Jackie Chan’s latest movie, Rush Hour 3, recently opened. I haven’t seen it (though I probably will at some point — I’m a sucker like that), but I assume it’s just more of the same. Whatever the case, though, I hope that it’ll convince some of the youngsters out there to go back and check out some of the man’s older films, and you could do far worse than Police Story.
Simply put, if it weren’t for Police Story, there’d be no Rush Hour 3, no Shanghai Noon, nothing. Heck, I’d venture to say that most of modern action cinema would be sorely impoverished if not for Jackie Chan’s output in the early/mid ’80s.
After spending many of his early years as a pretender to the recently deceased Bruce Lee’s throne, and a somewhat disasterous first foray into Hollywood, Chan returned to Hong Kong. It was then that he discovered his winning formula, the action comedy. Blending whiplash-inducing martial arts with a broad, slapstick style of humor inspired by the Three Stooges and Harold Lloyd, Chan produced a number of very successful films, including Winners and Sinners, Project A, and Wheels on Meals. However, his crowning achievement was 1985’s Police Story.
Police Story has everything one now associates with a Jackie Chan film: Chan plays a bumbling, goofy police officer who, in a split second, suddenly turns into a bone-crushing machine; there’s lots of very broad, and sometimes slightly offensive comedy; everyday household objects (chairs, ladders, cooking utensils) become lethal weapons of death; and Chan and his crew perform stunts that would kill a normal, average human being like you or I twelve times over.
The movie’s climax takes place in a crowded shopping mall as Chan’s character, who has recently been disgraced and charged with a murder he didn’t commit, attempts to track down a notorious crimeboss and the evidence that will clear his name. Brigitte Lin and Maggie Cheung make appearances as two damsels in distress, but the focus is clearly on Chan and the amount of damage he deals out — and takes.
After about two minutes, the film just jumps into a parallel universe of absurdity. (Just what, exactly, is that motorcycle doing there?) And yet, Chan doesn’t let you off the hook so easily. He wants you to know how much it hurt to make the film, to know that these stunts are not just something you brush off. He wants you to know that these are real people doing really dangerous things.
So when you see Nameless Thug #47 fall 15 feet from a balcony to the concrete floor below, or get kicked down an escalator, what you see is what really happened sans any special effects or camera tricks. Which, for all of the goofiness and absurdity inherent to a Jackie Chan movie, gives a hardness and realism that you don’t find in too many other action movies.
The finest example of this is the movie’s most famous stunt, which has Chan sliding down a three-story pole wrapped in light bulbs, which explode all around him as he descends. The stunt is replayed from three different angles so that you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it’s actually Jackie Chan suffering those second-degree burns, getting cut up by shattering glass, and falling the last ten feet or so onto the cold, hard floor below. He wants you to know that only he, and no mere mortal, can pull something like that off.
Guess what? He’s right.