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White and Wong Detective Agency
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"And now for the parallel bars!"

Jet Li as Raymond Wong in White and Wong Detective Agency.
Year: 2003
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Producer: Joel Silver
Action: Corey Yuen Kwai's brother, Pepe
Cast: Jet Li Lian-Jie, Tom Arnold, Steven Seagal, Ashanti, Kelly Hu, Anthony Anderson, Ja Rule, DMX, Gedde Watanabe
The Skinny: Did you like Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds, and Cradle 2 the Grave? Well, even if you thought they sucked big time, you're gonna love the brand new "martial arts meets hip-hop" vehicle from uber-producer Joel Silver. Stereotypes have never been this fun!

     The alumni of the Joel Silver Actors Troupe reunite for the stunning fourth chapter in their highly popular kung fu rapper series: White and Wong Detective Agency! In a city where crime is king and police corruption knows no bounds - two private investigators decide to partner up, mixing good ol' fashioned American ingenuity with the exotic mysticism of Chinese martial arts to mete out their own brand of multicultural street justice!
     Jet Li plays Raymond Wong, a down on his luck private eye in New York's Chinatown, who must struggle with the fact that he only has about ten lines of English dialogue in the entire picture. While on a big case, Wong meets Jack White (Tom Arnold), a vulgar, bullheaded private dick who doesn't understand the lack of clientele at his Harlem-based office. It seems that White and Wong are both after the elusive Macau Monkey, an ebony colored statuette that may be more than it seems (Spoiler alert! It's an inter-dimensional teleportation device!). The two form an uneasy alliance, butting heads at first, all the while flinging hateful racist epithets at each other. But unexpectedly, they soon put their differences aside to find the statuette and return it to their mutual client, Madame Ho (Kelly Hu).
     Working solely on vague hunches and insupportable gut feelings, the unlikely duo track the Macau Monkey to the gangster hideout of the seemingly irredeemable Mr. Big (DMX), a drug-running, loan-sharking, millionaire pimp. Though Mr. Big is an out-and-out killer, wasting six civilians with his AK-47 at one point, I say "kudos" to the filmmakers for peeling back the layers to this highly complicated man. What the police and innocent civilians don't know is that Mr. Big is actually an environmentally concerned single father of three adopted Korean kids - Dee, Emma, and Ecks. Being the noted thespian that he is, DMX turns in a performance that has Oscar written all over it as he reveals in this tearful sequence that not only has the statue been stolen from him, but so has his darling "baby-girl" Emma. Apparently a couple of small-time gay crooks known as Black and Decker (played by Ja Rule and Anthony Anderson) have swiped the Macau Monkey and kidnapped Big's child. The duo hopes to pawn the idol so they can flee to Buenos Aires and re-ignite their now-faltering relationship. Little Emma could be the key, as the two men hope to raise her as their own.
     Before White and Wong leave, Mr. Big sends his sister Boo (Ashanti) to accompany the boys on their mission of vengeance. But when White, Wong, and Boo track down Black and Decker in the their apartment, they are surprised to find that little Emma has turned the tables on her kidnappers in a hilarious kung fu send-up of O. Henry's "Ransom of Red Chief"! Though only eight years old, Emma naturally has card-carrying membership in the Shaolin temple. It doesn't matter that she's Korean, the fact remains that she's Asian, so defeating the mismatched lovers with her "Drunk Monkey in the Tiger's Eye" stance was only second nature for her. The beaten and bruised Black and Decker tell White and Wong that a mysterious "Ponytailed Man" (Steven Seagal) has stolen the idol from them, too. White tells Wong that he has a feeling that the man fled to Tibet, but Wong overrules him by showing a faded "boarding pass" written on a napkin that the villain conveniently dropped as he left the apartment. The napkin says "Italy."
     And so, the hapless heroes head to Italy for the final showdown. Accustomed to these kinds of death duels, Wong decides to visit the Roman Coliseum. Lo and behold, the pony-tailed villain known only as "Bubbles" is waiting for him, monkey idol in hand. Both itching for a fight, the cross-cultural combatants face off in a scene that is vaguely reminiscent of Bruce Lee's climactic battle with Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon. But unlike that crummy old movie, this film ups the stakes considerably! Not only is it raining, not only are the two fighters surrounded by a ring of fire, but this time there are also actual lions for them to fight with! Yowza! With the assistance of wirework, Steven Seagal soars above Li executing some gravity-defying kicks and aikido moves, all the while trying to hide his sadly visible paunch. In a novel move, Seagal whips Li with his ponytail, which has a razor attached to the end! I think that's an oblique reference to some other Jet Li movie, but I'm not really sure. To be honest, I don't really like Hong Kong films. And hey, if you thought Mark Dacascos's and Tcheky Karyo's deaths in Cradle 2 the Grave and Kiss of the Dragon were gruesome, wait 'till you see Steven Seagal get torn in half by the man-eating lions! Hakuna matata beeyotch!
     And best of all, I think the director handled the film's resolution with a lot of class. Sure, Jet Li's character does the majority of the work, most of the investigating, and all of the fighting in the film while Tom Arnold's character simply makes smart-ass remarks and gets kidnapped a lot, but thankfully, the filmmakers chose not to have Jet Li end up with the girl at the conclusion of the movie. It was a wise decision because Western audiences would find it hard to accept that a good-looking, competent Asian man like Jet Li could land an American hottie like Ashanti. But I'm glad they let Tom Arnold hook up with Kelly Hu, since we all know loudmouthed, overweight white guys really can win over gorgeous Asian women.
    So, what's the verdict? This movie's got a plea for multicultural understanding, a realistic examination of gay life, a dope hip-hop soundtrack that is off the hook, and some gravity-defying kung fu to boot. What more could a viewer ask for? White and Wong Detective Agency: righting wrongs in a theater near you! (Sanjuro 2003)

Notes: Deciding to cull from its own archives, Warner Brothers initially wanted White and Wong Detective Agency to be a shot-for-shot remake of The Big Sleep, but Lauren Bacall bitch-slapped Joel Silver and the script was altered into a Maltese Falcon rip-off instead.
Fans voted to see Jet Li fight Steven Seagal in this movie, provided that Li would totally demolish Seagal - for real.
This review is a total fake. It is April Fools Day after all.
Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Warner Brothers
English, Heavily Accented English, Mandarin, and Ebonics Language Tracks

image courtesy of Universe Laser & Video Co., Ltd.

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