40×40: Police Story (1985)

Directed and co-written by Jackie Chan

“You want to be a hero. I’ll make you a tragic hero.”

Why Did I Get This?

I’ve always enjoyed a Jackie Chan film, but have never really seen that many of them – I know his work by reputation and occasional viral clips really.

But after finally getting round to watching Drunken Master for a Late Review last year, I asked Twitter to recommend which of his movies I should seek out next and Police Story was a pretty common recommendation.

Couple of weeks later, I spotted it in a charity shop for 20p and couldn’t pass it up which means this is a Late Review, but one of the least dusty discs on my shelves. Still though, looking forward to it, so let’s go…

The Late Review

Following an explosive undercover sting, Inspector Chan Ka-Kui (Jackie Chan), is assigned to protect Salina Fong (Brigitte Lin), a vital witness in a case to prosecute a Hong Kong crime lord Chu Tao (Chor Yuen). When the witness flees and the trial collapses, Ka-Kui’s police poster boy image is left in tatters and he is targeted by the villain and framed for murder. To clear his name and take down the mob, Ka-Kui takes the fight to Chu Tao.

Well, this is an absolute treat.

From the gloriously 1980s audio and video of the Hong Kong logos, the mob boss’ giant mobile phone and the exposition dump disguised as an undercover cop briefing, we’re off to a great start. Cops are told to “memorise and destroy” their roles in the sting operation, and we get a lot of furtive looks and shredded manilla files before we’re in a ramshackle town watching shit go sideways.

Obviously, I was aware of Jackie Chan’s action status and stunt team, but watching the carefully choreographed destruction of an entire hillside village by cars and explosions while stunt performers risk life and limb amidst the chaos really made it clear just how impressive his work was, long before he stepped in front of Hollywood cameras.

A still image doesn’t really do it justice, but the chase and unfolding destruction is truly spectacular. Unlike the ‘homage’ (and I’m using that term loosely), in Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II, this isn’t a glamorous, destruction-porn sequence with quips, glorious lighting and editing as breakneck as the vehicles – this is a down-and-dirty chase sequence which feels far more satisfying than its big-budget Hollywood rip-off.

But wait, it’s not over, as the chase continues down the hillside and onto a speeding bus, which Jackie Chan uses an umbrella to catch and swing about on as it hurtles down the road. Like a tough guy Frank Spencer, he finds himself dangling from the back of the bus, before climbing to the top deck, then getting twatted out of a window as he tries to get on board. Undeterred, he races ahead and manages to stop the driver with a tiny revolver (I know they’re standard police issue, but look ludicrously small in the performers’ hands), and forces an emergency stop which causes three goons to smash through the windows and land on the tarmac right next to him.

Honestly, I honked like a goose when I saw that – a brilliant and hugely entertaining way to round off the greatest opening ten minutes of film I’ve seen in a long time.

After a bollocking from his Superintendent for the mission going sideways (feels like a disapproving M versus Bond scene), Ka-Kui is made poster boy for the force because, despite causing untold amounts of destruction during the sting, he managed to deny a bribe from the mob boss and arrest him.

As a former crime reporter, what struck me here is the Hong Kong media’s eagerness to celebrate the arrest of the crime lord before any actual prosecution has taken place – I get it, there’s bound to be a bit of media interest in the case, but to have an entire television interview and documentary recorded and air before the trial has even taken place seems like something that would utterly scupper a British legal case now, let alone in 1985.

Still, it gives us a funny little montage of Jackie Chan wearing various police outfits for the cameras and looking generally uncomfortable about it, so that’s good.

Which sort of brings us to the comic aspects of Police Story.

Like the comedy performances in Drunken Master, the lighter aspects of Police Story are frequently accompanied by wacky, Carry On… style music and facial gurning from Chan to really hammer home the gags. I assume it speaks of the difference between Eastern and Western humour that I find it a little jarring, but viewing it in context, I guess it it works just fine.

That being said, a significant amount of the physical humour (at least in the earlier half of the film), seems to involve Ka-Kui’s girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung) – she gets yanked off a moving scooter, crushes a pair of cakes in Chan’s face, and later causes a car to crash through a phone box her boyfriend is using.

We also get some innuendo-filled farce with Salina (who records some innocent but potentially incriminating audio while in Ka-Kui’s protection which ultimately derails the crime boss’s trial), and some lovely physical business with Chan trying to hold four phone conversations at the same time while scooting between desks on an office chair. This sequence is a great laugh, but contains some of the most cringe-inducing policing advice to a rape victim you could imagine.

But let’s face it, we’re not watching Police Story for the gags are we? We want more action, and by jingo, does it deliver.

The fight sequences, designed by Jackie Chan and his stunt team, are simply astounding. Everyone taking part moves so fluidly, and quickly, it’s incredible – and while the actual brawls themselves feel very well planned and choreographed, every single fall looks like it hurt like fuck.

I’m sure there were some health and safety protocols in place, but man, I’m amazed half these guys managed to get back up after being thrown onto concrete floors, into brick walls, down flights of stairs or through bus windows onto tarmac.

By the time we get to the final showdown between Ka-Kui and a team of goons in a multistorey shopping centre, we don’t just get evidence of Chan’s insane stunt capabilities, but also his skills as a director.

In sequences where he’s confronted by multiple heavies, there are long takes to give the viewer chance to enjoy the spectacle, but also occasional frantic cuts between blows to really add to the chaotic nature of the fights and help you feel each blow.

Anyone who’s heard of Police Story will be well familiar with one of the film’s most celebrated physical stunts, as Chan leaps eight feet from a balcony in the shopping centre, then slide several stories down a pipe covered in electric lights before crashing through a glass roof and hitting the ground. It’s impressive enough to warrant being played three times consecutively from different angles as it happens, and left Chan with second degree burns to his hands as well as a dislocated pelvis and a back injury.

But man, does it look good.

The film ends well enough, with the cavalry rushing to assist Ka-Kui as he finally has the bad guy and enough evidence to put him behind bars for good. But, just to add to that feeling of satisfaction, they stand aside for a moment to let Ka-Kui give the crime boss and his lawyer a good kicking before they can be taken into custody – it’s what everybody wants to see, to be fair.

As is, I understand, tradition with Hong Kong action films from the 1980s, the credits roll over a series of outtakes, bloopers, accidental injuries and replays of the big stunts, and that’s Police Story.

What a flick – and a nice, tight 96 minutes!

Verdict

Watching an interview with the director/star after the movie, it’s clear that Police Story was a script built around a string of action scenes that Jackie Chan dreamed up – but even bearing that in mind, it still holds together pretty well.

Sure, it’s your fairly standard police drama fare, but with plenty of comedy and some of the greatest fight and action scenes the 80s ever produced. Even now, thirty-odd years later, they hold up because they feel and look real, brutal and bloody impressive.

You could easily watch some of the highlight clips on YouTube, but if you’ve got just over an hour and a half to spare, I would highly recommend Police Story and will definitely revisit.

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