Quite simply some of the greatest action cinema ever created…
Charlie Chaplin has his Tramp, Harold Lloyd has his spectacled man, and Jackie Chan has Officer Ka Kui Chan.
Legends are often formed by the establishment of an archetype on which they can riff for a lifetime.
Jackie Chan first became a part of my life when I went to see Rumble In The Bronx as it hit US theaters in the early ’90s. I was smitten. A poster hung on my childhood ceiling featuring Jackie and a list of all the various injuries he’d accrued over decades of action filmmaking. I was fortunate enough to have a local video store which contained a “foreign” section and was able to see such films as Drunken Master II and Police Story while also enjoying the glory days of Chan’s big rise in America and catching the Rush Hour and Shanghai series in theaters, along with many of his classics that came over to the US like Supercop, First Strike, Mr. Nice Guy, etc.
Jackie Chan hit the States at the perfect age to capture my youthful loyalty, and he’s continued to be a cinematic hero ever since. And while I personally believe Drunken Master II is his cinematic opus, it is safe to say that Police Story is an outright masterpiece of action filmmaking and Criterion Collection is more than justified in bringing Police Story 1 and 2 into their prestigious collection with a gorgeous Blu-ray release filled with fantastic artwork and bonus features celebrating the legendary screen hero.
The lore surrounding Jackie’s career has always been that he emerged from amongst a crowded pool of would-be martial arts stars all attempting to fill the void left by Bruce Lee’s untimely death. Rather than imitating Lee’s ripped, badass persona, Chan broke in a different direction with a more comedic take, and became legend in the process. But it’s a little more complicated than that, with several false starts and projects that were frankly generic or unsuccessful. Police Story’s Ka Kui Chan is truly when the screen presence of Jackie Chan was formulated and cemented. Chan has now been playing, often at least, a version of this archetype for decades. But Ka Kui is Chan’s definitive screen persona.
Police Story (1985)
Police Story is so good, it’s almost unfair to other action movies. Simply one of the greatest action film features to ever hit the big screen in any country and in any cinematic era, Chan could have cemented legendary status off of this title alone, not to mention the some 100 or so other films he’s appeared in or starred in.
Directed by Chan himself after some false starts in the US and with something to prove, Jackie brought along his stunt team and crafted a script built around various action set pieces that he wanted to highlight. And while this generally isn’t the way to build a successful script, it definitely works for Chan’s signature Looney Tunes heroism. Ka Kui is introduced in a bravura drug bust sequence in which a massive police force closes in on a drug kingpin around a village on a hill. Before too long, this shanty village will become the scene of an iconic vehicular stunt in which the entire town will be flattened. This sequence was later homaged in a big way by Bad Boys II, but certainly not topped. A foot chase ensues which results in Ka Kui chasing down a bus, gaining entry to it via a hooked umbrella, and finally forcing the bus to come screeching to a halt via an iconic standoff that sent a few stuntmen to the hospital (a stunt which was also later homaged by Tango & Cash). Some thirty minutes into the runtime of Police Story, there’s been so much mind blowing action that it would already have been in contention for iconic status.
As we’re introduced to various characters such as Ka Kui’s girlfriend May (the legendary Maggie Cheung), his lieutenant (“Uncle” Bill Tung), and the young “by the books” police chief (Kwok-Hung Lam), we get a blueprint for how both of the first two Police Story films will play out. Because Ka Kui isn’t just a man of action. He really loves May, even if he’s constantly getting into trouble with her. And his lieutenant and chief will be alternately praising and firing him as the films play out. For as iconic as Chan’s action and stunts are, his comedy is just as legendary. Huge set pieces are designed just for comedic effect, often ending in Ka Kui being in hot water with either May or his superiors. There’s as much talent on display here as in any action scene, with broad physical comedy and goofy face-pulling that never QUITE translates to Western sensibilities as much as the stunts do, but which endears us to Jackie and, in turn, Ka Kui, just the same.
