|Jackie Chan, the most popular action star in the world, stars in his own cartoon! Jackie is highly involved in Jackie Chan Adventures. In addition to an executive producer credit, Jackie himself appears in short segments (placed at the end of each episode) in which he answers questions sent in by the kids who watch the show. He’s answered questions about everything, from his stunts to his parents to his favorite junk food (ice cream!). He is that closely involved, and still he manages to continue making action movies throughout all of this! What a guy!
One thing fans of the real Jackie Chan will notice as they watch the show is that many of the stunts and plots come straight from his films; "Rumble in the Big House" shares some elements with The Prisoner and a wind-tunnel fight scene redolent of Operation Condor, "Showdown in the Old West" bears some similarities to Shanghai Noon, "Armor of the Gods" is a direct reference to Armour of God (which was released in the states as Operation Condor 2), and "Project A for Astral" is a reference to Project A, one of the Police Story movies. Even Jackie's character is based on Asia Hawk, the main character from Armour of God. The ever-present Uncle represents the various uncles and grandfathers who trained his characters in Kung Fu in his earlier movies. The international crime syndicate is one of Jackie's favorite foes to tackle, as he does in most of the Police Story movies and Mr. Nice Guy, among others.
One aspect of the show that remains constant is this: Animated Jackie is NOT a movie star or an action hero; he is an archaeologist (as he CONSTANTLY reminds his troublemaking niece, Jade). Both his knowledge of antiquities and his formidable martial arts skills have led him, however reluctantly, to adventure and heroism. One that does not is the direction the show goes in. The Jackie Chan Adventures progresses serially, as opposed to episodically. The story at any given time in the series, though involving the same characters, is prone to change.
The story begins in the ancient world. Eons ago, the entire world was ruled by eight vastly powerful demon wizards. Seven of them were banished in turn to another dimension by powerful immortals. The last demon, Shendu, was instead bound into a statue his powers were removed into 12 talismans, which the immortal Lo Pei scattered throughout the world to keep Shendu from ever regaining his powers.
In modern times (season 1), the statue Shendu has made an alliance with the Dark Hand, a former crime syndicate that now works to find the talismans and free him from his bondage. Because the talismans have acquired a legendary status over the years, Section 13, the government agency set to stop the Dark Hand’s thefts (although they are pretty much unaware of the supernatural aspects of the case) recruits Jackie, asskickin’ archaeologist. Each time another talisman is located, both sides rush to find it first.
When all twelve talismans have been recovered (season 2), the showdown leaves Shendu a dis-en-statued spirit, partially possessing the body of Valmont, the leader of the Dark Hand (in a me/you/me/you kind of pattern, like Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin in All of Me, right down to the conversations held while looking in a mirror). Shendu’s new goal is to free his demon brothers and sisters from their interdimensional prisons, finding the gates with the magical tool originally used to imprison them, the Pan Ku box. Again, Jackie rises to stop him, forcing each demon back into its imprisonment.
The demons permanently imprisoned, Jackie goes back to work as an archaeologist. Jackie’s adventures in the latter part of season 2 feature new faces and old, and Jackie, Jade, Uncle and Tohru fight alongside members of the J-Team, work with Section 13 and fight against the Dark Hand (also known as The Finn Experience in #230, “Tough Luck”), as well as rescue a primitive man from a poacher, search for lost civilizations, and recover lost artifacts.
Season 3 - In the very first episode, the Dark Hand and Daolon Wong independantly converge on Section 13 to take the Talismans of Shendu for themselves. A massive three-way fight breaks out, and Jackie ultimately destroys the talismans, which proves a bad move, since the powers of the talismans must exist in some form, and without the talismans, they will seek out the noblest representative of their symbol of the Zodiac. Daolon Wong is robbed of his three magical assistants and co-opts the Dark Hand (minus Valmont -- presumably so Julian Sands could go make The Medallion with the real Jackie Chan) to take their places, and the hunt is on to track down the noblest dog, rabbit, snake, etc. After all eleven animals are rounded up, the power of fire breath is still floating around looking for a dragon, and Daolon Wong ressurects Shendu to absorb it, who then steals all the powers back from their animal hosts and it's up to Jackie and Jade to remove the newly reformed talismans from Shendu, just like at the end of season 1.
