Oh, it's you again. Hello. Are you here for Day 4 of the 7 Days of Jackie Chan? No? You're actually here for the massage and colonic? Oh, that's down the hall and to your right. No, wait. Maybe you take a left. I'm not sure anymore. Do you have a few minutes? I can validate your parking if you want.
Okay, done. Now that you're here, let's talk about the next movie on our impromptu marathon of Jackie Chan flicks, shall we? No, don't try to run. The doors are locked from the outside. I, myself, can't even leave. So we're going to be here for a while. That's right. It's just you and me (and Jackie makes three).
Today we're discussing another old school classic from the master of stunts that are just as wacky as they are deadly: Police Story (1985).
This might sound mean, but Police Story is a film I’ve never really wanted to see.
I'm not a big fan of cop dramas, especially those from the 1980s. There’s something about that sub-genre that's too "cut and dry" for me. Maybe it's because most are talky pieces of shit that feature only one or two action sequences maximum, which are usually car chases or shoot outs. Police Story sounded like it would be pretty straight-forward like this from the get-go, even though I knew that everybody would be Kung Fu fighting at one point or another. So why get excited?
But who was I kidding? This ain’t some boring ass procedural. This is a Jackie Chan movie, bitch. That means two things. One, it’s going to involve a lot of balls-to-the-wall-of-the-hall action. Two, it’s going to be weird and silly. So obviously I was going to enjoy the shit out of it. (I think you just missed that colonic appointment, by the way.)
Why did I enjoy Police Story more than I expected?
First and foremost, let me state the obvious. The stunts in this film are absolutely, fantastically, breathtakingly incredible. This may sound like what your average Jo(sephine) would say about any Jackie Chan movie. But trust me on this. I'm telling the truth and nothing but.
Don’t believe me? Fine. I didn't think you would. See for yourself, then.
Forget to breathe? Good.
Yes, folks, this is probably the best stunt film Jackie Chan has ever directed and starred in. And, yeah, okay, that's a premature statement, seeing as I haven’t sat through most of his other efforts just yet.
But you know what? I don’t care. There are very few action films that leave me feeling starstruck. Fury Road is one of them. Dredd is another. And just like those two, Police Story makes me gape in awe at the level of production, bravery, and cojones that went into its production. The final climax sequence at the mall is so badass it makes you wonder how they even rehearsed it. (Possible answer: maybe they didn’t!)
Despite its title, Police Story’s narrative isn’t what you would expect from a story about, well, the police. Yes, it’s full of crime and intrigue and guns and gangsters, but a majority of its running time is spent on Jackie Chan’s character, Ka-kui, trying to protect Salina, a young woman whom the cops hope will testify against an untouchable crime lord named Chu Tu. This means there are a lot of comical moments that will have you chuckling along with Jackie Chan as opposed to politely laughing at him like some of his later movies will have you do.
Also, the performances given here, especially by Chan himself, are grrrreat. Having watched a few of his older films the past three days, I can't help but notice that his acting seems more passionate and naturalistic compared to his latter day efforts. Which is yet another reason why I’ve shied away from diving into his body of work until now. I didn’t want to watch some two-dimensional public figure who has a constant smile tattooed on his face roundhouse kick somebody in the face. Call me crazy, but I like to have my heroes to show a range of emotion.
Ka-kui, Chan's character, has a lot of range. JC finds an ideal equilibrium between the smiley nice guy from later on in his career and the eager young serious actor from his salad days. Playing Ka-kui indulges Chan's comical proclivity while also giving his dramatic acting chops some real meat to chew on, adding a dash of leftover youthful cockiness from Drunken Master to taste. I felt this role let Chan's true personality shine. (Could be another reason why this is his personal favorite film?)
Police Story has something else that I really love about it, an element that’s hard to put into words (but I'm going to try). It's got that ephemeral sense of mid-1980s mystique - that sense that you’re peering into another dimension, a different world that’s both old and new at once, where anything can happen. There’s no computer generated graphics, no sign of digital artifice. Just straight up raw action made with tangible materials, real people, and immense talent. This is the kind of movie that makes you think, “Wow, how did they do that back then?” And the only real answer is: they put their hearts and souls into it.
And that's something you can definitely feel. Police Story is a passion project made by Chan in the wake of his failed attempt at breaking into the American market with The Protector, a B-movie directed by James Glickenhaus (Frankenhooker, The Exterminator). I haven’t seen that one yet, although I’m certainly interested, because the friction between the two created a creative schism that ultimately lead the movie to fall into a pit of obscurity. Glickenhaus refused to let Chan choreograph the action sequences, insisting that his brand of action would never be popular with American audiences. Which may have been the case in the early ‘80s, but ten years later, it most definitely would not be.
After this frustrating experience, Chan set out to make his own personal vision of what an action/crime film would play out like. Thus, we have Police Story, one of his most exciting movies ever. Let’s take a moment to thank the Gods and Goddesses of Kung Fu cinema that we do.
Is this an essential Jackie Chan film? Yes, yes, and yes. Is it his best of all time? Hmm. That depends. If you’re speaking strictly in spectacle terms, then yes. Yes, this is probably his best.
If you’re viewing it from a storytelling perspective, then probably not. Despite its curious home brew of quirky slapstick humor and emotional intrigue, the actual plot itself is nothing to write home about. If you think about it, its existence is almost purely functionary, as it seems mostly concerned with establishing set-pieces and gags.
But that's okay! It still achieves what any good story should - it gets you to care about its characters, not by begging or tricking you into doing so, but by just casually introducing you to their personalities. You may not understand their motivations when you first shake their hands, but that’s because they’re still figuring those out for themselves.
In the end, what’s not to be missed about Police Story is, well, the end itself. As previously mentioned, the mall sequence is the film’s money shot (the destruction of the shanty town in the beginning is a close second). It’s also notable because it closes the events just like his earlier martial arts films have - with Jackie Chan defeating the big bad guy, his fists blazing, his screams raw, his fury limitless as the supporting cast watches on in triumph disguised as shock. And just like those riveting Kung Fu endings, it may not logically resolve anything, but it gives us a sense of emotional closure, and that’s what really matters.
So I lied. The doors don't really lock from the outside, and I'm not going to validate your parking. Don't let that stop you from coming back tomorrow for Day 5, when we see what the Armour of God really looks like. Ciao!