By the early to mid 1980s, Jackie Chan had been a megastar in Asia for a few years, since the roaring success of Drunken Master. With The Young Master, Dragon Lord and Project A he had established himself as a director. What eluded him was global success. His first American film, Battle Creek Brawl hadn’t allowed him much control, and was a flop. The Cannonball Run did business, but he was hardly the star, and The Protector miscast him in a harder edged film, attempting to make him a cop in the Dirty Harry mould. Back home, he reshot much of The Protector, adding a new subplot and expanding the action for the Hong Kong cut, but he still wanted to make a contemporary cop movie that was also a true Jackie Chan film.
Police Story (1985)
Dir: Jackie Chan
If his career so far had found Jackie Chan refining his methods and his screen persona, and Project A had seen him perfect them in the context of collaborating with his kung fu brothers, Police Story stands as his definitive statement as solo director and star. The simple story has Chan as Ka-kui; a cop protecting a witness (Salina, played by Chan’s sister in law, Brigitte Lin and kudos to her for doing her own stunt in the final sequence, when she’s thrown through a glass case.) within a drugs ring. When he proves too persistent for boss Chu Tao (Yuen Chor), Ka-kui is framed for murdering another officer.
This story is little more than a loose framework on which to hang the spectacular stunts and fights, and some of Chan’s trademark slapstick comedy, and it doesn’t need to be anything more.
Police Story doesn’t mess around. Its first frames lay out the characters: cops on one side, drug dealers on the other, and then throw us straight into an undercover operation, taking place in a village built on the side of a hill, which quickly breaks out into chaotic action. The climax of most Hollywood films would be content with just one of the three phases of this sequence before rolling the credits. Indeed, Michael Bay lifted one section wholesale (and did it much less excitingly) for Bad Boys 2. The shootout section is a little bit perfunctory, largely there as an appetiser. Things really take off when everyone gets in their cars and careens through the village, most of it captured in glorious wide shots (replete with detail in 4K) as the building collapse and explode and stuntmen jump from roofs in what looks like an incredibly perilous shot.
Even that’s not enough for Jackie Chan though. As the villains try to escape on a bus, he grabs a woman’s umbrella and hooks himself on to the outside, fighting his way in through the windows. I’ve seen this film countless times, and while I know a few of the tricks (A reinforced steel umbrella, for instance) it still astounds me that all this was captured for real. Movies like this are why I’ll never care about plastic CGI action. Two piles of pixels being thrown at each other may be technically challenging, but it will never have the visceral charge—the moments that make you sit up and shout “Holy SHIT” at the sheer audacity—that this does.
The film isn’t wall to wall action, and some aspects of the comedy haven’t aged brilliantly. This is especially true of how the film (and ongoing series) treats Maggie Cheung, who appears as Ka-kui’s long suffering girlfriend, May. Chan has never had the greatest depictions of women in his work (we’ll come back to that), but May is depicted largely as a doormat, and the character has to endure some pretty bruising stunts just for laughs. It’s just strange to see her here, and then to square that with her latter day status as a great arthouse actress and effortlessly charismatic fashion and beauty icon.
Much of the rest of the comedy, however, works as well as it would have on release. Stunt player Mars and Jackie have a wonderfully silly fight, and Jackie’s dexterity is on full display as Ka-kui, briefly demoted to answering phones, juggles several at the same time. It’s in moments like this we see his hero worship of Chaplin and Keaton on full display.
The action, though, is why we’re here and from moments as small as a simple leap over a gate to the astounding mall-set sequence that closes the film (and led the stunt team to dub this ‘Glass Story’) it is impossible to overstate the brilliance of not just the choreography, but of Chan’s instincts as a director and especially as an editor. This film is a clinic in how to stage, shoot and cut action. Every element is so meticulous and even when it goes wrong (as in a bus stunt at the start), the crew keeps things running for an even greater impact. There is perhaps no better summation of Police Story than its centrepiece stunt, when Chan slides down a pole lined with (lit) lightbulbs. We see it three times in the film and once in the outtakes, so every time I watch the film, I see it four times. I still can’t believe my eyes.
Police Story 2 (1988)
Dir: Jackie Chan
It’s not very often that a sequel to an action movie asks its hero to deal with the real world consequences of what they did in the first film. As Police Story 2 opens (well, following a montage of all the most awesome bits from the previous film), we find Chan Ka-kui demoted to traffic duty because of immense amounts his heroics cost the city in damages, and his old foe Chu Tao out on compassionate release, having been given months to live. Chu Tao’s goons threaten both Ka-kui and his still put upon girlfriend May (a returning Maggie Cheung), but his attention is soon taken up by a bomber threatening a major company.
