Film

Jackie Chan's High-Kicking '80s Cop Movies Are Back!

Re-releases of Police Story and Police Story 2 show writer-director-star Jackie Chan in his finest fighting style -- along with his usual over mugging for the camera.

Police Story
Jackie Chan

Janus Films / Criterion Collection

30 Apr 2019

Other
Police Story 2
Jackie Chan

Janus Films

1988

Other

Sporting the same shaggy mop of hair and the slightly bemused look of a sleepy John Cusack, Jackie Chan rolls into 1985's Police Story like some kid fresh out of the Peking Opera School and not a pro who had already been working in the Hong Kong film industry for over 20 years. It's part of the reason why attempts in the previous decade to turn him into the new Bruce Lee never quite worked. Lee had an otherworldly, feline fierceness that he couldn't hide if he tried; whereas Chan projected a quality somewhere between teddy bear and underdog, which made his sudden eruptions of martial-arts skill all the more surprising. When Lee took out his opponents, his preternatural confidence produced an effect that was thrilling but somewhat preordained. When Chan emerged victorious from a brawl, he usually seemed surprised that things actually turned out his way.

One of the reasons that Police Story—which is getting a remastered re-release, along with its 1988 sequel from Janus Films (on Blu-ray from Criterion 30 April 2019) blew away Asian audiences was because of its ability to channel Chan's quality as an everyman who emerges out of any number of scrapes by the skin of his teeth. It certainly had little to do with the plot. Like any number of cop movies cluttering screens in America at the time, it was built in rickety fashion around a supercilious drug lord villain, Chu Tao (Yuen Chor) who arrogantly mocks the efforts of good honest cops like Ka Kui (Chan) to bring him in. But no matter how many action scenes that Chan dives, flips, and hurtles through here like he was in a high-octane Looney Tunes short, his basic modesty carries the day.

It helps that Chan also orchestrated a number of set pieces that still impress over three decades later. The opening sequence starts off with a bust in a hillside squatter village. It turns first into a running gun battle, then a see-it-to-believe-it chase with cars just blasting through the village's flimsy shacks, and finally Ka Kui running down a double-decker bus and climbing onboard using an umbrella

.The rambunctious and virtuosic action scenes come to a quick stop, then, for the plot machinery to wheeze into action. A good deal of Police Story is squandered on following Ka Kui getting into one tight spot after another like a put-upon sitcom dad. First his straight-arrow commander is furious with him for all the damage caused. Then his girlfriend May (a passive turn from Maggie Cheung, shamefully not given a chance to throw a single punch or kick) suspects him of having an affair with gangster moll Selina (Brigitte Lin), who he's assigned to protect. At one point, Ka Kui steps in animal dung, and to wipe it off ends up doing a quick improvised moonwalk.

Well, it was the '80s.

By the time Chan the director cranks up the gears for the final showdown, the movie's supply of so-so situation comedy has just about exhausted even his capacity for over-the-top mugging. Fortunately, it's a doozy. Set in one of Hong Kong's vertical shopping malls, it makes full use of the soaring atrium spaces and glass displays as Ka Kui leaps and twirls and lays waste to a sequence of hapless henchmen. Without even pretending that the whole movie wasn't all leading up to this moment, Ka Kui leaps out into the atrium and slides several stories down a long string of lights and smashes through a glass ceiling. In case you missed the stunt the first time, the editors cut immediately after to show it again from a different angle. And then yet again, like a football broadcast going replay crazy.

The first release from Chan's production company, Police Story was a big hit, spawning its own series. Three years later came the first sequel. Again, the storyline is nothing much. The gangster overlord is out of prison and highly smug about it. Meanwhile, somebody is calling in bomb threats on local businesses. Having been demoted to traffic cop for his insolence ("You're too agile for your own good!" his commander shouts) Ka Kui is stuck at first on the sidelines. Eventually, of course, he's back in it, once the powers that be decide that only a highly agile supercop like Ka Kui can get them out of this jamb.

There are a few neatly executed moments, such as a Buster Keaton-esque scene with Ka Kui on getting tangled up in phone cords. But Police Story 2 spends far too much time trafficking in lazy comedy—a henchman who keeps getting his glasses smashed, a whole elevator sequence designed around a fart joke. Fortunately, it embraces the decade with abandon, insistently bleating a synth soundtrack, staging a final showdown in a barrel-filled fireworks warehouse that's like a live-action game of Donkey Kong, and giving Ka Kui a band of cool-kid cop sidekicks (Special Surveillance Squad!) whose high hair and snappy duds are fit for 21 Jump Street night at Danceteria. The movie also ups the ante in a batch of action sequences that see Chan darting and weaving around his assailants with a furious, almost weightless speed.

A few years later, Chan would be on to better things, like the less shambolic sequel Supercop and his career masterpiece, Drunken Master II. These box office hits are not quite on the level of those audacious later works. But at a time when action cinema has generally tossed out clever choreography in favor of pummeling overkill, they are reminders of what an action star can be when he shows that anyone can throw a punch but few can make it funny.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.