Jackie Chan's output between the late 70s and early 90s is often something I find difficult to choose a best from, since fans of hair raising stunts and action comedy are pretty much spoilt for choice. It's an embarrassment of riches whether you prefer the old school thrills of The Young Master or the later period adventures in Project A. There are plenty of sequels and team ups with his old opera school pals to choose from. But for me though it always comes back to the eye watering, glass breaking, shanty town destroying madness that is Police Story.
As the story goes after trying a second time to break into the US market with The Protector (after The Big Brawl but before Rumble in the Bronx) Jackie decided to sit down and make his own kind of cop movie, with the freedom of his own production company Golden Way and as many sheets of glass as he could get through. Who else would let him get away with this kind of thing and include the sort of fight scenes he could dream up. Perhaps it's cruel to think that his failures in America were worth it just so he would get inspired to mastermind this kind of extravaganza, but the results of course speak for themselves. Here they really get schooled on how to make a martial arts movie.
In a lot of ways it's an uneven mixture, throwing in all kinds of domestic tribulations, slapstick humour and silly jokes. In one instance an undercover officer has a total meltdown under pressure, and then later there's a goofy press and publicity montage. They even use two pie in the face gags of sorts, both in a scene following a street fight with a gang of armed thugs of all places. The tone veers wildly from grim stake outs, explosive car wrecking chases and gangster intimidation. But the likeability factor wins out because everything is always so energetic. Unlike the later attempts at dark seriousness in later crime stories (hyuck) or the modern spin-offs, here they know exactly what to include in terms of characters and situations.
Jackie's underdog police sergeant Chan Ka-Kui is the perfect character for his style and disposition. The girlfriend trouble and the court room debacle that he gets into suit the character in ways that make you root for him when the more dangerous developments come along. The streak of bad luck fits far better than any kind of invincible hero factor. Maggie Cheung as his long suffering romantic interest is always entertaining, and a lot of the supporting cast are just as much fun. The obligatory 80s Hong Kong comedy 'hiding in bathrooms/bedroom' scenes are present and correct too. It's a movie that ends with the star and director also singing the theme song after all.
There's a certain charm to it all, and while dark moments are included during the third act it never goes overboard like the second entry in this series. It's a great sequel but a few moments are almost too mean spirited to fit with the overall tone. This first release builds up to a satisfying blend of melodrama and double crosses that is generally smoother. Of course there's plenty of action, the kind that makes your head spin when you even start to consider the sort of pre-production nightmare it must have required to pull off.
The opening and closing set pieces are just a massive kitchen sink effort as metal shacks are ripped down, motorbikes push henchmen through store fronts, and stunt performers fly out of upper floor bus windows. The elaborate and meticulous kung fu moves from the traditional period have all been left aside in favour of a more grounded choreography, and there's a certain kind of painful look to most of the sequences. The sort of dedication, or at least insanity required to even consider the falls and hits needed never fails to impress. But they want to show their skills, and even when things go horribly wrong the people involved want to keep their near misses on film. And where better to record your cuts and bruises than in the JC Stunt Team's finest hour.