I get it now.
Although my love affair with Asian Cinema has gone on a lot longer than I probably realise, there always used to be 3 Superstars that I tended to avoid (probably because of their general awful American output). Jet Li I have already been able to not only forgive, but seriously appreciate and John Woo might have to give me a little more time (but there are films on the to-watch list).
Which leaves us with Jackie Chan.
I am not sure I can really explain why I have had this odd issue with the man. He seems personable enough. He appears incredibly popular. I even enjoyed a couple of films that he has appeared in, but I never ever say his name on the poster as a reason to watch a film.
I am a fair man though. I asked best friend a few months ago of for a list of some of Jackie’s better efforts, and a list was supplied. A gap in the movie schedule opened up, and I thought I would start with one of his widely regarded classics – 1985’s “Police Story”. This may well have been the perfect choice, because right away – everything clicked.
“Police Story” is one part action mixed with two parts comedy. Chan plays Kevin Chan, a pretty decent cop who is assigned the job of protecting a key witness (Brigitte Lin) from the machinations of the Crime Organisation she is going to deliver evidence against. At the same time he has to keep hold of his girlfriend (Maggie Cheung), who understandably is a little confused by another beautiful woman being bought into her world. The stakes keep getting raised, and eventually Kevin is framed for the murder of a fellow (but corrupt) Officer. Wacky Hi-jinks ensue!
The film opens and starts with some spectacular action set pieces. In fact I was pretty blown away by the opening sequence enough to settle down and decide to view the movie objectively. By any standard, this is top notch stuff, and I don’t need to bore you or myself with the details of how Chan and his stuntmen hurt themselves making it.
But it works. More surprisingly is what happens next also works for me too. You see, this isn’t a wall-to-wall action film, but also a comedy. A funny one. My opinions on Hong Kong comedy are well documented (I usually just don’t get it), but this one made me smile and laugh. Silly wordplay and visual tomfoolery all work wonderfully. One sequence involving Chan manning multiple telephones (one questionable ‘joke’ about rape aside) not only is well done, but it does not outstay its welcome, and moreover, actually has a funny punch line. Sure it is obvious stuff, but it works. Another scene actually really does not work in English, but when it is referenced again some 20 minutes later, it becomes hilarious.
Chan is actually quite a complex character. He isn’t a superman, he actually seems committed but not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He can also be an utter fool about his girlfriend. Yet the character does change and grow as the film moves on, culminating in him becoming quite the loose cannon.
The casting works well here – even though Lin and Cheung play little more than eye-candy to be placed in peril, they have the screen presence that can help carry a film. Lin actually has far more to do, even getting involved a little in the closing action. But they both help stop the film being dominated by Chan, which I think is important here – as the other male characters are not compelling enough (although to be fair, the initially annoying Kwok-Hung Lam gets one of the best moments of the film, along with probably the best line).
At the end of the day, this is an excellent film, and has opened my eyes to maybe just what early Jackie Chan’s star-power was about. He not only starred-in, but directed this film. It isn’t the flashiest, but the story is easy to follow – not always the case in mid-1980’s Hong King cinema. I’ll be continuing to explore Mr Chan’s output with a little more expectation now.