New Police Story, Jackie Chan’s 2004 return to Hong Kong cinema (and one of his most beloved franchises) after years spent tackling the international market, is also in many ways an obvious late career attempt by Chan to gain some critical respect for taking on a dramatic role. But while the glossy, action-filled result is both darker and more stylishly filmed than his previous output in the Asian market, it never manages to deserve the kind of critical acclaim it so clearly seeks to obtain.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around the attempts of disgraced police officer Chan (Jackie Chan) to find a way to deal with the guilt brought on by an investigation-gone-wrong, in which Chan’s unit of young, overly-confident policemen was massacred by a bizarre gang of mask-wearing bank-robbers, whose primary goal seems to be the murder of as many cops as possible, rather than the acquisition of large amounts of cash.
Chan, who prided himself on being the police force’s most competent officer and toughest gunslinger (but is not, by the way, the same character from the earlier Police Story films), believes his own cockiness is to blame for the disaster, and takes a leave of absence so that he can forget his problems with the help of alcohol. He is brought back in, however, when a young man named Cheng (a thankfully laid-back Nicholas Tse) shows up and tells him he has been re-assigned to the bank robber case, and that Cheng is his new partner.
Together they track down the gang, who turn out to be a group of young, rich, adrenaline-junkies with deep-seated reasons for their cop-hating. Along the way, they also find time to try and fix Chan’s relationship with his fiancé (Charlie Young), whose brother Chan gets plenty of opportunities to showcase his trademark acrobatic fight-moves.
There are fights on top of skyscrapers, fights on the sides of skyscrapers, fights in alleyways, and even a fight in a Lego store. Chan’s set-pieces are as creative as ever, and fit just as well into a serious action-drama as they do into his sillier flicks where plot is more often subverted for guns and fist-fights. If the drama falls flat in New Police Story, one can hardly blame the action scenes.
The problem lies more with the script, and somewhat with Chan himself. Focusing on the drama doesn’t make a film more resonant if the drama is as two-dimensionally drawn out as it is here. The filmmakers go after emotions but not so much for their varied causes, whose exploration elevated similar films like Infernal Affairs (which New Police Story so clearly hopes to ape). Chan is a tortured soul, but the movie thinks that endless scenes of the Chan-ster weeping like a baby are the best way to reinforce this point.
Chan does surprisingly well as a slick, (dare I say it?) cool, plain-clothes cop early in the movie, but inspires little pathos with his later barrages of blubbery tears. The scenes where he is required to show his character’s tragic dependency to alcohol are almost laugh-out-loud funny, as J.C. looks more like his Drunken Master character than a man desperately trying to drown his anguish.
And as for the rocky love story between Officer Chan and his long-suffering fiancé…well let’s just say that you’ll always know when this particular subplot is asking you to shed some tears.There are more than enough pretty young extras who stand around crying whenever the pair have a “special” moment to let the audience know just how much their love is supposed to warm our hearts. (“It’s so touching” weeps one character when Chan stages an elaborate wedding proposal for his beloved. If you say so!)
If one ignores the attempts at wrenching one’s heart, however, New Police Story can provide a thrill or two. The plot may be ridiculous, but it moves along at a fine pace, jumping from Chan’s attempts to beat the needlessly-elaborate traps set by his opponents to gun-battles above Hong Kong with only the occasional pause. Some cash was obviously put into the CGI work in this film, and the filming is as stylish as any Hollywood blockbuster. Of course, this means that the Blu-Ray version is even better, and that high definition really makes the film’s sweeping shots of the Hong Kong skyline look all the prettier.
It may not be a step above the original Police Story series, but if seen as a more lavish, better-paced version, and naturally hip version of Gen X Cops—the Chan produced crime movie that introduced the world to Tse back in the day—then it succeeds. The film’s big name teen-idols are mostly killed off early (Philip Ng) or kept in the background (Charlene Choi), rather than flaunted to the detriment of the overall picture, while Daniel Wu is able to top his performance as a dim-witted crime-lord in Gen X Cops by playing—as the leader of the bank-thieves—a more complex version of the same character. And in the end, having Jackie Chan as your lead instead of just showing up in a cameo (Wu Bai has that honor this time around) never hurts, at least so long as he’s crying less because of the bad guys than they are because of him.
The new Blu-Ray version is part of a line of high-definition re-releases that includes such Criterion-worth titles as Red Heat and Air America. In such company, maybe New Police Story really does start to look like the serious drama Chan hoped it would be. The Blu-Ray does come with some good features (besides the beauty of watching the action scenes in high-def), however, including a “Making Of” documentary and a commentary track from the always hilarious action star himself.