Blu-ray Review: Police Story / Police Story 2

STUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Jackie Chan | CAST: Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Michael Lai, Lam Kwok-Hung
RELEASE DATE: 4/30/17 | PRICE: DVD $29.99, Blu-ray $34.99
BONUSES: Interviews with director Edgar Wright and film historian Grady Hendrix; 1999 doc Jackie Chan: My Stunts; episode of Son of the Incredibly Film Show; French TV segment on the Peking Opera; vintage interviews with Chan and stuntman Benny Lai; TV segment reuniting Chan with his stunt team; stunt reel
SPECS: NR | 100 min./122 min. | |Action crime | 2.35:1 widescreen | sound | English subtitles and English-dubbed

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

In an era when movie action heroes are clad in costumes, menaced by CGI monsters and do none of their own stunts, it’s a joy to re-encounter the work of a true action hero who created his own action subgenre, blending the best of Bruce Lee and Buster Keaton.

This Criterion package spotlights Police Story and Police Story 2, two of Jackie Chan’s finest self-directed vehicles — lacking the third film in the series, Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992), in which actress-stuntwoman Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) stole some of Jackie’s thunder. That omission is made up for by a plethora of entertaining supplements, in which we hear about Jackie’s place as a star and filmmaker in the action-movie pantheon, and see the method behind his daring and incredibly dangerous stunts.

The plots of both films (released in 1985 and ’88) are instantly forgettable, merely supplying reasons for the ingeniously choreographed (and often very funny) fight/stunt set pieces. For what it’s worth, Chan plays Chan Ka Kui, a scrupulously honest cop who often lands in hot water with his bosses and his girlfriend (Maggie Cheung) but is able to win them over and catch the bad guys before the final credits.

While an argument can be made that his Project A and Armour of God franchises contain just as many bravura moments, the Police Story movies were incredibly successful worldwide. The movies find Jackie as an Everyman who just happens to be a most nimble and resilient cop, who rarely (if ever) uses a gun in his work. The first film is a comic gem, whereas the sequel is a more serious outing (running an unwieldy 122 mins) that seems to have been crafted to allow Jackie to show off his acting chops — meaning one has to patiently sit through the rather lengthy chunks of plot to get to the next action sequence.

In the documentary Jackie Chan: My Stunts (1999), included here, Jackie emphasizes how he and his famed stunt team had to find cheaper solutions to problems that the makers of Hollywood blockbusters could solve with a big influx of cash (from better equipment for the stuntmen to CGI effects to inserting fire and other extreme situations around the characters). The relatively low (by American standards) budgets are what ultimately makes these films so endearing and amazing — while the plot and behavior is pure fiction, the action is unquestionably real and dazzling.

Various interviews included in the set shed light on Jackie’s history in marital arts movies. Film historian Grady Hendrix discusses Jackie’s emergence as one of the many martial artists dubbed “the next Bruce Lee.” Hendrix spotlights the individuals — among them manager Willie Chan and director Yuen Woo-Ping — who encouraged Jackie to develop his own screen persona and to make that character vulnerable and comedic, in stark contrast to Bruce Lee’s invincible character.

Hendrix also notes that, while Jackie has been ambitious enough to serve as the action coordinator, producer and director on his films, he has only occasionally played dramatic roles. He stays in his comfort zone in his vehicles, with only a few dramatic performances (including the remake of The Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith).

Director, and Chan super-fan, Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) shares his thoughts on Jackie as a performer and filmmaker in a new interview shot for this release. He stresses the importance of the first Police Story as Jackie “declaring his independence” from Western cinema, after having had three failed attempts to crack the U.S. market (the second being a small but showy part in the first Cannonball Run).

Wright’s summation of the central difference between Bruce Lee’s superhuman fighter and Jackie’s often-injured Everyman is that Lee’s signature move was to beckon his opponent to try to beat him, while Jackie’s has been a defensive move to get some space in which to stop and think of a way to defeat (or escape) his enemies.

A nice Chan gimmick pointed out by Wright is that Jackie’s stunt team wear white socks in order to capture the viewers’ eyes as they kick at each other. He stresses that this and other devices draw attention to the fight choreography while still trying to make it look seamless.

The most charming extra is a 2017 TV segment in a This Is Your Life vein, in which the 40th anniversary of Jackie’s stunt team is celebrated with a reunion on a variety show. The assembled close out the event by singing the theme to Police Story with Jackie.

A behind-the-scenes glimpse at the team’s activity is provided in the My Stunts documentary, directed by Jackie. The show functions like a “secrets of magic” TV special, in that we see the immaculately nimble and strong acrobats and martial artists using various devices to make certain that the fight and stunt set pieces in Jackie’s movies look real.

The items covered range from breakaway chairs, blood packs and hoists to the choice of camera angles and reaction gestures intended to “sell” the fighting. Also covered are the many severe injuries suffered by Jackie and his team, from cuts and bruises to grievous falls that landed members of the team in the hospital.

Fans of the many great Hong Kong action and crime films of the Nineties, who lament the grammatically correct subtitles provided for modern prints of the films (replacing the oddly composed English subs used on the HK originals), will be heartened by Jackie’s broken but comprehensible late 1990s English. On the subject of injuries, he says, “If it really happen on me, it won’t die — but definitely, mess!” His succinct summation of the team’s agility says it all: “Some things, trick; some things — ability!”

Jackie’s stunt team is also a much-discussed topic in the best intro to his work included here, a 1989 episode of Jonathan Ross’s Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show. Ross, a famed late-night talk show host in the U.K., offers a great “101” to Chan’s work, including a moment where he asks about the problem of insurance on Jackie’s productions (the quick answer is that Jackie and his stuntmen simply weren’t insured).

A terrific range of clips are shown, ranging from Jackie’s early martial arts movies to his amply budgeted vehicles of the Eighties. A number of the legendary injury outtakes are also shown. One cringe-inducing bit finds Maggie Cheung getting her scalp cut badly in a stunt — Jackie’s stunt team included no women, so he apparently just asked his actresses to do their own stunt work as well.

The most memorable moment is a discussion of a fall Jackie took on Armour of God (1986), where surgeons wound up removing a small part of his skull. Ross is allowed to touch the area, which vibrates as Jackie talks. Whatever one may think of Jackie’s films, it certainly can’t be said that he didn’t put his blood (and bone) into them.

Buy or Rent Police Story / Police Story 2

About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”