|Director: Jackie Chan|
|Screenplay: Jackie Chan & Edward Tang|
|Stars: Jackie Chan (Chan Ka Kui), Maggie Cheung (May), Brigitte Lin (Selina Fong), Kwok-Hung Lam (Supt. Raymond Li), Bill Tung (Inspector Bill Wong), Yuen Chor (Mr. Chu Tao), Charlie Cho (John Ko), Chi-Wing Lau (Cheung, the Lawyer), Hark-On Fung (Danny Koo), Hing-Yin Kam (Inspector Man), Mars (Kim), Tai-Bo (Lee / Snake Eyes)|
|MPAA Rating: PG-13|
|Year of Release: 1985|
|Country: Hong Kong|
Like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), Jackie Chan’s Police Story (Ging chaat goo si) begins and ends with enormous action sequences. Both films seemingly put everything out front in the opening sequence, which sets up the false expectation that any subsequent action couldn’t possibly be as spectacular. Yet, both films explode that expectation with climactic action sequences that improbably top what came before. Of course, that is pretty much all Police Story has in common with The Wild Bunch, as the latter is a deadly serious demystifying western that set a new bar for graphic violence in mainstream cinema, while the former is a goofy action comedy that redefined the boundaries of the martial arts film by incorporating kung-fu theatrics into a modern police procedural.
Police Story’s opening action setpiece is set in and around a hillside shantytown outside of Hong Kong where police officers are gathering to nab a notorious crime lord. The cover for their sting operation is blown, and it turns into a massive gunfight that culminates with a car barreling down the hill through numerous buildings as explosions go off left and right (if this sounds familiar, Michael Bay lifted it wholesale for 2003’s Bad Boys II). It’s a huge setpiece that establishes the film’s commitment to grounding its elaborate action in a realistic environment, which Chan employs throughout the film by using and abusing living rooms, parking lots, and, in the film’s spectacular climax, a multi-level shopping mall.
Chan, who also produced, directed, and co-wrote the script with longtime collaborator Edward Tang, stars as Chan Ka-Kui, a Hong Kong police detective who, true to genre form, is a bit of a renegade who likes to do things his own way and often takes matters into his own hands, much to the consternation of his superior, Supt. Raymond Li (Kwok-Hung Lam), and his well-meaning uncle, Inspector Bill Wong (Bill Tung). The plot revolves around a drug-smuggling operation overseen by a crime lord named Chu Tao (Yuen Chor), but it serves little purpose beyond providing something on which Chan can string together a series of comic episodes, some of which are pure slapstick (he is hit in the face with a cake not once, not twice, but three times) and some of which are pure, high-octane action. Ka-Kui is put in charge of guarding Chu Tao’s secretary, Selina Fong (Brigitte Lin), who will serve as an important witness in the case against the crime lord, but she is reluctant to be guarded, which leads Ka-Kui to stage a faux attack to “prove” his mettle as a protector that goes amusingly wrong. A running subplot involves Chan’s strained relationship with his endearing girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung), who is constantly being sidelined by his dedication to his policing.
By the time Police Story went into production, Chan was not just an enormous star in Asia (particularly China and Japan), but a literal industry unto himself. Having started as a background player in dozens of interchangeable kung fu films in the early 1970s following a childhood stint in the Peking Opera (where he learned much of the acrobatic physicality that he married with kung fu moves to produce his signature brand of action), he broke out as a star in his own right in Drunken Master (Zui quan, 1978), which is often considered the first true kung fu comedy (the year before he had starred in Half a Loaf of Kung Fu [Yi zhao ban shi chuang jiang hu], which was an outright spoof of the genre). Chan tried several times to break into the much desired American market: first with the Hong Kong-produced The Big Brawl (aka Battle Creek Brawl, 1980), then with bit parts in Hal Needham’s The Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984), where he picked up the idea of including outtakes and bloopers and footage of blown stunts during the closing credits. A few years later Chan starred in The Protector (1985), a gritty Hollywood-produced action vehicle set in Hong Kong that misused him in a role that was better suited to Chuck Norris or Clint Eastwood and, as a result, failed to connect with anyone. Part of Chan’s impetus to make Police Story was his miserable experience making The Protector, and he exerted his control over every aspect of the production, especially the fight choreography which he tailored to both his unique skillset as a martial artist and his comically likeable on-screen persona.
The control that Chan exerted over the production paid off handsomely, as Police Story set a new standard for contemporary Hong Kong action films. There was nothing in it that was particularly new, but Chan elevated the various elements through both intensification and reformation, putting various pieces together in ways that other filmmakers had not. For example, throughout the early ’80s there had been numerous popular police thrillers that incorporated martial arts, but Police Story was the first to be both a full-fledged police thriller and a full-fledged kung fu movie. And, of course, it is also very much a comedy, with moments of pure slapstick that borrows variably from the Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin.
Chan’s style of fight choreography is more balletic than anything, relying heavily on speed, dexterity, and crack precision of movement that turns the melees into comical art that often leaves you laughing and gasping at the same time. Chan’s greatest gift is his innovative use of props in the fight scenes, and part of the pleasure is watching him turn otherwise banal objects like ladders and benches and clothing racks into essential elements of both attack and defense. Like Fred Astaire, Chan knew that realism was essential to the effect and the “wow” factor, and much of the action unfolds in long shots and long takes that make it clear that Chan and his dedicated team of stuntmen are doing everything for real. No editing, or gimmicky camera angles, or quick inserts—real stunts, often wildly dangerous, unfolding in real time and space.
