Chan Ka-kui is an honest hardworking Hong Kong cop, part of an elite unit whose latest assignment is the apprehension of suspected drug lord Chu-tu. A massive operation is mounted with the purpose of catching Chu-tu red-handed, as he makes a drug exchange in a small settlement on the outskirts of Hong Kong.
The entire unit is deployed to the area, but before the cops can move in, they're discovered and a gunfight breaks out. Even though the drug dealers are outnumbered, the police have a clear disadvantage, because in this heavily populated area their line of fire is often obscured by civilians. As a result Chu-tu manage to escape, but Chan goes after him. The pursuit begins on foot and continues on a bus when Chu-tu and his thugs manage to commandeer a double-decker. But Chan is not about to let them get away. After a prolonged chase, he catches the bus and arrests Chu-tu single handily.
Despite the fact that Chan eventually caught the bad guys, the Police Chief is not happy about this fumbled operation. Still, he sees the PR value in a dedicated cop such as Chan and appoints him poster boy for a new recruitment campaign. Meanwhile the prosecutor assembles the case against Chu-tu and it soon becomes apparent that the drug lord might actually be able to wiggle his way out of the charges. To prevent this, the police come up with a clever plan.
Chu-tu's secretary Miss Salina Fong was among those arrested with him, and they decide to use her against him. Salina is called in to meet with the police chief and prosecutor, and moments later she's released on bail, giving the impression that she's prepared to testify against her employer. She's even provided with a police escort, and who better to perform that service than hero of the hour, Chan?
Naturally Chan objects to this baby sitting assignment, but he soon changes his mind. When He and Salina are attacked by several armed men in the middle of the night he realize that Chu-tu has fallen for the bait, and that Salina is now a genuine target. But what's more critical... so is he.
This 1985 classic is considered the seminal masterpiece in the genre of the modern Hong Kong police action movie. And rightfully so. Since its premiere the film has been endlessly copied by both Asian and Hollywood filmmakers but when you watch this film more than 20 years after the fact, its easy to forget just how influential it was.
Jackie Chan plays the lead, he directed the film, performed all his own stunts and choreographed all the action scene. My guess is that he also produced and rewrote the script along the way. Chan is fascinating to watch. He's a man in perfect control of his medium. His signature style of combining humor and action has rarely been matched (though Steven Chow has been working hard to make a claim on this genre), and the film is moving at a brisk pace, from one huge action scene to another, only interrupted by a few choice slapstick scenes to ensure the mood is kept light.
Ironically, the opening sequence of "Police Story" is played more or less straight faced. The attack on the small village (completely ripped off in "Bad Boys 2") and the subsequent chase with the double-decker, sees an almost normal Chan, just playing a dedicated cop, but soon the film descends into that familiar Chan craziness
It's kind of odd that a man who has made his name with death defying stunts and action scenes can do these small scale comedy scenes equally well. He may enjoy the big action set-pieces, but he doesn't need their support all the time. One scene for example features Chan in his apartment alone with the witness, while there is a cactus standing on his table. That's it. Chan manage to squeezes a whole slapstick routine out of this simple set-up. Another scene is just him and four telephones, which he has to answer all at once, and of course he ends up tangled in the cords. These small scene are often just as fascinating to watch as the big stuff.
"Police Story" is radically different from Chan's recent output on several points. First of all this is good old fashioned action stuff where people actually get hurt, shot and die, none of that "oh look! The bad guys are "just" knocked out, now we can all be friends"! Also, "Police Story" isn't as embarrassingly politically correct as his recent films. Thank God. A solid reminder that there was a time when Chan played something else than goody-two-shoes ne'er-do-wrong characters whose moral stance would put Jesus to shame. Chan lies, cheats, hits suspects (even women!) and generally behaves like an actual person.
In fact Chan has created a fun likeable character in Ka-kui. A man who's got no trouble defending himself against twenty thugs all at once, but when a woman comes on to him, he looks genuinely perplexed.
"Police Story" is a classic and iconic film, for many reasons, but it still has a fair amount of problems. One of these problems is that Jackie Chan ran the whole show himself answering only to... himself. This means that the film is more than a little self-indulgent at times. Often scenes that have no narrative merit are included, simply because they showcase a specific talent of Chan's. He would probably have benefited by working with an established director, who could rein him in every now and then, and get rid of the film's excess baggage.
Another problem is that Chan is not a real director, he's an incredibly knowledgeable stunt co-ordinator. He knows how to shoot an action, but when it's time for exposition scenes that doesn't feature either slapstick or action, he seems bored, and his mise en scène gets a little stiff. It also looks as if the supporting players in some of the scenes are just those stuntmen on the set that weren't engaged elsewhere planning the next stunt.
Luckily these problems don't cripple the overall impression of the film, besides Chan is smart enough to place the most impressive stunt in the final reel, which takes place in a shopping center, and the film ends on the highest note possible. Chances are that when you leave the film you won't remember anything but the mad last 20 minutes anyway, so who cares if there were a few bumps along the way...?
The distinct 80's feel notwithstanding "Police Story" is still as fresh and original as it was the day it opened. Despite its flaws, it's an engaging, fun experience. Definitely a film worth checking out if you're frustrated by the recent output from Hong Kong. And if you want to find out where all the American stuntmen get their ideas, look no further.