Guest blogger Shawn McKenna writes:
French film-maker Jean-Luc Godard once said that the best criticism a director can make of one film is to make another. Jackie Chan was so dissatisfied with his experience on the cop drama The Protector, his second staring lead in an American film after Battle Creek Brawl, that he decided to make his own police story under his underused vanity label Golden Ways Films Ltd.
In Hong Kong, he would have much more control over the script, stunt coordination and direction (he made sure he would direct this film) that if he was going to flounder it would be on his terms. The result of his efforts is one of my favorite action films as well as Jackie’s personal favorite amongst his modern fare. I consider this a classic among action cinema and I hope I can persuade you to see this, if you have not already, like I attempted to with my previous essay on Yojimbo.
Chan is Chan Ka-kui, a model Hong Kong cop who gets involved in a police procedural code-named Operation Boar Hunt to take down a triad led by Chu Tu (prolific director/actor Chor Yuen). This operation begins in a shanty town specifically built for the film. The detail is extraordinary in the design and like everything created for an action film it is short-lived. In one of the most awesome car chases I have ever witnessed on screen (for me up there with Bullitt and The Blues Brothers mall scene) Chu Tu after being cornered by the police decide to drive through the hovels instead of being captured and Chan decides to chase after. The juxtaposition of having the camera in the vehicle and long shots in which stuntmen are scurrying to avoid being hit (several stuntmen were injured in this scene) are sagacious in displaying the maelstrom of destruction.
That, and it is just pretty damn cool.
Most films would have given a respite after that tumultuous scene of car and house derby but as soon as Chan finishes the car chase he goes into foot mode while running after a double-decker bus that Chu Tu and a few of his cronies hijacked.
In several of these scenes as he catches up to the bus he is literally hanging by an umbrella as he holds unto the outside of the bus trying to climb his way in while fighting people who do not want him aboard as well as dodging traffic as the bus speeds along. Two of the stuntmen got hurt at the end of this scene where Ka Kui forces the bus to stop and as they flew out of the top windows they were supposed to land on top of the car that was stopped in the middle of the road but the backward momentum of the brakes as the bus rocked backward after stopping made them undershoot the stunt and land on the road.
Police Story has a stronger storyline than most Chan movies to connect the action scenes. After the arrest of Chu Tu, Inspector Li sets up his secretary Selina Fong (Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia) by letting her go free of all charges to try to pit her against her boss. Ka Kui is assigned to protect her (several scenes of this scenario were cut out of the film). This, of course, will interfere and cause problems with his girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, whose relationship with Jackie is underplayed though that would change in the sequel). Chan tries to trick Selina into trusting him by pretending to save the day when Mars attacks Selina in her apartment. What ultimately happens because of this is predictable as well as the cop working for the triad but these are mere trifles.
The comedy is underrated in this film. There is a great sequence in which Jackie is assigned to the Sha Tau Kok Police Station, a rural area in the north eastern corner of Hong Kong, after he completely messes up the prosecution of Chu Tu. He deftly tries to answer several phones and juggle several conversations at the same time while not being really successful in solving any of them.
Like Project A, his influence by silent film comedians is shown in how he performs this skit with physical perfection. This scene is so sublime I cannot fathom why this was missing in older American prints. I also enjoyed a nice little scene where Jackie does this beautiful car-slide stunt by doing the ultimate parallel parking literary by sliding the car parallel into a spot barely bigger than the car.
For many action fans the highlight of this film is the final sequence nicknamed “Glass Story” by the stuntmen. It takes place in a mall where Jackie has cornered Chu Tu and his cronies. It is 10 minutes of superlative martial arts, stunts and action. The highlights include great fights by Jackie with clothes racks, Brigitte Lin doing her own fighting, Chan doing a great jump into moving stairs, lots and lots of broken glass and the famous multi-story slide down a pole.
Jackie severely burnt his hands on his slide down, partially attributed to the wrong voltage being set on the lights attached to it and it is also mentioned on several web sites and his own autobiography that he injured his spine and hip on that drop. This is a bit doubtful (though I have had arguments on this point) because on a camera with an alternate angle from the floor shown in certain deleted footage shows him bouncing up after the fall and slugging a stuntman and according to Fung Hak-on hurting him. If you have ever had a back injury (I have several times) you usually do not do get up after it happens or beat up your stuntmen.
This movie not only influenced the Hong Kong action picture and spawned several sequels, it would also influence American action pictures. Sylvester Stallone would use the bus scene in Tango and Cash; the shanty chase popped up in Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II; and several early scenes were copied in Rapid Fire. Brett Ratner took so much from this film in making Rush Hour (self-admitted in Ratner’s commentary on Rush Hour as well as Dragon Dynasty’s Police Story DVD) and countless other action choreographers and directors would be directly or indirectly affected by this work. This movie was created because of the visionary ideas of Jackie Chan and also because of the exhaustive effort of Sing Ga Ban – Jackie Chan’s Stuntman Association and their every increasing attempts to outdo the rival stuntman association led by Sammo Hung. Their backbreaking accomplishments helped make this a hit (26 million HK dollars and win the Best Film for the Hong Kong Film Awards) and became a favorite of action auteur directors everywhere.
I was so happy to get a R1 version of this film when Dragon Dynasty put out the DVD in 2006. (This version, pictured at left, is currently unavailable. Ed.) The quality of the picture could be better (Police Story 2 from Dragon Dynasty has a much better print) but overall I am satisfied with it. The commentary with Hong Kong action movie expert Bey Logan and director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) was decent with Logan pointing out small tidbits of information like how Sammo Hung asked Bill Tung for horse advice during shooting, pointing out the cameo by Clarence Ford (Naked Killer) as the photographer and also pointing out who every person acting was though sometimes this got annoying. I did wish he would have put more info about one of my favorite actors Fung Hak-on who helped with the stunt choreography and acted as Danny Chu. Ratner would talk about how this movie influenced him and occasionally get his facts wrong (like confuse Brigitte Lin with Maggie Cheung) and was completely ignorant about many Jackie Chan films (Winners and Sinners and every other early Jackie Chan film except Drunken Master) but was still a decent listen.
There are deleted scenes, alternate opening and ending, A Tribute to Jackie Chan, A conversation with Jackie Chan, Stunts Unlimited: A retrospective with members of the celebrated Jackie Chan stunt team and trailers. It has Cantonese and English soundtracks though Jackie was not yet using his voice on the Cantonese dubbing.
This movie has also been released by Shout! on BD and DVD with Police Story 2. But they lack the plethora of extras that the Dragon Dynasty releases have.
Book: I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action (1998) with Jeff Yang.
Book: Planet Hong Kong (Second Edition: 2011) by David Bordwell
Book: The Hong Kong Filmography, 1977-1999 (2009) by John Charles
Reviews at HKMDB and IMDB.
Unholy Dedication: A History of Jackie Chan’s “Police Story” Franchise (June 4, 2015 by Simon Abrams)
Shawn McKenna (aka masterofoneinchpunch in our Disqus forums) is obsessed with all things associated with movies and is an administrator of The Criterion Forums. When not making money as a software engineer, talking about movies at the gym or worried that his DVD/BD pile will one day collapse and suffocate him, he is actually watching movies.