Before Rush Hour or Rumble in the Bronx, there was Police Story. Watch Jackie Chan and his loyal brand of masochistic stuntmen as they throw themselves through glass, out of buses, off roof tops and anywhere else common sense would tell you not to jump from. Gone is the innocent charm of Chan that comforts you as he twirls a ladder or jumps from one ten story building to another. Police Story is a darker film with stunts that boarder on the horrific.
Jackie Chan is a name that is synonymous with outrageous stunt work with a splash of innocent charm. Widely known state side for his Hollywood work such as the Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon/Knights films, Chan’s earlier Hong Kong work trades the charm for a dark tone that makes his amazing, and often insane, stunt work all the more spectacular. Perhaps none of his films are more spectacular than 1985’s Police Story.
Written by, directed by and starring Chan, Police Story tells the tale of a cop trying to nab the local drug lord. The film opens with a bombastic set piece that is literally destroyed within a couple of minutes. As the police force invades a hillside shanty town their cover is blown and a car chase ensues, leading to a cavalcade of cars driving through the shanties to the road below. Unlike a Hollywood light show in the vein of Michael Bay, Chan opts for a simple point-and-shoot method of directing. In a wide shot of the hill side town, the cars descend through the shacks as explosions highlight the mountainscape and extras jump out of the way of the rampaging cars. It is a sight that has to be seen to believe, and all within the first 10 minutes.
This extreme, guerilla-style filmmaking is unnerving to say the least. When the cars begin to crash through the town, jaws hit the floor in disbelief. This isn’t a carefully designed stunt with actors on wires and cars on tracks. This is people actually driving through a town. And it’s that disregard for self-preservation that makes the film work, if not hard to watch at times. There is a point, probably when the “bad guys” crash through the windows on a double-decker bus and land head-first on the concrete below, where you realize that people are actually hurting themselves.
The plot is inconsequential and merely an excuse for Chan and his team to try to kill themselves, be it on a bus or in a mall. With that in mind, the explication scenes are dreadfully boring. Basically, you can watch the first 20 minutes, the last 20 minutes and then find the short fight-sequence in the middle of the film, then call it a day. For American audiences, the darker side of Chan is off-putting, but it helps sell the ridiculous stunts involving him throwing the bad guys through endless mall window displays. The casual violence toward women is also something that doesn’t translate very well to the American shores. If Chan sliding down a metal poll with live electrical wires connected to it didn’t make you squirm, one of the bad guys throwing the female protagonist through a glass table might.
Police Story is definitely more for fans of the stunts and fighting genre. Yet, it is an impressive display from Chan as he basically scraped this film together on a shoe string budget. It is the pinnacle of his Hong Kong career and the launching point for his journey over to America, where, some would argue, his stunts got soft. If you are a fan of the genre, you might want to add three more stars to the film’s “star” rating, but for those looking for more, the movie falls a bit short.
Police Story, or practically any Jackie Chan movie, is not likely to see a better home video re-incarnation than this “Collector’s Edition.” The video is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, preserving the original 2.35:1 ratio. The video is soft, the colors are washed out, and there is the occasional storm of artifacts and scratches. At a time when high definition displays are starting to take over the market, this type of video transfer is unacceptable. That said, odds are that the film never has and never will look better than what this DVD offers.
The sound is a similar story. The disc offers a dubbed English Dolby Digital 5.1, the original Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. To subtitle or not to subtitle is the question and there are pros and cons to both. The Cantonese track eliminates the camp of the dubbed English soundtrack, which emulates every dubbed Godzilla soundtrack joke you’ve ever heard. On the other hand, the dubbed English track tends to be clearer and more pronounced than the Cantonese track, with a broader spectrum of sound.
In the way of special features, this disc is stacked. First, you have commentary with director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X3) and Asian film expert Bey Logan. Logan provides some insights by putting the film in context of the time and pointing out why it was ground-breaking. Ratner, on the other hand, is annoying as he reminisces about what the film means to him; meanwhile, we are wondering why we’re listening to this windbag at all.
In the featurette “A Tribute to Jackie Chan,” Ratner continues his rambling praise, while Logan’s enthusiasm for the film shines through. The alternative openings and endings are hardly worth watching as are the “Rare Deleted Scenes.” However, if fans of the film are as excited as Ratner and Logan, they’ll want to take the time to savor every minute.
“A conversation with director and star Jackie Chan” is the most interesting feature on the disc. Jackie laments about how they didn’t tape a “making of” during the production, which is explains the re-use of film footage in featurettes. He also shares some anecdotes of production such as a stunt man nearly dying during the (in)famous cars-through-the-town scene and how the skin of his hands was burned off during his slide-down-the-electric-pole scene.
“Stunts Unlimited: A Retrospective with Members of the Celebrated Jackie Chan Stunt Team” is a bit redundant after watching the interview with Chan. There isn’t any new footage, but the history and legacy of the stunt team makes this compilation of interviews worth watching. Several Trailers round out the package.