There’s no one who quite matches a modern day equivalent of Buster Keaton the same way that Jackie Chan does. Like Keaton, Chan has also directed himself as he performs many of his own stunts, no matter how dangerous they may be, but there’s no denying that the spectacle of what was to come by is something out of the ordinary. But he also manages to perfectly mix the excitement with a touch of comedy too, and there’s no film that best sums up everything that Jackie Chan has always been able to do at his best than Police Story. From first moment to last, Jackie Chan presents an action spectacle unlike any other – because who needs the elaborate action of gunplay when you also start off with Jackie Chan driving right through a shanty town in the opening, especially since none of that excitement ever stops. This is a film that best shows everything that the action genre can be like at its best, and the more it goes on, the more you’ll only find yourself wanting it to continue. But most importantly, there’s so much to love about the very dedication that Jackie Chan puts into making Police Story possible, because no one puts their audiences in the mood of the sequence in that same way Jackie Chan does.
From the first moment you already get an idea that this film won’t ever stop or let down on the action, quickly going through a police procedural that sets up our protagonist and antagonist perfectly. Jackie Chan plays Detective Chan Ka Kui, a dedicated but absent-minded officer who takes no compromises as he is assigned to take down the notorious crime lord Chu Tao (Chor Yuen). What soon follows is a series of complicated tasks involving the protection of Chu Tau’s secretary Selina (Brigitte Lin), a case of mistaken impressions from his girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung), but also a framing for murder. For how much would be crammed into the story behind Police Story, it also shows how energetic the final product happens to be and also brings out the very best results in that regard. It’s a film that starts off already moving, continues moving but perhaps even more quickly too, but in that span of time it also provides some of the most exciting action as it is made even more entertaining through perfect comedic timing.
It’s impressive enough just to think about how Jackie Chan manages to perform so many of his own stunts onscreen, no matter how dangerous they may be. In the first fifteen minutes of the film, you already have a film that’s never afraid to embrace its own silliness but soon enough you also have Jackie Chan chasing a bunch of bad guys as they drive through a shanty town, or even hanging onto the back of a bus with an umbrella. Moments like these are funny in concept but given as Chan himself is directing these sequences for our own amusement, there’s a whole lot more to be admired in the work put into allowing such elaborate stunts to be choreographed, let alone filmed in order to go along with the movement. Chan knows already that creating the greatest spectacle for audiences would even be dangerous for himself, but he’s never afraid to embrace that and mix it so perfectly with physical comedy, but how all of his talents come together in here would already go to show how much of a wonderful showman he is. You’re seeing real danger right on the screen, and you feel like you’re a part of the action too.
Even in moments where Jackie Chan isn’t injuring himself for our own pleasure, Police Story never lets down on the absurdity. In one of these moments, you have Ka Kui’s girlfriend May having prepared a surprise birthday party for him, as it only results in her embarrassment when she mistakenly assumes the thinly dressed Selina for a new lover. But how Jackie Chan mixes in this subplot into a film all about a dedicated detective who could nearly have killed himself just to get the necessary evidence to send a known drug lord behind bars is all too perfect. It’s perfect because it shows that even the indestructible action heroes we all loved so much have their own weak points, something that would take far more than the elaborate stunts to solve. If anything else best sums up how perfectly can Jackie Chan throw himself into comedy, there’s also a sequence in which he’s trying to manage so many phone conversations all at the same time. It’s a sequence like this that exemplifies everything we love about Chan’s comedic timing, especially in how his audience recognizes the pain that his characters feel.
So much can be said about how much this film carries everything that Jackie Chan can be like at his best, but the shopping mall sequence is where all of his best talents find themselves utilized to the most of what they’ve got. From the assembly of the set pieces to the timing of the action, or even the way in which Jackie Chan just uses everything around him to take down an entire army of bad guys, it provides everything that one can ask for in a Jackie Chan movie. But everything leading up to this pivotal moment speaks a great deal about Jackie Chan’s abilities as a dramatic actor too, allowing even a rather basic sounding plot turn far more exciting. You’re watching a film all about an ordinary man who is continuously being pushed to the edge everywhere he goes, but as it reaches the final moment, the same indestructible hero that you saw from the start of the film also feels so much more grounded too. But Jackie Chan also understands how well his audiences would have been able to come around to seeing everything that he has witnessed, only for his journeys to be rendered meaningless – thus it even brings out a sense of humanity from laid out character tropes too.
Police Story may not have so much of a plot going for it, but it delivers exactly what it promises from the title, a “police story” where you have an ordinary man fighting against all odds. But as much as this style may have been replicated by many filmmakers that have followed in its own footsteps, Jackie Chan films make themselves distinctive for being purely Jackie Chan in the best way. He knows already what stakes he’ll have to overcome in order to make a purely entertaining movie, through the veins of Alfred Hitchcock. But he also knows how to blend all of that so well with comedy, and much like Buster Keaton he’s a man who shows himself in danger for the sake of entertaining his own audience. When you watch Jackie Chan just simply being himself, whether it be in front of the camera or behind it, you’ll find yourself in the presence of a physicality that feels missing from the action genre. But as is the case with a movie where so much glass is being broken and all the actors are doing their own stunts, you’ll be wondering to yourself how Jackie Chan and his entire crew managed to survive afterward. At the end of the day, you’ll feel glad about having seen the spectacle of it all.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Janus Films.
Directed by Jackie Chan
Screenplay by Jackie Chan, Edward Tang
Produced by Raymond Chow, Leonard Ho
Starring Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Chor Yuen, Charlie Cho
Release Date: December 14, 1985
Running Time: 101 minutes