Being a longtime fan of the guy, I’ll admit to being pretty excited when Jackie Chan travelled across the Pacific and made his way to Hollywood. I thought for certain that it would be a “win-win” situation. You’d have Hollywood’s deep pockets funding Chan’s charisma, action, and death-defying stuntwork. How could that go wrong? Unfortunately, Hollywood just wasn’t hip to the way Chan made films.
Rather than relying on Chan to be his own best special effect, he got dressed up in ridiculous special effects, saddled with the most hackneyed of scripts, and — worst of all — forced to play it safe. (Seems Hollywood insurance companies were a might where Chan’s stuntwork is concerned.)
As it turns out, the best Chan could hope for were the “buddy” pictures (i.e. the Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon franchises), which, despite being pretty entertaining popcorn flicks, resorted to making Chan merely a comedic foil rather than the leading man he’d worked so hard (and broken so many bones) to become.
Combine all of those together, and you’ve got a rather disappointing downwards spiral for the world’s most famous actor (which explains why all of his Hollywood films pale in comparison to his Hong Kong output). And as if to add insult to injury, time is catching up to Jackie Chan. He’s pushing 50 years old, and when combined with the numerous injuries he’s sustained in his career, it’s only a matter of time before Jackie Chan will no longer be able to do those things that make him the one and only Jackie Chan.
So who can blame Chan for wanting to return to Hong Kong and revisiting the franchise that catapulted him into international stardom in the first place? When the very first Police Story movie came out in 1985, noone had seen anything like it. The mixture of action, physical comedy, insane stunts, and even more action that Chan achieved on this film is note-perfect, and essentially became the template for nearly every film he’s made to date. And it still remains one of Chan’s best films ever, despite being nearly 20 years old.
New Police Story is the 5th film in the series (at least, in name only), and easily one of, if not the, darkest and most somber film that Chan has made to date. As if to make this point crystal clear early one, the first time we see Chan, he’s drunkenly stumbling down the street, eventually winding up in an alley where he throws up and passes out. Considering Chan’s rather exemplary and charitable status in the world, that’s a rather gutsy move.
After that rather downbeat opening, the film jumps back a year to the events that led his disgrace. When a gang of masked thieves rob a bank and massacre the police force sent to apprehend them, Inspector Wing (Chan) vows to bring them to justice within 3 hours. A rather gutsy claim, but Wing leads one of the most skilled police units on the force. So skilled, in fact, that they’ve become rather cocky and self-assured. They storm the gang’s headquarters, only to be taken out one by one. Wing is forced to gamble for the lives of his men and loses, leaving him the only survivor.
Crippled with guilt and shame, Wing leaves the force and his long-suffering fiancé (Charlie Yeung, who replaces Maggie Cheung), crawls inside a bottle, and refuses to leave. That is, until Fung (Hong Kong heartthrob Nicholas Tse), a rookie officer who is Wing’s number one fan, is assigned to him and starts helping him clean up his life.
Meanwhile, the gang who destroyed Wing’s squad is still at large, brazenly taunting the police with their exploits. They’ve even gone so far as to turn their massacre of Wing’s squad into an Internet videogame, which only increases Wing’s ignominy. Fung gets Wing to agree to get back on the case, much to the chagrin of Kwun (the vastly underappreciated Yu Rongguang), another police officer who is on the same case.
After Wing attempts to track down a former team member who might’ve betrayed his unit, he is led to an extreme sports tournament where some of the gang members are performing. Things go horribly wrong; Wing’s betrayer is shot and plenty of carnage ensues (including the movie’s biggest destruction sequence, as a double-decker bus tears its way through downtown Hong Kong), and Wing and Fung are thrown in prison. As if that’s not enough, the gang members embroil Wing’s fiancé in a bombscare, destroying much of the police headquarters and landing Wing and Fung in jail (in one of the movie’s more unbelievable twists).
After so much of this disaster, the movie really begins to buckle. In attempting to turn Wing into a broken man, the movie continues to pile on one shame or abuse on Wing after another. If it’s not the loss of his squad (which also included his fiancé’s brother), it’s the disdain of his fellow officers who see him as an embarassment to the force. And of course, there’s his fiancé. Despite her best efforts, she can’t convince Wing that she doesn’t hold a grudge for her brother’s death, and so he cuts her off for fear of her reproachment.
