Let’s be honest, what is there really left to say about Police Story? It’s one of the icons of Hong Kong action, it launched a 7 movie spanning franchise, it was pivotal in making Jackie Chan one of the most beloved faces in world cinema, and above all that, it is one of the best action movies ever made. Right up there with Hard Boiled, Die Hard, Fury Road, Seven Samurai, and any number of other titles I could mention, Police Story is their equal. The 1985 movie that was both directed and starred Jackie Chan has been talked about endlessly by those on all rungs of the film ladder from the trashy to the high art, so much so, I am honestly a little surprised that it hasn’t been put out on Eureka’s masters of cinema label, it certainly has the credentials.
For those unfamiliar with this icon, Jackie stars as Chan Ka-Kui – a graduate fresh out of training and assigned to his new role in the Hong Kong police. The first case that he is working on is a large one with him working as part of a vast team who are after bringing down the crime empire of Chao Tao (Chor Yuen, a fellow renowned action director). A case that gets out of order with him protecting a high profile witness, May (Maggie Cheung), much to the chagrin of his long-suffering girlfriend, Selina (Brigitte Lin). In one of the extras, Chan admitted that he had the idea for the two major legend securing scenes, he just needed a writer to bridge these scenarios together and provide a satisfying arc. Enter Edward Tang, his long-time collaborator with 11 of his 12 writer credits coming from working with Jackie Chan. But let’s be fair, despite the title implying otherwise, the story is not top of the priorities. As bad as that sounds, not having a concrete script is not as critical an error as it sounds, it’s a filmmaking technique that dates all the way back to Buster Keaton – famously, a major influence on Police Story’s star.
Before we get to the towering centerpieces, I would be remiss to mention the comedy. I must have seen this movie at least 7 or 8 times, yet I always forget about the gags this thing contains. Like the scene with Jackie talking about his girlfriend in none too flattering terms while he is in the shower oblivious to her overhearing every single word, or the fake murderer, or the number of cakes in faces, or the scene where he answers all the phones at the same time. They are easy to forget as they just aren’t that funny. Amusing, yes, but not funny. The scene with him answering all the phones at the same time is a classic goofy comedy conceit and the crossing of so many wires at once is fun – just not all that funny. While many of his movies do have funny moments, there is only really one film that I would openly describe as consistently funny and that is the Young Master.
I have strung you on long enough, I described Police Story as one of the best action movies ever made so its about time I talk about just that. There are two action scenes that are worthy of such hyperbole with a third that suffers the shame of just being merely excellent. The first sees a shanty town built on a Hong Kong hill for an insane 10-minute sequence. The scene starts as a simple shoot out that concludes with cars barrelling down this temporary town destroying everything in sight. This is the very definition of a one-take-only shot and it is incredible. That would be a great full stop for anyone else, not Jackie Chan, this is merely the spot to breathe before picking up again. Without a car, Chan takes off on foot armed only with his police issue pistol and an umbrella and what unfolds is the work of a man who perfectly straddles an adoration for Buster Keaton’s insane stunt work and the traditions of Hong Kong’s unparalleled action history, and all on the side of a moving bus. There are no words for how good this is. Then, at the end of the film, when Tao and his men have driven our hero into a corner, he chases them into a local mall. What follows is a string of ridiculousness that could only be described as both Jackie Chan and his stunt team throwing themselves off and through everything. And how is this capped? With Jackie Chan sliding down through a chandelier made only of lights using his hands for protection. Its presentation fits in with one of this madman’s many tropes, in the edit, it is replayed multiple times in slow-mo. As far as ending an action film, this takes some beating. In fact, if you haven’t seen Police Story, I envy you being able to see these things for the first time.
There we have it, one of the definitive action classics. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sequel, which also features in this Eureka release. Let’s be fair, Police Story is a hard act to follow. And according to the tradition that extends across the globe, a successful film needs a follow up that makes everything bigger and bolder, right? No. What we have in Police Story (part) 2 is a lumpen and convoluted police procedural where a group of bomber’s blow up a conglomerate’s shopping center and demand heavy payment to stop them from trying the same trick again. Which, I have to be honest, is drawn out to its boring conclusion. Some consequences from the first film also play out with members of Tao’s gang after revenge, an arc that is peppered by the same gag of Jackie Chan punching the ringleader in his glasses.
I really have to stress how inferior this one is, take the length as the perfect barometer. The first film was around 95 minutes, even the American and Japanese cuts in the extras are still fairly sprightly. Police Story 2 is over 2 hours long, and most of that is given over to some fairly drawn out and dull investigation. Admittedly it has some amazingly inaccurate 1980s future tech, which is always fun, but that cannot paper over the cracks this thing has. Yes, the film is still enjoyable for the first half keeping up the lightning pace of its precursor but once it moves into the second hour its almost as if all of its considerable momentum drives straight into a wall, stopping dead. It’s hard to come back from that sort of thing. As overwritten as the investigation is, there is gold in this sequel. The first hour is great, in particular, there is a scene where Jackie Chan (complete with fake mustache) goes undercover to find out where the bad guys bought their dynamite from and that section is just as good as anything the Hong Kong superstar has ever done. Same for the final face-off in the fireworks factory and the fight with Benny Lai. Police Story 2 rewards the patient, the irony here, however, is that this sequel is funnier. Let’s just ignore how insensitive the Benny Lai character is.
Let’s be fair though, the fact that Eureka has added the inferior sequel matters little – the way I think of it is as a really good bonus feature. That may be demeaning some good if highly inconsistent work, but that just stresses how good the original is. If anything would have swayed this harsh opinion it would come from Eureka being a bit more ambitious. Police Story 3: Supercop, First Strike, and, Michelle Yeoh spin-off, Project-S have either never had a good UK release or even been released in the UK full stop. I know, I am being picky, especially with the ownership contests these titles are usually tied up in. Still, that would’ve turned this frankly excellent release to one of the most peerless releases in years for all fans of Hong Kong action and Kung-Fu cinema. Still, to see Police Story in such gorgeous clarity with a bounty of extras is a massive gift to a fanbase that is consistently and undeservedly overlooked.