearted film, I began to remember why Jackie Chan is one of the most beloved names in Hollywood.
My relationship with Skiptrace did not start off on the right foot, as I was skeptical about its less-than-stellar promotional campaign in the US, along with its seemingly random and abstract title.
Due to the film’s eye-popping cinematography, great fight scenes and witty characters, I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed the 106 minute film (I do believe it could have been about 15-20 minutes shorter though, and still would have been just as good).
Benny and Connor
The two stars of the film, Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville, pair well together as total opposites forced to be temporary teammates. They are the difference between old and new, honor and results. Benny Chan is a Hong Kong detective rooted in honor and doing what is right, while Connor Watts is a troublesome gambler who always seems to be getting chased by some fairly large and dangerous human.
With Connor on the run from the Russian mob, the Chinese crime syndicate and Hong Kong police alike, and Chan vowing to protect his fallen partner’s daughter, it feels like the story almost pushes the two main characters together without an actual reason for it. Though, we do get to enjoy the great back and forth between these two fast-talking men.
Johnny Knoxville is a renowned talker. Even going back to his roles in the action films Walking Tall starring alongside Dwayne Johnson, Men in Black II and even his MTV Jackass days. Jackie Chan, however, has usually played the sidekick with minimal lines, and that is why his portrayal in this film is so much fun to watch. It really feels as if Jackie Chan was able to take control of this role and of the film, as a whole.
Home Sweet Hong Kong
One of the very best things about the film is the use of the Hong Kong landscape and the different Chinese traditions that were on display throughout the story. The combination of the two really allows you to get a feel of what director Renny Harlin was trying to do in this one: show Hong Kong in all of its natural beauty. Landscape, culture and more were all on display in Skiptrace.
We see several shots of farm, river and mountain land in this film that are just beautiful to see. I believe that the Chinese culture and the beauty of its land are a very particular source of pride for its countrymen, and that it was therefore a concerted effort on the part of the production team to make the landscape of Hong Kong almost as important to the film as the characters themselves.
A few times in the film, we see our characters, (one accustomed and one, not-so-much) coming into direct contact with Chinese culture and tradition, and it being a tool in their story’s success. For example, Chan and Knoxville are being chased through town and before they are able to get past a group of women, they must sing. It is the only way to pass, and it is a fun scene because the bad guys chasing them must inevitably sing as well to pass the women, thus forcing one of the crime syndicate henchman to breakout in a half-lazy, half-overdone dance routine, even including the recently popular ‘Dab’ dance move.
Jackie’s Calling Card
So, it may come as a surprise… but Jackie Chan fights in this movie. No? Not a surprise? You knew that already? Oh…well then.
Jackie Chan fights in this movie, and fights a lot. Even at the start of the film, we see Chan on some kind of boathouse as he snoops around the sketchy space. He encounters a guard dog and almost gets away by using the dog’s toy ball as a distraction. The ball, however, falls into the room where the bad guys are and slowly bounces down the stairs towards their feet. Madness quickly ensues.
The well-choreographed fight scenes in this film last about 5-10 minutes each, and to start it all off, a woman is tossed through a window and sent sprawling into the ocean?? I am officially ‘in’! (We hope she’s okay). Most of the fight scenes are several minutes long and move throughout their respective sets, as if Jackie Chan himself has lived in these warehouses forever, and knows every nook and cranny that can be used to his advantage.
There is one fight scene in particular where we see Jackie Chan fight a very strong and physical female character. Throughout the fight he continuously tells her that he is not comfortable with hitting a woman, all the while, she swings at him angrily, breaking everything that he uses as a defence, in half. He eventually uses her strength against her and she ends up wrapping herself in several layers of plastic, seemingly on the way to suffocating herself. We see her again later in the film, though that was a bit upsetting. Actually giving a deserving bad guy an ending in such a way would have added a real and necessary level of grit to the at-times ‘fluffy’ film.
Although Jackie Chan’s character ‘Benny’ is a bit more rogue cop in this film than we’ve ever seen him, (he bullies and intimidates Knoxville’s character to no end, which is fun to watch coming from Chan) he is still the very classy and kind Jackie Chan that we know, and I was happy to see that…I suppose.
PSA: Do Not Skip Skiptrace!
With the use of cinematography and focus on Chinese culture, capitalizing on the lovable and forever classy aura that is Jackie Chan, and allowing the fight scenes of this film to captivate and excite the viewer, Skiptrace is a sleeper.
It’s a film that does not take itself too seriously and is determined to enjoy the light ebbs and flows of Chan vs. Knoxville. What it lacks in story and depth, it more than makes up for in fun and action. Rent Skiptrace today and sing before you cross!
Have you seen Skiptrace yet? Tell us what you thought of the film in the comments!
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