Jackie Chan As The Original Tuner Car Movie Star

When Matt asked us about our favorite car movies, I defaulted to fond memories watching The Fast & The Furious. I loved it as a kid, and then loved it again for completely different reasons after I outgrew Limp Bizkit and ViS Racing.

(In advance of the Jalopnik Film Festival we're doing a week of posts focused on cars and films. Remember, you can still buy tickets here.)


But then I remembered the original, completely unrelated precursor to any mainstream US acknowledgement of the Japanese sports car scene.

Yes, we all know the Japanese were building sports cars long before we got into cars/were born. But performance upgrades for imports? Nissan Skylines? Such things were decidedly under the American popcorn-media radar in 1995.

Unless of course, you saw Thunderbolt.

Directed by Gordon Chan and primarily intended for a Cantonese-speaking audience, Thunderbolt (known as Dead Heat in some markets and Pit lik for in others) tics all the kung-fu-cliché boxes with a bonus cast of great cars.


If you’ve seen it, you’re already nodding/facepalming. If you haven’t: basically Thunderbolt is to car nerds as Hot Dog is to ski bums. Or Captain Ron is to boatopniks.


The combination of dated fashion and egregious overacting relegate it to the so-bad-it’s-good genre and if that doesn’t appeal to you, don’t waste your time.

The film was originally trilingual with parts in Cantonese, Japanese, and English, making the task of translation exceedingly difficult and it shows. The plot doesn’t dick around with details. The bad guys are called “The Syndicate” and the culminating race event the film revolves around is called “1995 International Racing Competition”. Idioms are forced through a dialogue blender and come out as nonsense.


That said, the sheer volume of recite-able lines exceeds any script Paul Walker’s ever seen.

“This tailpipe’s gotta be bigger. Much bigger!”

I find such things hilarious, but I don’t keep Thunderbolt in my collection for the short shelf-lifed comedic effect of poor dubbing.


The cars in this movie are absolutely fantastic. It was the first place I ever saw a Mitsubishi FTO or Lancer Evo III. There are some I still can’t identify and of course the more familiar Skylines, RX-7s, and E30 M3s always put a smile on my face.


True to form Jackie Chan doesn’t disappoint in the delivery of ass-whoopin’ either. He sticks to the “tough-but-fair dispenser of justice” role and you cheer for him until the credits roll.

Aside from the “Mitsubishi-internship” clip prologue, Thunderbolt makes no attempt at physical realism. It’s so obvious the film is sped-up in some of the racing scenes; you might think you leaned on the remote. But since it’s 2013 and you’re almost definitely watching it on a computer, you’ll know that isn’t possible.


The final race starts going bonkers about ten minutes from the end, the only appropriate reaction to which is that meme of an animated Jackie Chan looking mind-blown.


The movie is over the top, dated, and downright silly. But if you want to see cars obey the laws of physics, watch traffic move through an intersection. If you want to see some modern classics literally fly around to the tune of loosely translated dialogue, watch Thunderbolt.

Photo Credits: Miramax

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