Needless to say, all of this tragedy bogs the film down almost from the start.
However, there is one upshot to all of this heavyhanded melodrama. Chan does deliver some of the best acting of his career, all while playing one of the most pathetic characters of his career. Looking almost as haggard as Choi Min-Sik in OldBoy, Chan delves into some emotional depths I never even knew he had.
In one of the movie’s most affecting and moving scenes (I never thought I’d use those words in a Jackie Chan review), Wing arrives at his fiancé’s apartment after being tricked by Fung, who is trying to reconcile the two. As it turns out, it’s her birthday, a fact that Wing completely forgot. As he stands there ashamedly, Fung coaxes him along, even giving him a cake for her and helping him sing “Happy Birthday.” It’s all that Wing can do to keep from crying as he mumbles along. It’s a remarkably subtle and emotional scene, one made all the moreso because it’s Jackie Chan we’re talking about, and I for one, just didn’t know the man had it in him.
There are a handful of other such scenes, but unfortunately, they do get swallowed up by the piles of tragedy that get continually dumped on the film (and just to make sure the viewer knows to feel sad for Wing, the movie also slathers on a very heavyhanded soundtrack, complete with heavy orchestral numbers and somber choral pieces). However, so much of the movie’s focus is on heaping downfall on Wing that it also robs itself of any other possible depth. This is seen most obviously in the movie’s villains, the gang that ruined Wing’s life.
Early on, they’re simply portrayed as a bunch of spoiled rich kids who also happen to be extreme sports junkies, not to mention pathological cop haters. Although the movie hints at some possible reasons for their hatred — we learn that the gang’s leader (Daniel Wu, who is wonderful in One Nite in Mongkok) is actually the son of a police officer, was abused as a child, and may be doing all of this to lash back at Daddy — they’re never explored to any satisfying degree. As a result, the gang members remain cliched and shallow, killing cops and blowing stuff up merely because the script requires them to be reckless, dangerous, and obvious threats that need to be taken out.
By now, I realize that most of you are probably complaining that I’m trying too hard to find deeper meaning here. Obviously, this is a Jackie Chan movie we’re talking about, and one shouldn’t expect subtlety, character depth, etc. Rather, one should be expecting bone-crunching, wince-inducing stuntwork and furious martial arts action. Happily, New Police Story certainly delivers the goods in that department — once the melodrama allows it to do so, of course.
Given his age, it’s amazing to see that Chan still has all of his moves and speed, as well as his propensity for cheating death and performing stunts that would render a lesser man paralyzed. Whether it’s rapelling down the side of a skyscraper with nothing but handcuffs, trying to stop a runaway doubledecker bus, or falling several stories through a huge neon sign, Chan does it with as much gusto as he did 20 – 30 years ago. For all of the movie’s flaws, I still found myself on the edge of my seat, getting an adrenaline rush whenever I saw Chan do those things which only he can do.
However, the movie clearly tries so hard to be so much more than just another action-by-the-numbers film like so many of the ones Chan has made for Hollywood (and Hong Kong, for that matter). It tries to be bigger, both in the action (in which it largely succeeds), but more importantly, in the drama (in which it falters quite a bit). It never really strikes a balance between the two, and with none of the comedy that has become a Chan trademark, it quickly gets bloated and bogged down with all of the über-emotional moments, melodramatic showdowns, and innumerable calamities.
That being said, I really do love the fact that Chan, rather than resting on his laurels and churning out one more typical Jackie Chan movie for the hometown crowd, tried to do something new, pushing himself as an actor and having the guts to portray a fairly unlikable and humiliating character. For Chan, it’s a pretty bold move, and one that I greatly appreciate (and probably one that a viewer could read all sorts of things into concerning Chan’s age and career).
New Police Story is certainly not one of Chan’s best films. However, even with its considerable faults, it feels like one of his most ambitious (and, thanks to director Benny Chan, it’s definitely one his slickest, visually). But all criticisms aside, New Police Story gave me the chance to see a side of one of my favorite actors that I didn’t even think possible, and that most certainly counts for something.