Season 4 - Just started last month, and the JC group is obviously not getting tired of the show; it's still fantastic! The villain this time around needs some setup: In #206 - "Queen of the Shadowkhan" (mentioned above), Jade stencils a temporary tattoo on her leg of a face from the cover of a book stolen from Shendu and gains the power to control the Shadowkhan. In the beginning of Season 4, Daolon Wong finds a mask which resembles exactly that face. When it is taken, it releases Tarakudo, a Japanese demon ("Oni"), who is the master of all the Shadowkhan generals. It turns out that Shendu's demonic ninjas were originally the soldiers of one of Tarakudo's nine oni generals, and Tarakudo wants to rebuild his army, and now it's up to Jackie to stop them. Unfortunately, since Tarakudo is Japanese, Uncle's knowledge of Chinese legend is useless, and it's up to Tohru (who is Japanese) to translate the instructions for the demon mask removal potions, each of which requires a different Japanese ingredient, such as steel and silk. Since the season's not over yet, I can't tell you how it ends (not because I don't know -- here's a word of advice; if you don't want spoilers for the Jackie Chan Adventures, don't go to the official website and look at the episode guide there. For some reason, they post the entire season before the first one airs. For those of you who like spoilers, they can be found at http://www.sonypictures.com/tv/kids/jackiechan/index.htm. Just follow the link to "Jackie's Files"), but I can tell you this: Tarakudo is the best villain in the series so far. Why? Because he has a sense of humor. He makes puns, wry observational humor, and the occasional dark, ominous villain joke. Also, he's a giant, intangible floating head.
Jackie's allies in all these adventures are:
Uncle, Jackie's ... uncle. Uncle doesn't seem to have a name aside from Uncle. Uncle runs an antique shop in San Francisco, and is Jackie's wizard on tap, a source of information about talismans, demon gates, world mythology, chi spells, and discipline (in the form of frequent smacks to the forehead). Uncle’s battle cry is, “Need more research!” Uncle is quite clearly another in a long line of paternal/avuncular figures in Jackie Chan films (played, in his more recent films, by Bill Tung).
Jade, Jackie’s 10-year-old niece, who is convinced Jackie is an action hero (he is, he just won't admit it). When whining does not get her the desired results, she frequently stows away, swipes talismans, and creatively interprets or flat-out ignores direct orders: she’ll do anything to watch Jackie in action and maybe even do some cool action stuff herself (she usually succeeds in the former, if not the latter).
Captain Black, the head of Section 13. At first a firm skeptic, Captain Black is a recent convert, having seen that magic is real, and learned what it can do (in "Day of the Dragon", season 1 finale). Though a highly trained field agent, Captain Black is now having some credibility issues within Deep 13, which means he is not able to give as much aid to Jackie now as during the talisman hunt.
Section 13, a government agency. Section 13 is mostly a convenient backdrop to the series: first, it provides a reason for the mild-mannered archaeologist to even get involved in the whole talismans business - otherwise, how would he know anything was being stolen? The talismans weren’t in museums or pyramids, they were in places like encrusted into the back of a giant tortoise (episode #106, Shell Game”) and pie eating contests (episode #112, “The Tiger and the Pussycat”). Section 13 tracks the Dark Hand’s movements, provides Jackie with transport and sometimes gadgets, and is a good place to store the very dangerous talismans, (except for all the times that the talismans were stolen from Section 13’s vault - primarily by Jade). For now there is only one person at Section 13 aside from Captain Black who is not a nameless grunt (in Star Trek idiom, a red shirt - except that nobody dies) - a super-agent named Tag (episode #222 “Agent Tag”) who has to stop a mad scientist from using an ancient magic stone to power an orbital satellite weapon to rule the world.
Tohru, a former member of the Dark Hand (until episode #112 "The Tiger and the Pussycat"). Massive and powerful, Tohru joined Jackie in the good fight after Shendu betrayed the Dark Hand and beat Tohru up. Tohru became part of the J Team, and Uncle took him as an apprentice to become a chi wizard
The "J" Team consisting of Jackie, Jade, Tohru, and two characters Jackie met during his talisman-related adventures, Viper, a world-renowned jewel-thief (first appearance, episode #104, "Enter Viper"), and El Toro Fuerte, an undefeated Mexican wrestler (first appearance, episode #103, "The Mask of El Toro Fuerte"). Formed by Jade to stop the revitalized Dark Hand (in episode #202, "The J Team"), the team managed to secure all the lost talismans, but they lost the Pan Ku box to the Dark Hand.
