Police Story III: Supercop

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Regularly touted as one of the greatest action movies ever made, I have to confess that the third entry into Jackie Chan’s ground breaking Police Story series has mostly passed me by – mainly because I’m so utterly enamored of the original. Ok, yes, I watched the American edit once on YouTube and I had to confess, I was wondering what all the fuss was about, but deep down I knew that I would have to appraise the film properly one day – and that day appears to be today.
No one particularly likes being wrong as a rule, but there’s something weirdly comforting about a movie being so good, a long overdue appraisal is enough to make you see how blind you’ve truly been while staring greatness clean in the face.
So how did I originally get Supercop so wrong? Well, taking a gander at the longer Hong Kong version in it’s original language helped me realise that not only is the film packed with stunningly audacious action sequences, but it’s also weirdly become a metaphor for change, both in the career of the seemingly indestructible Jackie Chan and in the history of Hong Kong.

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In an effort to stem the unending flow of drugs streaming into the country, Homg Kong “Supercop” Ka-Kui is manipulated by his bosses into volunteering to team up with Chinese Interpol director Inspector Jessica Yang in order to take down smug drug kingpin Chailbat. After struggling to get used to the differences in the respective styles of the two law enforcement agencies and barely being able to remember his cover story, Ka-Kui is all set to I infiltrate the organization by orchestrating a frenzied jail break of Chailbat’s henchman, Panther, who is currently shovelling coal in a Chinese prison.
After successfully freeing Panther and taking him back to his “home” village to lay low, Ka-Kui and his new “friend” are joined by Jessica who is now posing as the undercover cop’s sister who proves to be just as proficient at high kicking as her fake sibling is.
After a string of events that sees the two cops engage the police in a massive brawl and a high octane speedboat chase, both Ka-Kui and Jessica finally join Chailbat’s organisation but quickly get an idea of how truly dangerous he is after they find themselves in a massive firefight after the drug lord arranges for a meeting of other kingpins to turn into a bullet and fire strewn clusterfuck purely to convince his buyer to give him better prices.
However, our heroes finally see an opening when the action shifts to Kuala Lumpur when Chailbat’s inprisoned wife get the death penalty and he orders a daring jailbreak as only she knows the number to his Swizz bank account. And so a legitimately insane race takes place as both Ka-Kui and Jessica break cover to get to Chailbat’s wife before his heavies do that sees them each dangling from careening helicopters, clinging to speeding vans and staging a final, desperate fight on top of a moving train.
If either one of our heroes wants to earn the title “Supercop”, they’d better be ready to fucking earn it…

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While I’ll always maintain that the first Police Story the best and is as blatantly important to human civilisation as running water and antibiotics, Police Story III actually comes damn close to equaling this lofty task which is something of a relief after the somewhat lackluster part 2. However, what’s interesting is that it’s Supercop’s alterations to the formula that makes it so great, taking the usual examples of Chan’s death defying exploits and breathing new life into them.
The obvious one is the addition of living legend Michelle Yeoh who proves to be nothing short of a fucking inspiration, verbally sparring with Chan while she physically spars with bad guys, matching the action demigod punch for punch, kick for kick and even ludicrously dangerous stunt for ludicrously dangerous stunt. Yes, that really is the star of Everything Everywhere All At Once making that motorcycle jump onto the train and that really is the star of Crazy Rich Asians falling off a van onto the bonnet of a speeding car and it’s not often a Jackie Chan movie allows someone else to measure up to the insurance worrying superstar, let alone a woman. Think I’m being little harsh? Then check out the continued, abysmal use of Maggie Cheung who has had to endure being the abused, kidnap prone girlfriend character for three films now which is the only, true, bum note in the whole movie.

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Of course, just because Jackie is letting someone else absorb and inflict vast amounts of punishment for a change, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t save the best/worst stuff for himself as he is swung through the air by a helicopter as he clings from a rope ladder – yes, you could argue that Darkman did a similar trick first in 1990, but I didn’t see Lism Neeson do the stunt, did you? In fact, the subtle shift from a contemporary set Kung Fu epic into something more stunt based means that when its firing on all cylinders, Supercop actually manages to favorably hold its ground when compared to other 90’s actioners such as Terminator 2, Face/Off and The Rock. The mid-movie firefight may be slightly reminiscent of the one that opens the first Predator, but the slapstick wrinkle of having Yeoh having to negotiate all this while locked into a bullet proof vest stuffed with explosives keeps things feeling highly original. Similarly, the addition of Kung Fu to the more vehicle based climax makes it feel unlike it’s more American peers.
However, possibly the most intriguing change is the fact that Chan was on the verge of going global (he already had his Australian passport ready to start staging his next few productions abroad) and as a result, Supercop is the first Police Story movie that wasn’t written or directed by Chan himself meaning that Stanley Tong was primed to be Richard Marquand to Chan’s George Lucas (yup, that’s a Return Of The Jedi reference). Also, all but exorcised from the American version, is that the entire plot is about people from Hong Kong and people from China trying to find peace together despite the former’s colonial past and the (then) upcoming handover that occured in 1997 which gives things a little more depth than just simply kicking criminals through a plate glass window.

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Adored by such celebrity fans as Edgar Wright and (who else) Quentin Tarantino, Police Story III is rightly hailed as a high octane masterpiece that owes its greatness to a lot more than relying solely on Chan’s talent for comic timing, core strength and not succumbing to blunt force trauma.

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