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Jackie Chan plays a shrewd cop who goes undercover with a team of mercenaries when a man he put away two years before commits a murder. The film features the great Sammo Hung as well as the terrific Tony Leung Ka Fai.
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Though Jackie Chan is billed as the star of The Prisoner, he's actually part of a stellar ensemble cast including Sammo Hung (Dragons Forever, TV's Martial Law), Andy Lau (Saviour of the Soul), and Tony Leung Ka-fai (The Lover). Leung plays a cop who goes undercover in a prison to dig out corruption; Hung is a roustabout prisoner who keeps breaking out to see his son; Chan plays a pool shark who accidentally kills a gambler; and Lau is that gambler's mob boss brother who's sworn to kill Chan. They all end up in the same prison, resulting in a complex, engrossing, and sometimes brutal story--think of it as the Hong Kong version of HBO's Oz. Which is not to say it isn't full of the bizarre narrative shifts that make Hong Kong movies such a perverse pleasure: Chan got into a fight with this gambler because he was trying to raise money to buy his dying girlfriend a black-market liver; at one point, Hung escapes and takes his son to the park, where they buy cotton candy and have some quality time; and at the end the whole movie takes a bizarre lurch into John Woo-style gunplay spectacle. This isn't a criticism--this crazy quilt of emotional tones and genres adds to the movie's entertainment value without detracting from the emotional power of some gripping scenes of prison conflict. For new Jackie Chan fans who've seen his American movies and want to learn more about why he's one of the biggest stars in the world, this is probably not the right place to start; but for anyone looking to experience more of one of the world's most exuberant and engaging bodies of cinema, The Prisoner offers jolting fights and hairpin twists and turns. --Bret Fetzer
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