And, by contrast, his enemies:
Shendu, the demon wizard. When the demons were in power, Shendu ruled the area that is now China - Lo Pei, the immortal who defeated him and all the other demon lords, was one of Shendu’s own subjects. Shendu has been using the Shadowkhan and human agents such as Valmont for centuries (at least 100 years, according to episode #220, "Showdown in the Old West") to try to reclaim his power - although he seems never to have been particularly successful until recently, since at the beginning of the series, he didn't have any of the talismans. After his brief return to power, he was destroyed by Jade and sent to the spirit world. His demon siblings forced him to free them from their imprisonment using the mortal vessel of Valmont. As the demons were all banished again, each to his interdimensional jail cell, Shendu was once again defeated, presumably headed for eternal torture at the hands of his demon siblings.
The Shadowkhan, an army of magical ninjas. Controlled by Shendu’s will, the Shadowkhan materialize instantly, hundreds at a time, at any scene where Shendu has realized there is a problem. They move quicker and more smoothly than humans, and they don’t do that “scissors cuts paper so I get to go, then after he creams me, it’s your turn” thing that is at this point, a painful cliché; they just kind of circle, and if they can get in close enough, they’ll attack. Although Shendu summons the Shadowkhan, it isn’t an inherent power - at one point, the gift of the Shadowkhan was transferred to Jade (#206, “Queen of the Shadowkhan”, which was, BTW, totally bitchin’). It is a testament to Jackie’s skills that he is able to hold his own with the Dark Hand AND the Shadowkhan at the same time.
Valmont, a British gentleman with a penchant for crime - head of the Dark Hand crime syndicate, and front man/host for Shendu. Already the leader of an international crime cartel, Valmont made a deal with a talking statue referring to itself as Shendu - if Valmont would use his organization to get the twelve talismans of power, he and his would be rewarded with unheard-of treasure. After Shendu's defeat, Valmont was possessed by Shendu's spirit, and was forced to help Shendu find the demon portals that imprisoned his siblings. He is voiced by Julian Sands, best known for his portrayal of evil incarnate in the Warlock movies.
The Dark Hand, Valmont's organization. We only see a few of his henchmen, and most of those are ciphers rather than characters (the personalities here are Shendu and Valmont):
· Chow, an Asian/American (presumably Chinese in origin). He always wears sunglasses. His martial arts skill is impressive, though he pales in comparison to Jackie or Hak Foo.
· Finn, an Irishman with a love of classic rock. He refers to Shendu as “Shendude”. For some reason, Kids WB (The channel that carries the show) seems to think that Finn is as scary as the Mummy (of the Brendan Fraser movie) - at least if their bumpers are to be taken at all seriously.
· Ratso, who may or may not be Italian. He’s a thug with a weird-shaped head.
· Tohru (season 1: see above)
· Hak Foo, who originally appeared as a mercenary (#111, “The Dog and Piggy Show”). Hak Foo’s most distinctive features are his large, pointy red hair and his tendency to shout the names of his attacks as he performs them. This comes straight out of 70s Hong Kong cinema, where the battles were always extremely melodramatic. Kung Fu masters were always comparing their actions to those of various animals (tiger, rabbit, beaver, etc.), and shouting all sorts of things at each other as they fought (at least, that's what Golden Harvest would have you think), so "Tiger chases rat!" or "Rabbit fights another day!" was not an uncommon thing to hear in the early films of Jackie Chan, among others.
Daolon Wong and others. Daolon Wong is an evil Chi Wizard (the “anti-Uncle,” in the words of Jade) who defeated Uncle’s mentor and has aspirations of vast power. He uses dark magic to achieve his goals, sending his spirit ninjas after a band of monks who believe Tohru to be their reincarnated god (#228, “The Chosen One”) and unlocking the dark spell that would strip people of their sight or hearing (#236, "The Good, the Bad, the Blind, the Deaf, and the Mute”)
In addition to Daolong, there are a number of new enemies for Jackie to thwart, such as a Chi Vampire (#235, “Chi of the Vampire”), a Scottish pirate and a pair of enchanted gloves (#229, “Glove Story”), and a super-thief with the power of self-manipulation (#221, “Origami”), to name a few.
The Jackie Chan Adventures is probably one of the best cartoons currently being made. This is due to the real Jackie Chan's admitted love of cartoons. So far he has claimed to love every new medium he’s tackled: he said the same thing about video games when he did Stuntman for the Playstation.
Jackie Chan is a guy who jumps headlong into traffic, sawmills, sword/fist-fights, and anything else generally avoided by people with the instinct of self-preservation, as his job. It must be a lot of fun for him to watch himself (or a reasonable facsimile) doing dangerous things that he doesn't actually have to do. If I could be a cartoon character, I'd want to be Jackie Chan. Actually, I'd want to be Dark Jackie from "The Tiger and the Pussycat." Regardless, anything that lets Jackie Chan rest up for his next big stunt is fine with me. If that something is as great as JCA, then I encourage it.
As much as I hate to admit it, the show does have some flaws. For starters, James Sie, the voice of Jackie, is stretched a little thin. Providing the vocal chords for Shendu and Chow in addition to Jackie himself, he manages to keep the three voices sounding completely distinct from one another. This is an accomplishment, and shows him to be a versatile voice actor. Unfortunately, Jackie doesn't sound like a guy whose first language is Cantonese. He sounds like an American with a slight lisp, or maybe a fat lip. He also sounds like a total puss. I know that the real Jackie Chan doesn't strike a very imposing image either (that's a part of his appeal), but he's at least sorta macho.
It's OK, though, because the character is great. "Bad-day-bad-day-bad-day!" is his catchphrase, and he insists that he isn't an action hero. The guy who hangs upside-down from helicopters and runs down the side of falling buildings claims to be an archaeologist. Fine. We'll let him keep his delusion because ... well, because it makes him likeable.
The rest of the problems are in the form of mechanics, the kind every show has. For example, there is one talisman for each of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. The power of each talisman is related to its animal sign, but, for some reason, Tiger and Snake are backwards. Tiger grants spiritual balance (the power of the talisman is nil until it's broken in half, by the way) and Snake grants invisibility. Why is the animal used in the yin-yang symbol NOT spiritual balance? Why is the tiger, whose stripes afford him valuable camouflage, NOT invisibility?
OK, OK, that's a geek complaint: no big deal. Why, though, can't Shendu get up and walk around yet when he has eleven of the twelve talismans? The only one he's missing is Tiger (balance), which he doesn't really seem to need anyway. He's already got Rat (motion to the motionless), so it would have been better storytelling if that should have been the last one he got, or if it was made clear that he couldn’t use any of them fully until he had all of them, or something similar.
In truth, I'm just nitpicking at this point. Still, when the framework of the plot seem so carefully constructed, these little nits seem to be magnified. The show isn't 100%, all flaws polished out perfect. It is, however, damn close, but it goes against my nature to let anything get by without some kind of constructive criticism. Even Jackie Chan (God love ‘im).
Jackie Chan Adventures is unique in many ways. For example, in many shows, when a choice pops up between serious storytelling and serious silliness, storytelling goes out the window - just for a little while. Sure, this is a cartoon, but an action cartoon can get away with a lot more real storytelling than a kiddy cartoon while still appealing to a wide age range - see The Zeta Project for a really good example. By contrast, take a look at Jackie Chan’s First Strike. The opening of the movie is a 15-minute segment in which we are beaten over the head with one joke: Jackie is COLD! In a cute, fuzzy toy harp seal hat, Jackie chases bad guys and is cold. It’s very funny, what with Jackie hitting a guy and then blowing on his fingers, and it’s also very silly. Jackie Chan is clearly a big fan of silliness - and that is one of his most endearing characteristics.
Jackie Chan Adventures is written in a realistic style, meaning that, aside from the magic and demons, which are part of the plot and fall in the realm of willing suspension of disbelief, all the rest of the accepted rules of the world - physics, society, etc. - are still in place. If cartoon Jackie falls off a ten-story building, he will live. This would be unlikely in the real world, but it’s due to his super bad martial artiness, which is based on real life (please place your favorite Jackie Chan movie stunt here), not that the ground cushioned his fall like a grape bouncing on Jell-O. The choice of silliness over something that would better aid the plot but be duller stands out the more sharply because of the realistic style.)
The villains rock (although Hak Foo gets a bit old), the heroes rock (Uncle is the supreme badass, and don't let anyone tell you different), and the stories are great. Sure, every talisman-finding or demon-stopping episode is identical to each other save for setting and movie references, but that doesn't really matter. Aside from a couple of episodes that were clearly just the real Jackie wanting to see something he can't really do (like "Shanghai Moon" -- JACKIE CHAN IN SPACE!), they're all great