Of course, not everyone was appreciative of Chan’s innovation and artistry—to wit, Vincent Canby of The New York Times, who dismissively said that the film’s “principle interest [is] as a souvenir of another culture.” Granted, there are elements of Police Story that are clunky and some of the humor is so obvious that it doesn’t quite work. Yet, the impressiveness of the stunts and the exhilaration of the action and the genuine sense of love that Chan puts into it all smooths out the wrinkles and covers over the holes, leaving us with a glorious sense of wild abandon.
|Police Story / Police Story 2 Criterion Collection Blu-ray 2-Disc Set|
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 (both films)|
|Audio||Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround (both films)Cantonese Linear PCM 1.0 monaural (both films)English Linear PCM 1.0 monaural (both films)|
|Supplements||Police Story discExcerpts from Jackie Chan: My Stunts (1999) documentary Video interview with filmmaker Edgar Wright The Talkhouse Podcast episode in which Wright interviews Chan“Becoming Jackie” video interview with New York Asian Film Festival founder Grady HendrixSegment from 2017 television program in which Chan is reunited with members of the Jackie Chan Stunt TeamArchival video interview with ChanOriginal theatrical and Japanese re-release trailersPolice Story 2 discAlternate Hong Kong theatrical release version of the film1989 episode of Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show about Chan“Reinventing Action” video interview with New York Asian Film Festival founder Grady HendrixArchival interview with stuntman Benny Lai1964 episode of French television program Edition spéciale about the Beijing OperaStunt reelTrailer|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||April 30, 2019|
|Both Police Story and Police Story 2 look excellent. The films have been given new 4K restorations that started with scans of the original 35mm camera negatives (the liner notes don’t indicate any specific digital restoration, but some was clearly done). Both films look clean and clear, with great, popping colors, strong detail, and a nice filmlike presence that a slight softness that we often associate with the era. There isn’t a great deal of difference between the two films visually, although Police Story 2 is perhaps just a bit more sophisticated in its camerawork. Because both films were shot silently, they have a wide array of optional soundtracks, and Criterion had to get pretty creative in their sourcing to include what they did. Both films feature the original monaural soundtracks in Cantonese; the track for Police Story was transferred from an original soundtrack negative, while the track for Police Story 2 was taken from a Japanese laserdisc. Both films also feature alternate English dubbed tracks, from a Dutch VHS tape and the Japanese laserdisc, respectively. Both films also feature newly mixed 5.1-channel surround soundtracks in Cantonese that were provided by Fortune Star Media Limited, the company that also provided the video transfers. Personally, I would stick with the original Cantonese monaural tracks because they are more true to the original experience of the films. The 5.1-channel tracks are fine, but they are sometimes stretched too thin. I should also note that Criterion has included an alternate, shorter version of Police Story 2 that was released theatrically in Hong Kong. It was transferred in 2K from a subtitled 35mm print and given only minimal restoration, which shows in comparison to the longer version.|
In terms of supplements, Criterion has been extremely thorough, producing both a host of new extras along with copious material from the archives, some of which has appeared in previous releases. The Police Story disc opens with 45 minutes of excerpts from Jackie Chan: My Stunts, a 1999 video documentary in which Chan revisits the most elaborate stunts in his films and shows how they were done. There is also an undated archival video interview with Chan, which looks to have been recorded sometime in the 1990s. From more recent events we get a segment from a 2017 television program The Kings vs. The Kings II in which Chan is reunited with multiple generations of members of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team during a surprise 40th anniversary reunion and performs the Police Story theme song onstage. It is a genuinely heartfelt reunion that brings tears to Chan’s eyes, and it is clear that those who worked with him admire him greatly (they all call him “Big Brother”). Among Chan’s biggest fans is filmmaker Edgar Wright, and Criterion recorded a new interview with him enthusing about Chan’s work and an October 2017 episode of The Talkhouse Podcast in which Wright interviews Chan. There is also a new video interview with New York Asian Film Festival founder Grady Hendrix titled “Becoming Jackie,” in which he discusses Chan’s early years and how he developed his star persona in the shadow of Bruce Lee. Finally, we get the original theatrical trailer and a Japanese re-release trailer.
Switching over to the Police Story 2 disc, we start with a nearly hourlong episode of Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show hosted by Jonathan Ross, which originally aired in September 1989. It includes footage from many of Chan’s films, an interview with Chan in front of a Movieola where he discusses some of his most famous stunts, and footage from the set of his then-newest film Mr. Canton and Lady Rose. There is also an undated video interview with stuntman Benny Lai, a member of the Jackie Chan stunt team; a 1964 episode of the French television program Edition spéciale about the training of the performers in the Beijing Opera; an undated stunt reel consisting of bloopers and behind-the-scenes footage; and an original theatrical trailer. The only new supplement is a second interview with New York Asian Film Festival founder Grady Hendrix, who discusses how Chan’s action style and choreography helped to reinvent the notion of what a Hong Kong action movie could be.
Copyright © 2019 James Kendrick
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