Is there a more enduring, living icon in martial arts cinema than Jackie Chan? He’s spent decades regularly sacrificing every bone and sinew in his body for our entertainment and he’s been endearingly friendly all the time he’s been doing it. He’s an extraordinarily nimble acrobat with the flawless comic timing of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin with the added bonus that neither of those two ever thought to use those skills to dropkick a thug through the windscreen of a car or uppercut a hitman through the glass case in a jewelry store and in 1985 he finally changed the face of Hong Kong cinema with possibly his greatest movie to date: Police Story. Made as a direct response to his previous attempt to crack the American market in with The Protector (we won’t mention The Cannonball Run movies), it’s probably the most Jackie Chan movie that Jackie Chan ever made and is generally reguarded as one of the greatest action movie of the 80’s.
Chan Ka-Kui is a diligent, if slightly immature cop who is participating in a massive police sting in order to nap crime lord Chun Lao and after a furious gunfight that ends up in Chan dangling off the side of a getaway bus from an umbrella, the police manage to get their man and attempt to build up a star witness to testify, his secretary Selina Fong. However, due to many embarrassing gaffes (mostly on Chan’s end) Chun Lao manages to walk as free as a bird leaving our hero disgraced and demoted to a desk job; but neither Chan or Lao have any intention of leaving it there. As Chan’s relationship with his girlfriend crumbles and he’s set up for the death of a corrupted fellow officer, Chan – dressed in an abysmal two-tone brown jumper that only Jackie Chan could pull off – strikes out on his own to clear his name, save Selina and finally bring Lao to justice – but to get his hands on the evidence he needs, he’ll have to wade through countless thugs in an unfeasibly brutal battle that tears through a mall like a tornado made entirely of unlawful assault. Can Chan clear his name and quench his thirst for justice while still managing to keep all of his bones and organs in their original packaging?
At this point in time, Kung fu movies were usually period pieces in the mold of the lush epics that were being churned out by studios like Shaw Brothers but audiences desired something fresher and modern and director/star Jackie was only too happy to oblige. Combining his lightning fast striking skills and his talent with irresponsibly putting his health in more danger in one film than Evel Knievel could manage in a year, Chan unloaded a film packed with hard hitting stunts, harder hitting fight sequences and some suprisingly light hearted comedy. While it’s true that it’s tone is often as uneven as road made by contractors from Whoville, it’s all part of it’s legitimately groundbreaking charm. A scene that involves one of Jackie’s cop buddies masquerading as a masked slasher to scare a witness into cooperating may seem massively irresponsible in this day and age (Chan’s lead is admittedly a bit of a dick) but the sheer amount of farcical gold generated by Chan trying to mime a struggle with an opponent who has obviously been knocked unconscious is genius. Later we see Jackie moonwalking to scrape dogshit off his shoe and accidently (and repeatedly) humiliate his long suffering girlfriend, May in a series of running gags that evokes just as much pity for actress Maggie Cheung as it does belly laughs.
However, despite scenes of Jackie using pencils as chopsticks and choking on the erasers, Police Story is actually pretty fucking dark – the film constantly reminds us that the burden on the police to prove guilt can often be unfairly thwarted (lawyers do not come off well in this movie) and the final act sees a desperate Chan go rogue after being framed for the murder of a colleague. It’s this that leads to what is arguably the crown jewel in Jackie Chan’s long and contusion-filled career with Police Story’s climax, a mall-set brawl that has a fair claim at being the greatest martial arts sequence ever filmed.
I could write an entire article about this fight alone and while other, more modern scenes of it’s ilk have upped the ante considerably since Jackie launched a man off a balcony only to have the world’s flimsest table to break his fall, this is still the sequence to beat after all these years.
It helps that the jokes have dried up at this point and Chan’s character, bruised and sweaty after being set up and then beat up, goes into absolute fucking beast mode to mop up the scum trying to close ranks on a vital piece of evidence. The secret is that everything Chan does looks like it really fucking hurts; he’s not an indestructible, untouchable engine of destruction like Bruce Lee, he’s human and vunerable and just as prone to getting beaten with a baseball bat as normal people do, but the fucker has a heart like a goddamn tank and he keeps coming back to take people out in the most stunningly brutal ways possible.
Apparently it seems that the film follows an unwritten rule that you’re not actually allowed to get knocked unconscious until you’ve gone through at least one plate glass window in agonizing slow motion while howling in (presumably real) pain – and so that’s exactly what happens. You’ll be stunned at exactly how many different ways the human body can be mercilessly hurled through glass and it never once gets old, especially when you get moments like when Jackie rams a guy with a fucking motorbike and then charmingly desides to drive him through a shattering display cabinet. Hardly police procedure… but I’ll allow it. Once we’re done genuinely fearing for the wellbeing of his stunt team, Jackie has one last, death defying card to play, where he slides the height of about three storeys on a pole that’s connected to multiple lighting rigs (I think it may actually be the law for anyone writing about this stunt that they actually have to state the fact that all the lights were still plugged in), only to end it by crashing through a greenhouse – it’s an audacious end to an audacious sequence and without it, modern day martial arts scenes would simply not be the same.
As influential as it is awesome (Michael Bay brazenly ripped the opening shanty town scene off wholesale to end Bad Boys 2) Police Story is a platinum level classic that should endlessly be dissected and discussed in order to make the world a better place and is a magnificent calling card for it’s long suffering megastar.