Review | 2008.03.03

Thunderbolt (7)

Rides (9)

If it were 'Japanese Rides' the score would asymptotically approach a perfect ten, but as it stands, we are left with a lopsided field. The only American entry is a Corvette with a bad custom interior, and I really hoped our evil German would bring his Carrera to the streets of Hong Kong to test the rice, but no such luck.

A few BMWs did show up in the touring series, briefly, before catching fire while sitting in the pits. But if you thought rice was bland, you have spent too much time in US showrooms. On the mean streets Mong Kok with the Limies at the helm, the night was dominated by exotic spices the USDM could only read about in smuggled foreign-language auto mags full of right hand drivers with naked umbrella girls showing off muffler tips and advertisements for chest hair growth potions. But while stateside a right hand drive civic sold for 40k and enthusiasts wondered what the letters GT-R stood for, the Queen's tarmac was falling prey to viscous gangs of Lancers, Supras, FDs, and the odd R-33. Apparently the problem was so bad that a car could be impounded for running an aftermarket cup holder.

Hop across the East China Sea and the Motherland of these gears of hooliganry was pitting them against each other in sanctioned combat. The details of Japanese Touring Car series are not important, only the guest list is. Everything from the Civic up to the Prelude, the Integra and the NSX are on track at the same time. And that's all just one manufacturer. The Skyline races along with the Silvia, the BMWs catch fire next to the wankers (spanning several iterations) and the elusive green-puma-goat (now thought extinct) appears in its only English-translated film known to date.

In short, anyone who can live without chrome superchargers poking out of hood scoops and prancing horses sewn into Italian rawhide (there is a little pasta in the movie, but for Jackie Chan driving exotics see Rumble in the Bronx) the machinery included in this film will not disappoint. - EA

Thunderbolt is a sensuous montage of Pacific all-stars. And though Mitsubishi is the dominant manufacturer, Skylines and Supras are more than window dressing. The Vette and Lambo at least provide a nod to some worldwide contemporaries.

The movie could score very close to perfect were it not for one lamentable production problem. Per imdb, weather forced the race portion to be shot in Malaysia where officials were unwilling to permit a full speed event. And so the movie's scores of real race cars and real drivers were unable to demonstrate the Fine Machinery. To make matters worse, the footage was sped up in post-production to compensate for the unexciting scenes.

Finally, the favoritism bonus points for featuring a GTO are erased by the choice to race the pre-95 model when a perfectly good 95 also sat on the truck. - CR

Ging (7)

JC's love interest, Japanese Savior and Sisters-in-Peril, along with the umbrella girls, are all reminiscent of Apple's industrial design of late that is to say cute, but ultimately bland and lacking substantial features. Not bad though, good for a five or a six. The extra touch is the Cougar's angry girlfriend-lawyer-special agent. I never seem to meet the type of girl who takes the buttons off her clothes for me with the purpose of building an explosive device. But those Royal Police body searches make it hard to sneak anything in otherwise, though they are so nice to watch. It's her devotion to the job that's attractive. Yeah, that's it. - EA

Action (7)

Honestly, I'm sure the car racing scenes were entertaining enough, but I really don't recall any specific car explosion or any rage-a-moonies chase scenes that left a lasting impression. If anything, action award goes to, as expected, to Jackie Chan and his ingenious martial arts MacGyver combo scenes. The one that deserves originality props goes to the fight sequence on the bouncing dangling beach chair (which looked really fun) and the car junkyard sequence where Jackie flips and fights up and down the metal hand rail bars. - CS

The real genius of this movie is that it understands we don't need to know how the maniacal villain or unlikely hero came to be. They're well-defined roles that need no background information (see Collateral). For this reason, Thunderbolt has ample time to combine the rote, yet compelling, worlds of racing, crime, and martial arts.

While the fight scenes and street races are impressive, the aforementioned race segment is eye candy in aggravating fast forward. - CR

Authenticity (7)

There is no doubt that the movie is set and filmed in Hong Kong. The skyline is filled with lights emanating from the sky-rise buildings and glimpses of the Victoria Harbor. The short sequence of the hospital definitely has the look and feel of most Asian country hospitals; very close quarters and limited privacy provided by curtain separators - it is to be expected in a city with loads of peeps living in a small finite amount of space.

In terms of action authenticity, it gets a three. It is highly improbable to see public chaos running amok in the city. Even the Chinese mafia knows how to conceal their pummelings and brutality. Although Thunderbolt is true to most Chinese action movies where the baddies don't have the smarts to end the things quickly by using a thing called a gun. Instead, they must dual to the death with their fists of fury.

And a BMW will not spontaneously explode while idling and getting its tires changed! The absurdity of a beemer getting taken out of a race like that! The authenticity points do get some boost since one can argue that all the stunts are authentic, in that Jackie himself did each and every stunt. No Hollywood glamour or CGI effects were noticed. - CS

Again, the great race that was not to be. But let's examine the major players:

One Liners (4)

"Are you going to eat, or just talk all night?" I used to enjoy the bad Chinglish dubbing in the JC kung fu movies of the 80s, but the dialog here was good enough to escape quotes sent to, while still falling short of making it into street racing lore. - EA

Star Power (8)

Jackie Chan is the biggest of the big stars in the prime time Hong Konglywood scene. His star power is equivalent to a Harrison Ford-Steven Seagal combo in the U.S. Now one may ask, 'How can there be a Ford-Seagal mix?' Jackie has the likable personality of Ford - some humor and boyish innocence. His character also displays the quiet, low key fierceness of Seagal. First impression is that of controlled coolness, but the collected calmness expels an undertone: 'Do not mess with me'.

And, of course, both Seagal and Jackie are real-life martial artists gone into the action-busting movie business. Unfortunately Jackie is the only star in the movie. - CSThe leaderboard updated (ties split by per-category score):
The leaderboard

  1. The Fast and the Furious (8): Genre-defining, quotable, unreal.
  2. Initial D (7): Cult, riveting, but give us some shine.
  3. Days of Thunder(7): Pretty good but not very pretty.
  4. Thunderbolt (7): Over the top for better and worse.
  5. Mad Max (6): Brutal action, no frills.
  6. Redline (6): Fantastic if watched in a foreign language.
  7. Driven (5): Succeeds in everything unrelated to cars.

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