Police Story 2 is a rather strange beast at times. Pitching itself initially as a direct follow up, it leaves the consequences of the first film largely in the first act. A hard to swallow series of events mean that by the end of the first hour Ka-kui has been demoted, quit the force, been incidentally recruited to help out on a job and rehired to a plain clothes detective squad. It’s clunky, going round the houses to get somewhere it could quite easily have ended up with fewer convolutions. That said, the pace of the first act is good. Chan parcels out the action scenes well, and while he doesn’t treat the character of May any better, he finds a bit more for Cheung to do, including a stunt she does herself (the outtakes look painful). She also has a genuinely laugh out loud bit where she angrily follows him into the police station’s shower room.
The action in the first hour is spectacular. Fights in a restaurant and a playground are genuinely jaw-dropping displays of what Chan and his stunt team could do with props and their environment. The gags are endlessly inventive, and a running joke about the lead goon getting his glasses repeatedly broken is very funny in a Looney Tunes kind of way, which also fits the manic speed of the choreography (helped, of course, by some undercranking).
The second half of the film takes the pace right down, focusing more on Ka-kui and the new team, who we never really get to know, doing more involved detective work. This isn’t a bad idea, but it’s not really what I’m coming to a Jackie Chan film for. Action is put aside almost entirely until the final set piece, and the only comedy in this section is a horribly simplistic and rather offensive portrayal of a deaf mute character (though Benny Lai’s fighting is extraordinary, giving Jackie a run for his money in the finale). The final showdown, at an abandoned fireworks factory, has some great moments, but it can’t help but be a disappointment; the film’s best fight scene has been and gone by this time, in the shape of the playground throwdown.
To be clear, Police Story 2, in pure action terms, embarrasses just about everything in the genre in the past two decades, certainly in terms of what comes out of the US mainstream. As a Jackie Chan film of this period, and as a sequel to Police Story, it can’t help but disappoint. The pacing is the real problem; a great first hour gives way to quite a slog of a second, and when you throw your best action beat away early, you’re never going to hit the heights of a masterpiece like the first film.
Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)
Dir: Stanley Tong
I am perhaps unusual among Western viewers, in that I’ve only ever seen this film in its uncut version, which here receives its first English friendly release, to my knowledge, since the Hong Kong Classics VHS. It is better known simply as Supercop, in the US cut released by Miramax, which stripped it of the context of its connection to the series. Ultimately, that’s probably okay. Unlike the previous film, Police Story 3 doesn’t ask Ka-kui to deal with the ramifications of his last adventure, and it takes him out of his usual environment, sending him on a special mission to partner with Interpol superintendent Yang (Michelle Yeoh) and take down a major drug dealer on the mainland.
Action stars don’t often allow themselves to get upstaged, hell, some apparently have insurance against it in their contracts. Jackie Chan is seldom upstaged, he’s happy enough to share the spotlight with Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, thanks to their long friendship and respect for each other, but he’s always the star of his movies. Women too tend to get short shrift in a Jackie Chan film. Most of the time they are there to be props for an extremely chaste romance (it’s almost a shock to see him kiss Maggie Cheung here), to be captured by the bad guy, or both (again, poor Maggie Cheung). Given all this, it’s a surprise to see how much screen real estate he cedes to Michelle Yeoh in Police Story 3.
Yeoh was well established as an action star, but she’d been away for a few years, having retired after her marriage to producer Dickson Poon. When that marriage ended, she came back, and looking at this film you have to assume there was a hunger in her to make up lost time and momentum. She goes blow for blow, stunt for stunt with Jackie Chan, but if it’s a contest to one up each other, she eventually triumphs. He’s hanging off a rope ladder being flown around Kuala Lumpur, which is objectively cool. She, however, jumps a motorcycle on to a moving train without a helmet. It’s one of the most suicidally insane stunts you’ll ever see, and a moment that, like the light pole slide in the first film, you genuinely can’t quite believe is real no matter how many times you watch it.
Yeoh would be worthy of legendary status just for her action work here, but she also arguably upstages Chan in terms of her sheer charisma. At first she’s all business: the buttoned up party faithful, then she appears in her undercover role as Chan’s ‘sister’ and she’s constantly ribbing him, slapping him and generally messing with him to wonderfully fun effect. The two have great chemistry, which makes up for the comparative lack of comedy in this film.
