A Hong Kong cop goes to great lengths and heights to catch a drug lord.
Directed by Jackie Chan
Starring Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, and Brigitte Lin
Review by Jon Kissel
The comedy of Police Story is in keeping with Chan’s persona, but it doesn’t stand up next to the wildly varying tones of the rest of the film. Heavily evocative of silent era stars like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin if they could do a roundhouse kick, Chan could make a pretty good silent film. He’s got the hammy instincts, but I do doubt that a film could have a furious, vein-bulging speech about the arbitrary constraints put on good policemen like Chan’s Ka-Kui and the aforementioned cake gags. Setting aside the dated nature of stalking Salina as an endearing joke or of how immediately the telephone gag is deflated by the mention of domestic abuse and rape, Police Story’s setpieces are clearly demarcated between vaudevillian comedy routines and life-threatening action sequences. One of those is so superior to the other that the comedy becomes a stall on the way to the fireworks factory. It’s not that none of the jokes work: the cut from Ka-Kui defending Salina from assassins to driving the resultant destroyed car on the freeway is some universal cinematic language. The exaggerated stuff that could be wholly cut out with no impact to the film is what wrinkles my forehead.
There’s plenty of brow-furrowing to be done with Police Story, but it comes after the awe has worn off and the viewer is left to wonder about Soderbergh’s Fury Road comments. Considering how Chan didn’t die during production is the work of several brainstorming sessions. This might be a statement regarding a broken movie that couldn’t suspend disbelief, but I was very concerned for his safety throughout, in a way that I’m not with someone like Cruise. The stunts that Chan gets up to here put Police Story in the realm of Jackass, which I say lovingly because those movies, like this one at its best, are pure cinema. Chan, who is also directing, is pushing everyone in the stunt cast to do their very best work, not because he’s some kind of behind-the-camera dictator but because he gives himself the most difficult tasks. A lot of the experience of watching Police Story is marveling at the human body, followed by awaiting which stunts-gone-wrong are going to make it into the blooper reel over the credits. Chan gives himself nowhere to hide in a lot of these stunts, making it clear that it is indeed him sliding down a hundred foot poll or being thrown face-first off a twenty foot drop.
The physicality is one thing, and the precision is another. Seeing a thug tossed through a window is a stunt any action flick can do. It’s only Chan and a few others that can throw a goon through the air and land him exactly in the human shaped hole of a glass-topped coffee table like he’s draining a three. Chan’s beefcake shot is so surprising because his persona is that of a clown and clown’s don’t have bodies like that. His contemporaries front-load their physicality while Chan downplays his, and the effect is the tiny extra bit of surprise that someone like his character just perfectly aimed his body through a car windshield. It’s humanizing and endearing towards someone who, based on what their body can do, is otherwise an unrecognizable god.
The score might be completely wrong for Police Story and the story might be insubstantial, but this is a titanic accomplishment in spite of its flaws. This is the best thing I’ve ever seen from Chan. The level of respect I had for him after I realized midway through that he also directed this added to an already substantial amount of awe and respect. He’s probably got a lot of clunkers on his resume, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing all of them. If he can endure serious burns sliding through exploding light bulbs, I can tap my toe through questionable comedy routines in anticipation of the gold nuggets that I know must exist. B+