I experienced at least three life-changing revelations while watching Jackie Chan’s Police Story.
It was a year and a half ago, and I was on a short vacation by myself, during an especially low time, in New York City. Most of my trip was spent wandering around Manhattan, bandaging my bad feelings with long meals and longer walks. While strolling along the Lower East Side one sunny afternoon, I passed by the Metrograph movie theatre, whose marquee instantly flipped my mood upside down. The indie cinema was showing a 4K digital restoration of Police Story, the 1985 action movie that cemented writer-director-star Jackie Chan’s super-stardom in East Asia. I bought a ticket without thinking twice.
Somehow, I had never before seen Police Story, even though Chan had long ago high-kicked his way into my brain. I have a strong memory of buying a ticket in 1995 to watch Chan slip and slide all over New York (actually, Vancouver) in Rumble in the Bronx, and a good portion of my teenage years were spent watching the human dynamo put himself through the Hollywood motions in such increasingly bland vehicles as Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon and The Tuxedo. I thought I knew Jackie Chan, for better and worse. But Police Story taught me otherwise. Hence, the Three Revelations of Police Story.
Revelation No. 1: Holy hell, Chan was – and maybe still is – a performer almost all of North America has taken for granted
Police Story was made in the wake of a professional crisis for Chan. Just before production began, the Hong Kong martial artist witnessed the failure of The Protector – his second failure to break into the U.S. action-movie market after 1980′s The Big Brawl. Not quite a rebuke to North American tastes but also not a full-on retreat to Hong Kong sensibilities either, Police Story is a movie made with only fist-pumping entertainment in mind. It is Jackie Chan’s biggest and boldest attempt to sell Jackie Chan, World Movie Star. And let it never be said that Chan is not an excellent salesman.
As Police Story’s idealistic but self-righteous Hong Kong cop Chan Ka-Kui, Chan throws himself into so many death-defying predicaments – hanging off the side of a double-decker bus, hugging his body against a string of explosive light bulbs in the delirious shopping-mall climax – that it’s a wonder he wasn’t killed during production. The fact that he’s able to prove just as engaging while attempting to romance actress Brigitte Lin or deflect the advances of a young Maggie Cheung only certifies his fierce devotion to becoming cinema’s most deservedly cocksure charmer.
Revelation No. 2: Police Story is more responsible for the modern action film than Hollywood cares to admit
Part martial-arts movie, part hard-boiled cop thriller, part ay-yi-yi comedy, Chan’s film didn’t likely didn’t make much sense in 1985 Hollywood. American action films had quips, but they didn’t devote much time to prolonged bit of slapstick or goofy romance. And our big-budget set-pieces were more of the pyrotechnic variety, with the perceived danger coming from firearms and bombs, not the raw power of human fists and legs. Police Story would change much of that formula. So much so that Michael Bay would go on to directly rip off Police Story’s opening shantytown showdown – where cars rip through a rural village – in Bad Boys II with absolutely zero shame. I can’t truly blame the Bad Boys bad boy; Police Story has enjoyed such a low North American profile compared to Chan’s later, lesser work that Bay would be right to assume that 99 per cent of his target audience had never before seen Chan’s original, fiercer, more clearly choreographed destruction.
Well, maybe Police Story once upon a time enjoyed a low profile. Today, the film and its sequel, 1988′s Police Story 2 – alright, there are actually three sequels, plus two reboots and three sorta-spin-offs, but let’s stick with the original, best two – are enjoying something of a cultural resurgence. There’s The Criterion Collection’s new and lovingly detailed Blu-ray package of Police Story and Police Story 2, scattered theatrical 4K restoration screenings like my fabled journey to the Metrograph and an event at Toronto’s TIFF Lightbox July 27, and a general fondness for Chan’s career pivoting on this past winter’s new English-language memoir, Never Grow Up.
Revelation No. 3: Police Story is cinematic medicine
The Jackie Chan Comeback may have taken a while to arrive – and it doesn’t erase the star’s fondness for parroting Beijing’s Communist Party line in life and on-screen – but I’m sure glad it’s here now. During that initial Metrograph screening, whatever low mood I happened to find myself in was instantly lifted, replaced with the half-astonishment, half-joy high of pure cinematic wonder. Watching Chan kick, twist and furiously, recklessly endanger himself for the camera, I felt a smile stretch across my face, wide and welcome. Jackie Chan cured me. Maybe he can do the same for you, too.
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