Jackie Chan directs, writes and stars in the 1985 Hong Kong actioner Police Story, an entertaining if underwhelming picture that mostly serves as a foundation for some amazing stunts. The screenplay, which Chan wrote with Edward Tang, is constructed around the set pieces, locations and even props.
Police Story went on to win the Best Film award at the 1986 Hong Kong Film Awards and Chan has cited it as the favourite of his action films. He’d been trying to make his way into the American film market, with 1985’s The Protector his second attempt, and Police Story stands as a response of sorts.
Chan stars as Inspector Chan Ka-Kui, a cop with the Royal Hong Kong Police Force. He’s part of a sting operation that gets out of hand in a hurry and is reprimanded by Superintendent Raymond Li (Lam Kwok-Hung). The media laps it up, however, and sees Ka-Kui as some sort of star. He’s tasked with protecting Selina (Brigitte Lin), the secretary of crime lord Chu Tau (Chor Tuen).
Naturally, things don’t go according to plan. Selina is supposed to testify against Chu Tau and Ka-Kui tries to convince her that she requires police protection. When his girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung) is involved, matters are further complicated. The case against Chu Tau tumbles apart and Ka-Kui finds himself as the target of a dangerous gang.
As with many of Chan’s films, there is a balance of comedy and action. In the case of Police Story, this balance is less ably handled and there are long stretches that drag. The courtroom sequence is presented with some physical comedy tropes, like a giant set of speakers and a problem with the audio recording, but the payoff is negligible.
Part of the problem lies with the characters, as there’s no real meat on the bones. Chan is an average cop until his troubles with women commence. This fastens him with a “problem” and seems a fast fix for those moments when nothing is going on, but the rush to comedy is dull.
By contrast, the comedy of Drunken Master flows from the nature of the character. The audience knows that Freddie Wong is a loudmouthed punk and it’s part of the fun to watch him falter through his training and get better at his craft. In the case of Police Story, the fun is an add-on and the characters are insubstantial.
Luckily, the action is pretty kick-ass. The opening sequence features a fairly standard run-and-gun sequence that ends with a plowing car chase through a shantytown. The scene influenced Michael Bay for his Bad Boys II, but Chan’s Police Story somehow infuses the event with more activity.
The better sequences involve Chan on (and off) his feet. He makes great use of understated movements, like how he hops through a car in rabbit-quick fashion. The big sets are tremendous, especially the famous fight scene in the shopping mall that makes use of an awful lot of glass. Chan’s impressive slide down a light-covered pole is the highpoint.
While it boasts some wonderful stunts and features a blazing and clean action style, Police Story suffers from a lack of connective tissue. It’s still an entertaining motion picture and Chan is a top-tier talent, but there’s something missing in the final analysis.