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POLICE STORY/POLICE STORY 2 (1985/1988) review

February 6, 2019

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written by: Jackie Chan and Edward Tang
produced by: Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho
directed by: Jackie Chan
rated: PG-13 (for violence, brief sexual humor and drug content)
runtime: 92 min. & 122 min.
U.S. release date: December 14, 1985 & August 20, 1988 and February 1-7, 2019 (4K rerelease, Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL)

 

There is a whole generation of moviegoers who were first introduced to Jackie Chan when “Rush Hour” came out back in 1998. That’s understandable, since every movie can be someones first introduction to a famous movie star. Considering Chan has been in over 150 movies since the 1960s, it really doesn’t matter where you start in the career of the insanely skilled martial artist’s career, but to get a real appreciation for why Jackie Chan is Jackie Chan, it’s highly advisable to check out the movies he directed and starred in and a good place to start is the first two movies in the hugely popular “Police Story” movies. These action flicks from the 80s may have been released three years apart, but watching them back-to-back you get the ideal and complete viewing experience.

This I can attest to since I only recently watched both Hong Kong action crime films for the first time. I’ve been a fan of Chan since 1995’s “Rumble in the Bronx”, with was directed by Stanley Tong, the same guy who directed the third and fourth entry in the “Police Story” series. For the record, there are five movies in the series, all of which star Chan, who has stated that the first movie is his best action movie. After watching, I can see why.

 

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In “Police Story”, Chan plays Sergeant “Kevin” Chan Ka-Kui of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force. As the movie opens, the rogue Ka-Kui and his colleagues are on a sting operation in a shanty town outside of Hong Kong with the goal of arresting crime lord Chu Tao (Chor Yuen). When the team’s cover is blown, all hell breaks loose, separating the uninitiated officers from those with grit and courage such as Ka-Kui, who singlehandedly arrests Chu Tao and his briefcase full of money.  Frustrated by his handling of the operation, Superintendent Li (Lam Kwok-Hung) and Ka-Kui’s uncle Bill/Inspector Chou (Bill Tong) assign him to protect Chu Tao’s secretary, Selina Fong (Brigitte Lin), who plans to testify in court about the kingpin’s illegal activities. While Tao’s goons come after Ka-Kui at just about every turn, the determined lawman must also balance his on-and-off again dating relationship with girlfriend, May (Maggie Cheung), who feels unappreciated, as well as the scrutiny of his police department, all in an effort to being the gangsters to justice.

 

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“Police Story 2” picks up right where the previous movie left off. Although Chan’s Ka-Kui was the hero cop, he was demoted to traffic cop by his superiors due to all the collateral damage and injuries he caused. Chu Tao is released from his short stint in prison because money walks and it doesn’t take long before he’s making life miserable for Ka-Kui and May. While their lives are being threatened, Ka-Kui promises May he’ll take some time off with her, even go on a vacation to Bali, but he’s pulled back in when bomb threats overwhelm the police department. With Chu Tao ailing, his high level subordinate is responsible for the threats , greedy gangster John Koo (Charlie Cho), moves in with a trio of loyal stooges, including a deadly acrobatic mute (Benny Lau), all of whom pose a threat to Ka-Kui and May and the citizens of Hong Kong. With the addition of a youthful and confident surveillance group assigned to help Ka-Kui, the sequel expands, offering even more colorful characters to the mix.

One thing you’ll realize right away if you’re coming to “Police Story” new like I am and that’s how influential this movie was to so many action flicks that were made in its wake. There are action sequences in “Police Story” that are repeated in other movies, just check out the openings of “Tango & Cash” to “Bad Boys II”, for example and you’ll see how the stars and directors making action movies were noticing what groundbreaking work Chan was doing here as an actor, stunt coordinator and director. This movie and its sequel are great examples of Chan’s status as a renaissance movie star, able to spin a handful of plates while balancing on one foot.

 

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The stuntwork in both of these movies is incredibly breath-taking. It’s also nonstop and often quite comical, which makes watching these two movies back-to-back a seamless action comedy thrill ride. For that reason alone, it makes sense that Criterion is releasing the two of them in a joint package in April. Cinephiles may cry foul at the notion that “a Jackie Chan movie”, or movies, are getting such a gold-standard treatment, but those in-the-know will come to a better understanding – an agreement, if you will – as to why Criterion deemed these movies, out of all of Chan’s filmography, worthy of their library.

Of course, there are other reasons as well as to why “Police Story” and “Police Story 2” are considered classics. Along with the incredible action sequences, done long before green screen work or CGI, there’s a certain charm to the characterization written by Chan and Edward Tang. While some of the villains may suffer from a lack of subtlety, one can still pick up some nuance from them which adds a bit more dimension to the threats presented than what we typically expect from an 80s action movie.

The “good guys” in these movies offer a high level of enjoyability, not just the from the comedic action chops Chan exudes, but from the supporting cast that surround him. This could be in part due to the screenplay Chan is working from as well as his directorial style, both of which emphasize an appreciation for the engaging interaction Chan’s character has with his two female costars, Bridget Lin and Maggie Cheung (both phenomenal here in their own right) who offer more than the atypical distressed damsels you would expect to find in just about any movies of the action or thriller genre from the Reagan era. Lin and Cheung play strong-willed and stubborn characters that are can be either reluctant towards or frustrated with Chan’s Ka-Kui. Yes, both require his protection and one definitely needs rescuing, but both are not about to let life-threatening situations send them running the other way.

 

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I especially appreciate how the Ka-Kui/May relationship subplot is handled throughout both movies. While there are some downright hilarious comedic moments between the couple, offered in either physical form or snappy banter, the ups-and-downs of their relationship is just as engaging (if not more interesting at times) than what is transpiring between the police and the gangsters. While watching them, cliche was the furthest thing from my mind, even if such a device seems apparent looking back and that’s a testament to the talent and chemistry of Chan and Cheung.

However, what both of the first “Police Story” movies are understandably known for are the action sequences. Watching the first movie, one can’t help but to have the moment where Chan uses an umbrella to assist him onto a double-decker bus be burned into memory, or the kinetic playground attack and the mayhem that occurs in the shopping mall. Never have I seen so much glass shattered or furniture destroyed in any other action movie than what we see in both these movies, especially the first one. For the sequel, the goal was clearly bigger and louder, which tends to lend itself into repetitious territory, but the threats in “Police Story 2” feel more intense and the warehouse showdown (a staple in the 80s) toward the end is bug nuts gonzo action at its finest – why there’s even a bit of action that feels straight out of Donkey Kong. It’s absolutely over-the-top in the best possible sense.

For anyone that has some catching up to do on their Jackie Chan, this is without a doubt the double feature to check out. Out of the other three movies that follow, I’ve only seen “Supercop” and that’s awesome in its own right, while feeling like its separating itself from these two movies, and rightly so considering the need to spice things up in a series. But, the fist two “Police Story” movies are a must-see, whether or not you’re an action junkie or you just want to be reminded what a man for all seasons Chan is (he even lends his singing voice to the synth-pop soundtrack), here are a couple of dated-yet-absolutely-still-entertaining movies in the best ways possible.

 

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RATING:

POLICE STORY **** & POLICE STORY 2 ***1/2

 

 

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