Police Story has been called the greatest action film of all time. That’s making a big claim, and I’m not certain it’s true, but I am certain that this film is a fine example of Jackie doing what Jackie does best: taking a beating from bad guys, good guys, cars, furniture, and assorted household items.
The film opens with a stakeout leading to a spectacular chase down the side of a mountain, smashing through a shanty town on the slope. This is a film made to showcase all the wonders of the stuntman’s art, from car chases, through fight scenes with multiple participants, falls from a great height, and of course a generous dose of people being thrown through glass.
It’s in the fight scenes that Jackie really distinguished himself from previous action stars. Until then, fight scenes mostly consisted of two combatants fighting, sometimes in the centre of a ring of spectators: a very polite gang of villains would always wait for the previous villain to be dispatched before beginning their attack. Not so with Jackie. When the story calls for him to be attacked by a number of bad guys, they don’t mess around. From the air it must look like a giant starfish doing the cha-cha, a close-knit bunch of fighters all attacking Jackie, who flails about in the centre trying desperately not to have the crap beaten out of him. Stirring stuff.
There’s also the general “are you crazy, man?!?” stunts for which Jackie is justly famous. Chasing a bus is something a lot of people, and some dogs, have done. Catching the bus by lunging at the back bumper, and hanging from an umbrella as the bus hurtles around steep mountain roads, is not. The sight of Jackie suspended from a top storey window swinging his legs to the horizontal in order to clear oncoming traffic is one I won’t ever forget. The fact that bad guys are vigorously trying to dislodge him while this happens is merely the icing on the cake.
Any discussion of Jackie’s films tends to spend a lot of time on the stunts, for obvious reasons. The fact that Jackie risks his life, and the integrity of his limbs, on a regular basis for our entertainment, justifies this focus, but it doesn’t mean that’s all there is. The story is strong enough to support the film even without the stunts, and the inclusion of Maggie Cheung and Brigitte Lin adds beauty to a tale of beastliness. There’s even some light relief, in the form of Bill Tung, seen here as Jackie’s superior officer. Tung and Jackie work well together, and have appeared in several other films, always to good effect.
In short, the film is one of the highlights of Hong Kong cinema, and is a must for fans of high quality action. The unseen outtakes, and the interview with Jackie Chan, give some insight into how he does what he does, although there’s no telling why he does it. We just have to be grateful that he does, because the man has made some spectacular action films, and this is definitely one of his best.