Less emphasis on comedy means that rather than the slapstick influenced sequences of the previous films (something Chan would return to for the even looser final sequel, First Strike), the action feels more genuinely perilous here. Jackie hanging off the bus in the first film is an incredible stunt, but Yeoh hanging by her hands from the side of a van, pulling her feet up to avoid passing cars feels even more viscerally dangerous. The teaming of the two of them in the film’s many great fight sequences shows off the impeccable timing they have together, it’s a real shame they haven’t made another film in which they both have starring roles (Chan does have a cameo in Project S, in which Yeoh reprised her role as Superintendent Yang).
I haven’t talked much about plot, or the other actors, because this is so much the Jackie Chan/Michelle Yeoh show. For the record, Yuen Wah makes for an interesting second string bad guy. For a while we’re warming up to him a bit, as Ka-kui and Yang reluctantly team up with him as a way in to the organisation and a certain camaraderie develops. However, as soon as he discovers who they are he’s as reliably nasty as ever. Action wise he doesn’t have anything here as iconic as his robotically styled bad guys for Sammo Hung, but it’s a fun role.
If the first film is a masterclass, and the second an ambitious mixed bag, what Stanley Tong does with the series is find the pure fun of it. He substitutes overt comedy for the simple joy of watching two great stars, each at the peak of their estimable powers, enjoying sparring with each other, both literally and figuratively, and clearly having as much fun with the film they’re working on as they expect the audience to. It makes Police Story 3 an absolute pleasure to watch.
The play option at the main menu defaults to the longest available cut of each film in Cantonese with English subs (the only subtitle option available). Unfortunately, the default is to the Mono soundtrack, so you’ll likely want to reset to the 5.1.
The 4K transfers don’t always have quite the pop of detail that the very best of the format can deliver, but make no mistake, these films look better here than they likely ever have. The picture is incredibly clean and detail is often spectacular. Even compared with the blu-ray releases (not included with this set), wide shots reveal a wealth of sharp detail that makes the stunt work look even more incredible and the explosions even more vivid.
I still need to upgrade to a proper surround setup, but the soundtracks are well balanced with dialogue, music and effects all clear. Police Story 3 sounds noticeably more natural, because it was the first Hong Kong film that Jackie made with sync sound, so we get to hear his and Maggie Cheung’s real voices for the first time in the series.
The set comes in a hard case, with awesome new art by R.P. “Kung Fu Bob” O’Brien. Inside are 3 standard black 4K cases. This is my only complaint about the packaging. The inserts for each case are double-sided, but they have a still, rather than alternative box art, on the reverse. What, exactly, is the point of this when the black cases mean you can’t see those images?
Also in the box you’ll find a 100 page book, with essays by James Oliver which, as ever, place the films valuably within the context of Chan’s career, and a wealth of stills and behind the scenes images.
I simply did not have time to watch all of the extras for this review. The package is, typically for Eureka, exhaustive almost to the point of overload. The main UHD version of each film boasts two commentaries, one by Frank Djeng and F.J. DeSanto, the other with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema.
Police Story comes in two cuts: the UHD version of the Hong Kong theatrical cut, and an HD copy of Police Force, an alternative export cut that runs 88 minutes (to the theatrical’s 100) and has the option of being played with the classic English dub. Alternative and deleted scenes include a much different opening, which has Mars get a little comedic showcase. There is also an archival interview with Jackie Chan.
Two cuts isn’t enough for Police Story 2, which has the UHD extended version (overlong at 2 hours) and HD versions of the Hong Kong Theatrical cut and the Export cut (105 and 95 minutes respectively). In addition to the new commentaries, the theatrical cut has the old commentary with Miles Wood and Jude Poyer, from the Hong Kong Legends DVD and the Export version has the classic English dub. The extras for this disc are rounded out with an episode of Jonathan Ross’ Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show about Jackie Chan, and an interview with Benny Lai.
The uncut version of Police Story 3 is the real prize of this set, but the 91 minute Supercop cut is also included in HD, with its classic English dub, which has Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh voicing their own characters. NGs, the outtakes that run under the credits of almost all Jackie’s work, are one of the highlights of his films and here we get 51 minutes of extra NGs from Police Story 3. Stanley Tong is well represented, with a collection of over an hour of interviews. There are also some video pieces that go beyond simply covering Police Story 3: one on Jackie Chan video games, one revisiting locations from the series and an interview with stunt coordinator John Kreng. Also included are archival interviews with Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh and Jackie’s bodyguard and frequent co-star Ken Lo.
Overall, there are weeks worth of viewing in this boxset and an amazing treasure trove of stuff for fans to dig into.