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Fall '98: "Martial Law"

As one keystone of CBS' America's Night of Television, the network executives have cast an actor who can barely speak English. Of course, when you can move like Hong Kong action movie superstar and Martial Law star Sammo Hung, words just get in the way.

Hung plays Shanghai cop Sammo Law, China's top policeman. Sammo is sent to Los Angeles in pursuit of a high-end car theft ring, where he is teamed up with -- who else? -- a beautiful blond and a wise-cracking youngster.

Let's just forget the plot, OK? I know I already have. The whole show looks and sounds like one of those mid-to-late '80s cheap action shows that Stephen J. Cannell churned out at a rate of nearly four a day. There's a beautiful blond who also happens to know karate. There's a wise-cracking cop. I don't remember their names, but they look just like they should.

And there is Sammo Hung. If you've never seen him at work, his body shape, double chins and puppy dog eyes combined with his strength and frenetic movements will bring to mind Buddy Hackett on PCP. But I doubt Buddy, with or without the help of controlled substances, could accomplish what Sammo manages to do, which is carry an entire TV series on his roly-poly back.

Before the opening credits, Sammo takes on a big guy with a blowtorch while wading through an entire army of shifty car thieves. He jumps completely over one guy and then does a full flip with a twist off the top of a car to take down another. Remember: Buddy Hackett body, Jackie Chan moves.

During the rest of the show, he takes on a couple guys with giant spike-soled shoes, uses a chalkboard eraser to dismantle a man even bigger than himself and kicks a guy through a windshield. Oh yeah, he also gets assigned to the LAPD as a permanent exchange cop, at least until the show is canceled.

Lest we forget, you can't understand a word Sammo says. Judging from the dialogue coming from the other characters, this isn't such a bad thing.

Martial Law is not a great TV show. It's not even a very good one. But it's riding Jackie Chan's coattails, so how long it lasts will depend on how creative Sammo can be in inventing new ways of abusing thugs. For now, the spectacle of watching Buddy Hackett, Lethal Weapon is almost enough.


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