After a string of lackluster, high-concept American movies (The Tuxedo, Shanghai Knights, Around the World in 80 Days), New Police Story (San ging chaat goo si, 2004) finds star Jackie Chan more or less back in his element, a high-concept Hong Kong movie. Though way overlong and, in more ways than one, besotted with the kinds of annoying cliches common to action-thrillers these days, Jackie himself is in fine form and there's more than enough eye-popping action to rate New Police Story several notches above most of his other recent work.
Bearing no relation to Jackie's other Police Story movies, this one opens with disgraced Police Chief Inspector Wing (Chan) hitting rock bottom after losing his entire nine-man SWAT team, including his girlfriend's brother, in a botched raid on a gang of psychopathic bank robbers, led by cop-killer Joe (Daniel Wu). After a year in a self-inflicted, drunken stupor, Wing is approached by "new partner" Fung (Nicholas Tse), an ambiguously motivated young man determined to get Wing back on his feet to investigate a new series of robberies, crimes committed by the same game-obsessed gang who've since turned last year's police killings into a videogame downloadable off the Internet.
It's an uphill battle, for Wing can't forgive himself for the torturous loss of his men, even though former fiancee Yee (gorgeous Charlie Yeung) never blamed Wing for her brother's death and still loves him.
Like many another action-thriller, New Police Story feels the need to layer epic action upon epic action: every scene is a climax. In trying to maintain this frantic one-upmanship it's hard to get involved with the characters or the increasingly unbelievable story and situations. It makes for great eye-candy, and undemanding audiences aren't complaining, but one can't help watch it unfold with a feeling of detachment.
This is particularly true in the way New Police Story shamelessly manipulates its audience with multiple double crosses, crises that seem over only to begin anew, characters that seem to bite the dust only to rise up again for another round of bullet-spraying action.
And long gone are the days of a single, believable menace. In New Police Story, its five villains, unloved rich kids-turned-sadistic mass murderers, are better equipped than MI5 and, in the scene where Wing's men are killed, have brought a Grand Teft Auto: San Andreas-like videogame to life that in the real world would have required billions of Hong Kong dollars and the combined forces of Nintendo and Disney Imagineers to build. (This sequence recalls Scaramanga's deadly funhouse in The Man with the Golden Gun, though on a singularly more extravagant level.)
This sequence also leads to an unnecessarily protracted and unpleasant sequence with Wing watching helplessly as his men are dropped, one at a time, several stories to their deaths. What could have been dramatized in five minutes or less is stretched to a long 30 minutes of screen time, and drags the entire 123-minute film down measurably. Ironically, a single-gunman/hostage showdown that opens the film is in its way far more impressive for its relative simplicity than the epic massacre that follows it.
Fortunately, Jackie Chan's winning screen persona keeps pulling audiences back in. He was 50 years old when this was made but you'd never know it. CGI wire removal aside, Chan is in the thick of several incredible action sequences, doing the kind of stunt work no Hollywood star would even consider attempting (or that their insurance companies would ever allow). His love scenes with actress Yeung are also surprisingly tender if melodramatic in the popular Asian manner.
There's one outstanding set piece, worth the price of admission alone. It involves Wing and Fung's desperate efforts to stop a runaway commuter bus, a reworking of a similar sequence from the original 1985 Police Story, that includes too many eye-popping stunts to count and graced with Chan's signature humor, which the film could have used more of. Despite some awfully blatant product placement, the climax has its share of incredible action as well.
Video & Audio
Filmed in Super 35 for anamorphic release, New Police Story is presented in a solid 16:9 transfer, apparently a clone of the HK disc, that preserves the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The soundtrack similarly is up to modern standards, with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes available in both English (with Chan dubbing his own dialogue) and its original Cantonese, with optional subtitles in English, Cantonese, and Spanish. Unfortunately, the English subs are "dubtitles," which becomes painfully obvious during the climax when subtitles are flying fast and furiously over a Cantonese soundtrack that uses only music and no voices are heard.
Like the transfer, some of the supplements appear to have been carried over from the Hong Kong release. They include: Jackie Chan's DVD Introduction and Jackie's Personal Piracy PSA, each running less than 20 seconds. There are two Scene Commentaries with Jackie Chan, "Bus Sequence" (four minutes) and "Convention Center Rooftop Sequence" (three minutes), that make good use of a picture-in-picture technique, though Chan doesn't go into specifics about how these scenes were accomplished.
The best extra is a surprise, English Dubbing with Jackie (seven minutes), which not only is amusing insofar as Chan is seen grunting, huffing and puffing though a fight sequence, but also for its observations on the difficulties looping dialogue from one language to another, touching on everything from translating dialogue to enunciation problems. All of these segments are 16:9 with Chan speaking in English.
Also included is a 15-minute, 4:3 Making of New Police Story, in Cantonese, featuring interviews with the cast and crew, along with excellent behind-the-scenes production footage. Finally, 12 minutes of bland Trailers and video promos for other Lionsgate titles are included.
As has become a tradition in Jackie Chan movies, the end titles feature alternate takes, bloopers, and production footage of the actor and his crew hard at work filming the incredible action set pieces. Watching it, it's not hard to admire their craftsmanship (incredibly the film cost just US$10 million), and the bravery of the cast, several of whom in addition to Jackie are seen dangling something like 20 stories off the ground with nothing but a concrete street below them. (Safety cable notwithstanding, it's not something this reviewer could ever be talked into.) In keeping with Jackie Chan's anything-for-the-movie-fans philosophy, New Police Story undeniably delivers the goods.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.