No foolin’. The 1985 cult-classic Police Story, finds the matchless Jackie Chan channeling plenty of Buster Keaton (and a tad bit of Clint Eastwood) as he does his own foolhardy, breathtaking stunts in an exhilarating adventure flick that certainly contains some of the best action sequences in the history of film. In this and its less gratifying sequel, whether doing slapstick routines or wildly reckless stunts, Chan has never been more stellar on screen; he’s the real deal.
Chan plays Ka-Kui, a hapless police officer with no fear and a heart of gold. In Police Story, he’s assigned to protect a witness (Brigitte Lin) would could help bring down the evil drug baron, Chu. However, after a few plot twists, Ka-Kui finds himself on the run, framed for murder and fighting to clear his name. Police Story II (1988) finds Chan’s character now demoted as a lowly traffic cop until he sets his sights on taking down the terrorists that have not only threatened all of Hong Kong but also kidnapped his lovely girlfriend, May (the brilliant Maggie Cheung).
The plot of each film is of no major importance for most viewers. Police Story and Police Story II both contain a rather forgettable premise with scenes of either amusing or intense dialogue that exist merely as speed bumps to connect the many stupefying action sequences together. Plot turns exist, but they don’t really matter like the action does. Calling a Jackie Chan film “action-packed” seems a bit superfluous but these two pictures put most all his other work, from Rush Hour to Forbidden Kingdom, to shame.
Chan didn’t prove to be a successful box office draw in the United States until 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx, but these films, along with Legend of the Drunken Master, are the ones to watch to best witness his remarkable skills. You’ll be sure to marvel at the jaw-dropping, death-defying stunt work that only Chan can provide without the use of a single stunt double or special effect. Police Story, especially, is a visual tour de force.
In Police Story we see a procession of cars smash through countless tarpaper buildings as they rush down a steep hillside. We see Chan and company tumble onto unforgiving asphalt, take countless punches, scale walls, and slam through dozens of glass display cases in the film’s climactic fight scene at a shopping mall.
In its most wonderfully absurd set piece, Chan dangles like a rag doll clinging only to an umbrella attached to a speeding double-decker bus while avoiding oncoming traffic. The stunt’s not just risky, it’s astounding to watch.
Much of the charm is that it’s really Chan, putting his life on the line for audiences with each incredible, daring stunt. There’s no intercutting or camera trickery. Under no circumstances would your typical lead actor risk his neck scrambling up the sides of buildings or making dangerous leaps on top of moving vehicles. Meanwhile, Chan executes those types of scenes as a phenomenally trained acrobat while (as a director) choosing the most dynamic, astute camera shots. Both films beautifully capture the Chan and his flock of fellow actors as they tumble, kick, punch, and dive while risking life and limb to achieve a remarkable, sometimes painful dose of reality to the wonderfully choreographed sequences.
There’s also a sense of comedy that permeates the entirety of both films, which is now trademark Chan. Chan’s comic persona makes Ka-Kau a likeable regular guy who mouths off at inappropriate times and is occasionally hilariously clumsy for such a martial artist. Now almost 20 years since the release of Police Story, all too many action films still are afraid to incorporate humorous, lighthearted moments into the fury of punches, bullets, and explosions. But things like the three (yes, three) cakes to-the-face Chan receives and heaps of comical miscommunication between characters only make Police Story a more entertaining and complete motion picture.
Additionally, Chan gives a tremendous, yet brief, emotionally-wrought performance in Police Story when a distressed Ka-Kui snaps, accused of a crime by his peers, that he hasn’t surpassed until his surprisingly emotive turn as Mr. Han in the Karate Kid reboot. And while there are a few glaring flaws in both films like uneven pacing, strange dialogue and limited character development for anyone not played by Chan, the original film in the Police Story series is an epic unlike any that preceded it.
Police Story II is less satisfying from an inventive standpoint, but is perhaps more accomplished with its scale and ambition, complete with fiery explosions and a remarkable fight sequence through playground equipment. Again there are also plenty of gags that work thanks to Chan’s slapstick timing. But, all in all, the sequel drags in a way that an eye-popping action film never should.
Even so, both films, which Chan also directed and co-wrote, rightfully remain hallmarks of Hong Kong action cinema. Chan’s career has been a thrilling whirlwind experience that seems, in retrospect, all a bit downhill from his brilliance here.
The Blu-ray disc does come with a miniscule amount of brief special features for both films including outtakes (most of which already appear during each film’s closing credits) and a few theatrical trailers. The image quality of the Blu-ray itself is somewhat lacking with colors sometimes muted and the picture occasionally a little grainy.
Avoid the cartoonish English-dubbed version of either film at all cost; its poor quality results in the stuff lousy stereotypes are made of. Stick to the original Cantonese dialogue with English subtitles if you’d like to appreciate the stories surrounding Chan’s thrilling performances.