There are plenty of people who think of Jackie Chan as a brilliant martial artist who has squandered his gifts on silly comedy. Even they, the Chan purists, acknowledge the brilliance of Police Story, Chan’s best film. And now that we’re in 2013 and Chan is nudging 60 years old, he’s never going to trump it. From the opening scenes in which Chan hangs on to a double decker bus with an umbrella as it careens around Hong Kong, to the final sequence in a shopping mall during which he smashes through glass, hops from one escalator to another – not forgetting the most gob-smacking of all, the downhill drive through a shanty town in a car, demolishing most of it (the town, not the car) en route – Police Story has the stunts.
Chan had already almost single-handedly revived the Hong Kong movie industry, after a decade of too many kung fu films that didn’t star Bruce Lee. He’d actually appeared in a couple of Lee films. He was an extra in Enter the Dragon and Fist of Fury. But it was another film star that provided him with inspiration – Buster Keaton. For sure, Chan’s insistence on acting as if the talkies hadn’t yet been invented, doing semaphore with his eyebrows, can be infuriating, and Keaton must take some blame there. But it’s also worth remembering that Chan spent ten years as a youth at the Peking Opera School, which had a tradition of turning out performers of martial arts on stage (Chan’s fellow Peking Opera School buddy Sammo Hung has the same “who, me?” style which can be seen from the back of a stadium).
Which is another way of offering an apology for the performances in Police Story, as broad as the Yangtze. The plot isn’t much either, with Chan playing a supervirtuous cop out to clear his name after he is framed for murder by a drug lord. But who needs plots when you’ve got stunts, and who actually needs the film when you have the blooper reel, which is one of the most spectacular you’re ever likely to see, full of stunts gone wrong, including the one that sent Chan off to hospital with two fractured vertebrae.
Chan has returned to Police Story again and again, most recently in 2004 with New Police Story, and is set to return to the franchise yet again with Police Story 2013. Should be interesting.
© Steve Morrissey 2013