30 August 2005 | SamuraiNixon
Jackie's first American film
Jackie Chan's first American venture was the result of Golden Harvest keeping Jackie out of harm's way and to try to push Jackie internationally. When Chan broke contract with Lo Wei for Golden Harvest and five million HK dollars, Lo wanted to do everything he could to get Jackie back (or punish him) even deal with the Triad group Sun Yi On to do this. Jimmy Wang Yu, whom Jackie worked with in The Killer Meteors and had Triad influence, offered to broker a deal between the three parties. He would later require a few favors such as Jackie to appear in Island of Fire and Fantasy Mission Force. Jimmy was quite successful in his talks with the three parties early in Jackie's foreign journey, but Jackie would have to appear in two American films: star in The Big Brawl and have a small part in the horrific Cannonball Run while running the emotional gamut known as the American Press.
Battle Creek Brawl aka The Big Brawl is a mediocre attempt at trying to showcase Jackie's skills. While it is not as bad as the American version of his second attempt The Protector it was still only an OK film. It was directed by Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon and the craptacular Game of Death) but he was relegated to B-movie fare at this point in his career though he would later direct Gymkata. Clouse's static style conflicted with the dynamic nature of Jackie. Though there were several other areas of annoyance for Chan including his working with a language that he did not understand at the time and a stunt coordinator who did not understand his style.
Jackie stars as Jerry Kwan, a prodigal martial art student studying under his uncle Herbert Kwan (played by the prolific Japanese actor Mako) in the late 20's or early 30's Chicago. Herbert is a chiropractor when he is not torturing Jackie or going after large women. He is a disappointment to his father, even when he breaks up extortionists of his father's restaurant, who wants him to be more like his brother Robert, the Doctor. Jerry's fighting ability gets the attention of Dominichi (Jose Ferrer) a local gangster and obtains the ire of his nephew David Leggetti. Dominichi needs a fighter to be able to beat his nemesis, Mr. Morgan, who has control of a beast of a man Billy Kiss who kisses his opponents, sometimes a bit long, after he wins (played by H.B. Haggerty who looks like a 19th century circus strong man.)
For Dominichi to control Jerry he kidnaps his brother's soon-to-be fiancé from China named Mae (Rosalind Chao who is forever known by Trekkers as Keiko O'Brien.) He then enters Jerry in a fighting contest called the Battle Creek Brawl which takes place in Texas. The purse is 15,000 dollars (which seems ridiculously low now.) The biggest problem with this contest is that all the fighters resemble professional wrestlers (yes the great Gene Le Bell is amongst them) and not fighters. This is especially evident in the beginning brawl-for-all where there is a camel clutch, body slams and plenty of large men in tights. The fighters are incredibly slow compared to Jackie, but they do add certain campyness to the film (or do the capes and tights make this point already evident.)
One of the more interesting scenes took place earlier in the film when Jackie is part of a relay roller derby contest. He would also use this new found skill of roller skating in an awesome stunt sequence in Winners and Sinners. But the rest of the film never quite captures my interest the way that scene does. The romance between Jerry and Nancy was handled in an interesting nonchalant manner though. I also did like some of the fight scenes, but not as much as most of Jackie's Hong Kong fight scenes. I am glad that he was able to add humor to several parts of the film. I would not recommend this film to most people, because there are so many better "Jackie" films to watch. I did find this a nice diversion and not as bad as many of the American fight films of that era. NOTES: stunt coordinator Pat E. Johnson has his name on the fighter's tournament chalk board. Some versions (especially early Hong Kong prints) of this film take out the relationship scenes between Nancy and Jerry.