Relentless in his ingenuity, Ka Kui will stop at nothing to get the bad guy, but he’ll feel like the perpetual underdog for the entirety of the film. Chan’s genius is in crafting characters that can alternate between bumbling and highly capable at the drop of a hat. And Ka Kui is the perfect embodiment of this dynamic. He won’t rest until he gets his man, but Chan the director/writer will put Ka Kui through the wringer before that happens.
And in the case of Police Story, Ka Kui will get his man after one of the most epic, glass-shattering, bone-crunching shopping mall brawls in all of cinema history, culminating in a life-risking stunt that has Chan himself sliding several stories down a chandelier which still gives me goosebumps. It’s a finale to end all finales, and takes its place amongst the great “movies set in malls” annals.
As writer/director/star/stunt coordinator, Chan secured legend status right here before our very eyes with Police Story. And with character Ka Kui, Chan found the perfect modern blending of underdog hero and nice guy buffoon that would become his archetypal character and propel him to international stardom the likes of which few ever see.
Police Story 2 (1988)
While the further adventures of Ka Kui in Police Story 2 are highly satisfying, this sequel somewhat pales in comparison to the original, and to Supercop and First Strike (the American titles for Police Story 3 and 4). There’s also a more recent sequel called Lockdown that is hugely disappointing and not worthy of the Police Story name. (And apparently something called New Police Story as well, but in neither of these films is Chan playing Ka Kui, so we’ll consider them non-canon).
Police Story 2 very much continues the trappings and shtick of the first film, with girlfriend antics, blow ups with his superiors, and even a reprise of the same villain from the first film. Police Story 2 saves a lot of the action for the third act, and that third act is a doozy, complete with Chan running in slow motion out of a burning building that explodes all around him. It’s impressive stuff; it just doesn’t quite live up to the iconic status of the first film.
That said, Maggie Cheung gets to shine a little more here than in the first film, doing some cool stunts and even making an appearance in the “injuries” reel at the end of the film after a stunt gone wrong that left her with 17 stitches in her scalp (one gets the sense that actors and actresses who work with Chan bear these scars as badges of honor). There’s also a fight sequence in a playground with Chan using everything in his reach to survive that foreshadows some of the iconic fights to come in Chan’s career, such as Rumble In The Bronx. The finale that results in the exploding building is also a show-stopper that lasts the entirety of the third act.
Chan would add the legendary Michelle Yeoh into the mix in Police Story 3, which eclipses the glory of Police Story 2. It’s a grand romp, but not the all-timer that 1 is. One can only hope and believe that someday Supercop and First Strike will also join the Criterion Collection ranks as some of Jackie Chan’s greatest achievements.
The Criterion Collection are industry leaders when it comes to home video. The kings of curation, it’s a massive honor just to be included in the Criterion Collection, and this has been the case since the days of laser discs. Jackie Chan now lays claim to spine numbers 971 and 972, and that might just be cause enough to pick up these incredible movies. But Criterion didn’t get to this dominance by curation alone. The original artwork and packaging are impeccable here. The transfers of these films look fantastic. And the bonus features assembled for these two movies contain some absolutely essential viewing.
My favorite bonus features include the excerpts from a documentary called My Stunts, which features Jackie himself guiding us through how his stunt team pulls off their work, and reflecting on the trade secrets he employs throughout his many movies. There’s also a wonderful interview with filmmaker Edgar Wright, who is a noted Chan fan and who is apparently also making his Criterion Collection debut here with this interview. Wright is reverent of Jackie, but also insightful, putting into words not only what it’s like to be a fan of Jackie Chan, but also how another masterful director took inspiration from the work of Chan. Perhaps the greatest bonus feature on this set is a 1989 episode of British series Son Of The Incredibly Strange Film Show in which western audiences are given amazing access to Chan and his team at a time before he’d really broken big in the west. It’s a wonderful piece of television which lets us hear from Jackie himself about his filmmaking techniques and philosophies which would go on to make him a legend. Honestly, several of these bonus features do such a great job of exploring the life and work of Jackie Chan that I found myself tearing up at the hard work of this entertainer which has brought me and millions of others so much joy. There’s no two ways about it: This set is a must-own Blu-ray release for fans of Jackie Chan.
And I’m Out.
Police Story 1 & 2 are now available in a stellar Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection.