Hong Kong martial arts films are an acquired taste, but whether or not you’ve yet savored the genre, sink your teeth the “Police Story” double-feature this Father’s Day weekend at Rochester microcinema Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse, where two of the best are screening.
Popular action star Jackie Chan (“Rumble in the Bronx,” “Rush Hour”) wrote, directed, and starred in 1985’s “Police Story” and 1988’s “Police Story 2.” Chan’s character, Hong Kong detective Chan Ka Kui, has been called a mashup of Buster Keaton and Clint Eastwood. Notwithstanding some mild slapstick — like an extended scene juggling telephones in his precinct — I think he’s more like Schwarzenegger meets Baryshnikov when you distill the essence of wry humor, action, and exquisite fight scene choreography. Best of all, the films manage to engage moviegoers without ever resorting to the opening bars of Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting.”
In the first film, Chan’s police officer earns a high profile for capturing crime boss Chu Tao after the epic trashing of a shantytown. The scene culminates in an astounding chase with Chan dangling from a double-decker bus by an umbrella while fighting off Chu’s henchmen. There are some fun publicity shots but when the officer’s 15 minutes of fame expire, he is assigned to protect Selina Fong, Chu’s former secretary and the star witness against him. Making things more difficult, Chan’s character is framed for killing a cop. It climaxes with one of the film’s huge action sequences – this one in a shopping mall – with several of the best moments shown multiple times from different angles. And if you don’t think these stunts are real or dangerous, stay for the credits and some of the most painful outtakes, which no doubt contributed to this one being named best film at the 1986 Hong Kong Film Awards. It also ranks as one of Chan’s own personal favorites.
The 1988 sequel picks up with Chan back in uniform, disciplined for the chaos that ensued at the mall. Chu is now out of prison early, due to a “compassionate release,” apparently because he is of failing health. The storyline is not as clean as in the original; here Chu’s character seemingly atrophies in favor of a new villain. Chan’s girlfriend, May, is pleased Chan has more time with her, but that doesn’t last long when he’s reactivated to battle an explosives expert who’s demanding a $20-million ransom. “Police Story 2” has all the action of the first and as much humor. For instance, preceding one fun beat-down by several policewomen in an interrogation room, an insolent suspect says, “You all seem like some nice young ladies to me.” (It is the rare instance when the dub works better than the subtitles.)
Gray Duck’s Andy Smith picked the pair of action films partly for sentimental reasons. “I love Jackie Chan movies for a variety of reasons,” he said. “My dad and I went through a five-year obsession with Jackie Chan’s early films (80’s and 90’s). It’s definitely a personal choice to show the “Police Story” movies, some of Chan’s best films, on Father’s Day weekend.”
Chan ranks among the top action stars and “Police Story” regularly appears high on the lists of genre fans. “The stunts and action are amazing!” Smith added. “Those who go crazy for movies like “John Wick 3” should definitely check out the original John Wick in Jackie Chan. There’s no CGI in these films: only talented people doing incredible things! Criterion has recently restored the film with crystal-clear audio and video, making screening them an easy choice.”
Smith says he hopes many families will make it a fun Father’s Day outing and that many daughters and sons will start watching these classics with their parents, just as he did with his dad.
Coverage paid/sponsored by Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse.