Police Story was Jackie Chan's reaction to his first failed attempts to break into Hollywood. As any serious Jackie fan knows, the early U.S. films he made were mediocre like Big Brawl, or totally horrible, like The Protector. Police Story -- written, directed and starring Chan -- seems like Jackie's attempt to make a film like The Protector, hopefully with better results. It was the first time, but far from the last time, that he would play a kung fu cop.
Jackie plays a cop in the Hong Kong police force. The movie opens during a police operation, the aim of which is to catch some drug dealers who are transacting business near a shanty town built on a hillside. The sting goes bad, and pretty soon a car chase erupts, with three cars barreling through the slums, blowing stuff up and knocking down the rickety buildings. Never let it be said that Jackie Chan shies from putting his adolescent fantasies on celluloid.
The sequence ends with two famous Jackie Chan moments. When the bad guys, led by gangster Mr. Ko, commandeer a bus, Jackie grabs a nearby umbrella and uses it to grab on to the speeding bus. Since Jackie then manages to hang onto the bus with the umbrella even as it drags him on the asphalt, we feel obliged to comment that he got his hands on one heck of a strong umbrella. The second Jackie moment occurs after Jackie is thrown off the bus. He runs down a hill to intercept it. He blocks the street, and then just stands there pointing a rather small gun at the bus. In the end though, the bus chickens out and stops just short of Jackie, and the bad guys come crashing through the bus' front windows and drop onto the pavement. This eyepopping sequence couldn't possibly have killed any fewer than two stunt men. A testament to the scene's originality and style is the fact that it was lifted wholesale by Sylvester Stallone in Tango and Cash.
In Hong Kong, those who try to ride the bus
without paying are not treated lightly.
The first half of the movie is actually more comedy than action film. Jackie is charged with protecting Ko's girlfriend Serena, who is being forced to turn state's evidence. Serena is played by Brigette Lin, the beautiful actress from Swordsman II and Chunking Express. Unfortunately, she isn't playing the kind of strong character she would in her most famous parts, but instead a standard screaming victim. Well, she does fight back a little at the end, but during most of the film she just spends her time running or getting captured. Jackie's protection of Serena is complicated by his girlfriend, played by Maggie Cheung (Supercop, Heroic Trio). In typical sitcom fashion a series of misunderstandings erupts, including the always hilarious faux-compromising situation caught on audio tape. "She's talking about a cactus!" and, "I spilled orange juice on her!" are typical of Jackie's flustered explanations.
So Jackie messes things up royally, and is reassigned to some podunk police station where he can't do any more harm. But soon he's sucked back into the action, and every major character in the film ends up in the same mall at the same time, thus fueling the traditional climactic fight.
Jackie's first day as a window-dresser
gets off to a rocky start.
In a review we wrote of Mr. Nice Guy, we postulated that Jackie Chan movies do not take place on our Earth, but on Jackie's Planet, a planet tailored specifically to allow Jackie Chan to do cool stuff. It should go without saying that there are lots of malls on Jackie's planet, and lots of dramatic events tend to happen in them. Malls make good places for fights and stunts to take place because malls have lots of props, lots of places to jump and fall off of, and especially in Police Story, lots of glass. Lots and lots of glass. No bad guy goes down for good until Jackie has thrown him through at least one pane of glass, or possibly several. Jackie may have meant this to be a metaphor for how easy it is for people to cross the fragile barrier between law abiding and law breaking, or maybe Jackie just thinks it's cool to film shattering glass.
You know you're on Jackie's World when a thug manages to start up a motorcycle that is on display in the mall in order to run Jackie down. In the real world the thug would probably not be able to find the keys, and it seems unlikely that a display bike would have any gas in it. But on Jackie's world, it runs. And on Jackie's world all the interesting vehicles are Mitsubishis, because of a promotional contract Jackie has with them, so you can be sure the motorcycle is a Mitsubishi. But wait! It's isn't! It's clearly a Yamaha. What's going on here? Could this be the end of Jackie's World? Luckily, Jackie commandeers the bike and drives by a big Mitsubishi sign, and the delicate balance of Jackie's Planet is restored.
Police Story is a fun movie, and you should see it. The trick is to pick a version to see. For years there has been a cheapo version available on US tape, with the original Golden Harvest English dubbing. It cuts out some stuff in the middle of the film, like the telephone juggling scene. This version is pan and scan. More recently New Line has released a new version on US tape and LD. It has better dubbing (though Jackie doesn't dub his character), a new, somewhat more modern score, and great picture quality. While it also cuts out the telephone juggling scene, we're pretty sure the New Line version has a couple of scenes we haven't seen before, though we couldn't pinpoint them. The tape is pan and scan, though the laser disc is widescreen. The latter is definitely the way to go.