The first in an iconic series of martial arts classics, Police Story is the perfect combination of action, laughs and drama
“You must help me with this report.”
“I didn’t see anything.”
The 80s was a big decade for Jackie Chan. Having spent the first couple of years in disappointing films in the United States, Chan returned to Hong Kong and starred in a string of films that would define him as the pop culture icon he is today. After filming two stone cold classics with his opera-school peers Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao (Wheals on Meals and Project A), he also wrote, directed, choreographed, starred in and sung the theme song to the first of what would be one of his most career-defining franchises: Police Story.
After a sting operation designed to capture crime lord Chu (Chor Yuen) goes awry, Inspector Chan Ka-kui (Jackie Chan) is tasked with protecting Chu’s secretary Selina (Brigitte Lin), who is set to testify against him in court. Ka-kui is struggling with his home life – he always seems to get into misunderstandings with his girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung) – and with the media attention of capturing Chu.
Although seen as a hero by the public, Ka-kui is often reprimanded by his superiors: Superintendent Li (Lam Kwok-Hung), and the kinder Inspector Bill (Bill Tung). Dealing with an uncooperative Selina as well as a justice system seemingly rigged so Chu gets away, Ka-kui decides he’s had enough, and decides to find justice his own way.
Police Story is not the most original film in the world, especially in terms of story. Hell, I’d be hard pressed to find a film in the genre that isn’t. The story beats are standard – you’ve seen them all before a million times. It takes a couple of new approaches, such as the usual “you’re off the case!” scene is replaced with a “you’ve been framed for murder!” scene, but it’s nothing mind-blowing.
Instead, I think the naming of the genre (martial arts comedy crime film) sets its priorities in order: first and foremost it has to have great martial arts, then great comedy and then, if it can find the time, squeeze in some good crime stuff. Police Story excels at the first two by putting Jackie Chan front and centre of his own film. Chan is a naturally charismatic guy, with a big, easy-to-like smile and disposition. His brand of comedy isn’t cutting edge (there are a total of three cake-to-the-face gags within ten minutes), but he manages to get a good few laughs out of us throughout, mostly through his incredible physical range.
Chan juggles both his trademark style of prop-comedy fighting with serious, high-stakes combat and does so without making it seem too jarring. We know when a fight is meant to be funny – such as when he trades blows with his partner dressed up as an assassin meant to scare Selina into revealing secrets about Chu – or when he really means it, such most of the climactic, glass-laden punch-up at the shopping mall.
As you would imagine, the fight scenes are impeccable, excellently-choreographed numbers that, as the bloopers at the end tell us, took a lot of work to put together. Like many of his Peking Opera School friends, Chan puts in all the hours, and risks life and limb to bring us action sequences that really can’t be mirrored anywhere outside of Hong Kong, and certainly not in the West. In fact, Chan has often bemoaned the Hollywood style of filmmaking as giving him not enough time to work on his action scenes, making them feel rushed and edited in ways he’s never been pleased with. But here the hard work shows, and Chan gives us a taste of some of the more out-there stunts he’s going to attempt in future films in the franchise.
The first of the series, and probably the finest, Police Story is Jackie Chan at his solo best (he has better films, but they’re usually in collaboration with Sammo Hunng). It mixes in great characters, a load of laughs and some incredible action for what is a quintessential Jackie Chan experience.
Verdict: If you’re more familiar with Rush Hour or Shanghai Noon, Police Story will be a fresh new (and damn sight better) look at a beloved action star
Police Story (1985)
Also known as(Jǐngchá Gùshì)
Director: Jackie Chan
Writers: Jackie Chan, Edward Tang
Jackie Chan – Chan Ka-Kui
Brigitte Lin – Selina Fong
Maggie Cheung – May
Chor Yuen – Chu Tao
Charlie Cho – John Ko
Fung Hak-on – Danny Chu Ko
Lam Kwok-Hung – Superintendent Raymond Li
Bill Tung – “Uncle” Bill Wong
Kam Hing Yin – Inspector Man
Mars – Kim
Lau Chi-wing – Counsellor Cheung
Tai Po – Snakie