It’s hard to not make this review just me breaking down all the stunts John Madden-style. I mean the football guy, not the director of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Though that guy has style too. It’s crazy to think a movie (and its sequel) is in the Criterion Collection because of how good Jackie Chan can take a hit through a sheet of glass. Though I think it’s more than that. Martial Arts are very much an art form. It’s called Martial ARTS after all and there are few martial artists as exceptional as Mr. Nice Guy himself.
I don’t remember a time in my life where Jackie Chan was not a world-renowned action star. Rush Hour was the big one but even before that, I remember seeing Rumble in the Bronx on home video (that’s what we called it). Or death-defying scenes and clips from all these other non-American action films. I point that out because how many other people have done that? Broke out internationally with films produced in their own country instead of breaking out in an American made film?
Bruce Lee did it. Though it was short-lived with his tragic death at the age of 32. That being said Jackie also had a huge advantage with the advent of home video in the 80s. International films were easier to distribute. Jackie’s films were even more palpable for Americans considering how many of them were dubbed into English, often by the Chan man himself. Still, what is it about Jackie that makes him such an action icon?
Personality. Jackie doesn’t just hit people. He hits people the Jackie Chan way. A self-proclaimed fan of silent comedy, there’s a comic grace to Jackie’s movement that is unparalleled. Jackie’s punches, his leaps, even how he takes a punch is like modern-day vaudeville. The man can fight no doubt but very rarely in the traditional sense. Jackie uses his environments and props. In this film, he climbs a double-decker bus with an umbrella. Jackie’s all about the scene. Which makes sense when you see that he also directed, co-wrote, and sang the ending theme of this film. He’s all about doing what’s best for the story. Even if he looks like a clown sometimes.
Police Story is the most by the books a story to a police action movie could be. An evil businessman is operating a drug trade, he’s arrested, he finds legal loopholes to protect himself in court like having his goons apprehend his former secretary to keep her from testifying. Later there’s a part where the bad guy tries to frame the good guy for murder. I could have just described the plot to literally 100 other police crime dramas. So what makes this one worthy of that Coveted Criterion stamp of approval?
First off, I appreciate that Jackie and his co-writer Edward Tang keep the tone light. Jackie, who plays Chan Ka-Kui or “Kevin” and Jackie in the dubbed version (I watched the subtitled version) isn’t a grizzled cop like Dirty Harry or a no smiling blue blood like I don’t know, let’s say Robocop (also in the Criterion Collection). Jackie is a good-hearted optimist who’s childlike around his superiors but a serious adult when it comes to his job. He’ll drive a car downhill through a village or hang from the back of a bus if it means getting his guy. Yet he always credits his fellow officers anytime anything good happens. Even though he basically stops every crime in this movie solely by himself. So we have a likable character in a familiar yet fun story. Now on to what makes this film great. The set pieces.
I’m not gonna lie there’s filler in this movie, but only to build up all of the action set pieces. I mentioned the car chase crashing through a whole village, and the iconic double-decker bus sequence. Let’s explore the scene where Jackie fends off an “attempted murder”.
In an effort to cover his ass in court, the evil businessman (Chor Yen) wants to prevent his former secretary Selina (Brigitte Lin) from testifying in court. The police offer to protect Selina but she refuses. Jackie thinks she’s being careless so he concocts a scheme where a fellow officer will pretend to be a masked murderer and then Jackie will come in and save the day. It’s a kooky idea for a sequence but it’s that extra element in Jackie Chan films that makes the scene memorable. Halfway through the altercation, the “murderer” is hit on the head by Selina and keeps almost passing out. So Jackie has to “Weekend-at-Bernie’s” his friend to make it look like they’re still fighting. It’s tough to imagine an American action film taking the time to come up with and execute something so silly.
Yet it’s cool. It’s super cool. This kind of stuff is funny but it’s impressive. Another impressive feat of physical comedy is a scene where Jackie is covering the phones at the police station. Multiple phones start ringing and he has to juggle the receivers around his body, sliding across the room in a chair, and carrying on multiple conversations. The scene hits a snag with one of the few jokes that don’t hold up today when Jackie gets a phone call about a missing cow mixed up with a phone call about a rape. Ugh, rape joke. Well, aside from that the scene is a success.
Last but not least is the iconic sequence of Jackie taking out the evil businessman’s goons in the mall. This scene features guy after guy being thrown into windows and panes of glass. There’s a part where a guy tries to run Jackie over with a motorcycle and it all climaxes in Jackie sliding down a pole, bringing down strings of lights, in an explosive stunt so good the film shows it play out three times from different camera angles. Hell yeah.
If I was doing my job as Mr. Film Critic right I would have spent way more time talking about the characters and story of Police Story. The film has funny dialogue and hints of a sweet romantic comedy but it’s just so hard not to talk about the stunts. They’re so damn fun. Jackie will do anything to entertain an audience. He gives us bloopers of stunts going wrong in the end credits. He doesn’t care about looking cool and in a way that makes him the coolest
P.S. if it wasn’t for Jackie Chan we wouldn’t have my favorite board game of all time.