[Welcome to Peter’s Kung Fu Corner: a monthly column dedicated to retrospectives on the martial arts films I grew up watching. We’ll be covering all kinds of Hong Kong action films from Bruce Lee all the way to Joseph Kuo. Get ready to be introduced to some weird, wacky, and utterly badass films.]
This past month, Barnes & Noble ran its annual Criterion Collection sale with a wide range of titles half-off. Since I’ve been looking to upgrade certain films to Blu-Ray (or UHD Blu-Ray) for my personal collection, I jumped at the chance to get Jackie Chan’s Police Story in high definition. While I do have the rather excellent Dragon Dynasty DVDs for both that film and its sequel, how could I pass up a Criterion release for a Jackie Chan classic?
With that decided (and after taking a ridiculously long trip to get the damn thing), my friend and I settled on doing a double feature of the movies to celebrate the fourth of July. I’m not sure what the correlation was there, but there’s never a bad time to watch Police Story.
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If you have a passing interest in Chan’s work, you’re likely familiar with this particular film. One of the final stunts in the film sees Chan slide down a banister covered in Christmas lights before falling an additional five feet and landing through a glass pagoda. His stunt team had advised him not to do the stunt, but Chan went for it and received second-degree burns on his arms, a back injury, and a dislocated pelvis for his troubles. Oddly enough, that may not be the most ridiculous stunt in the film.
A very unassuming intro gives way to one of the most ludicrous and destructive openings I think I’ve ever seen. After some black screens with text introducing the core cast and the film’s title, we catch up with officer Chan Ka-Kui (Chan) as he and his squad of officers are making a raid on a drug lord’s operation. Situated in a shantytown on the side of a mountain, an intense shootout leads to Chan and some goons hopping in cars and driving through huts while small bombs explode, buildings get ripped apart, people barely dodge getting run over, and cars flip. Talk about getting your attention.
To say Police Story is one of the most Jackie Chan films that Chan has ever made is possibly underselling it. As Chan’s fifth directorial feature, the entire movie encapsulates everything you’ve ever heard about the man. It’s loaded with bone-crunching stunts, immaculately filmed kung fu brawls, and tons of comedy of both the physical and visual kind. There may be some outdated and borderline offensive elements (a very odd joke about a woman being raped appears during the middle of the film), but you’ll typically be swept up in the spectacle of it all to really nitpick anything.
After the thrilling opening, the film does slow down for a tiny bit. Needing to properly set the stage, we get introduced to Chan’s colleagues at the police force who will share most of the screen time with him. There is Inspector Bill Chou (Bill Tung), Inspector Man (Kam Hing Yin), and May (the legendary Maggie Cheung). Torn between being a super dedicated cop and a loving boyfriend, the general flow of Police Story alternates between mission briefings, all-out action sequences, and comedy bits where Chan screws things up with May.
It’s certainly not an innovative formula by today’s standards, but the lightning-fast pacing makes everything flow very well. One moment you’re getting maybe a little bored by all the stuffy suits blabbering on about procedure, the next Chan is accidentally dragging his girlfriend off of her moped. It’s hard to say that Maggie Cheung hasn’t gotten recognition in the years since this film was released (especially considering that she’s UNICEF’s Ambassador to China), but she really does not get enough credit. Maybe she isn’t as outgoing as Michelle Yeoh would be in Police Story 3: Supercop, but I give the young woman major props for actually performing her own stunts. I would never let someone yank me off of a moving vehicle.
During the middle of the film, Chan ends up getting put on guard duty for the gangster he stopped in the beginning. A woman by the name of Salina Fong (Brigitte Lin), Chan gloriously fails at getting her to divulge information about her partners in crime. There is a courtroom scene where he plays a tape believing it to be her confession only for it to be a completely out-of-context chat where Chan sounds like a molester. It’s bizarre, but his goofy face and total commitment to the bit just sell it. All of those comparisons to Buster Keaton make perfect sense after seeing Police Story.
It’s not long before we get back to the action, but I’m not sure why the film felt the need to do a double-cross plotline. Chan and Inspector Man infiltrate the compound of the drug lord and we learn that Man has been working for them the entire time. Sadly, Man is also double-crossed and Chan then gets framed for his murder. It’s a strange pretense to get Chan away from the police force for a bit, but I suppose it also sets up Chan as a one-man army. He really does get to prove that, too, because this leads into the glorious finale.
If you’re a fan of actors flying through sugar glass, you need to witness Police Story’s roughly 15-minute conclusion. There is so much destruction and carnage that I think I finally understand why the Yakuza games appeal to me so much. I had forgotten how outrageous these stunts are, but watching Chan get dropkicked through a railing or him driving a motorcycle through display cases while a poor stuntman gets pushed along is intense.
It seemingly never stops, either. As is typical in Chan’s movies, he takes a beating and keeps ticking, letting his stuntmen share the spotlight with him. Without their dedication, Chan’s eventual victory wouldn’t feel nearly as monumental. One moment, Chan is on the floor and taking some kicks. The next, he’s swinging a man through a display case and using him as a weapon. I don’t really know how to accurately describe this lunacy.
That’s ultimately what makes Police Story work. The plot certainly gets convoluted and the multiple twists and turns end up spinning your head more than anything, but the action contained within is on another level. It may not always resemble a typical martial arts movie, but Police Story certainly delivers what you’d expect from a Chan film and then some. This is top form Chan and an absolute must-see for anyone that considers themselves a fan of his work.
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