Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Disappointed when his first film in the US market (The Protector) flopped, the great martial arts-comedian Chan returned to Hong Kong where he'd got his start and made Police Story, a violent but hilarious action caper where he is a hapless cop on a drug bust.
It is a film Chan is still proud of and it is punctuated by terrific set pieces which seem to be referenced in classic American cinema archetypes such as the Keystone Cops, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers and Jerry Lewis.
There is a clever playfulness about the storyline (hapless detective, misunderstandings with his girlfriend, ultra-violent but slapstick encounters with villains which recall The Three Stooges) and it is the dramatic set pieces for which the film has been acclaimed, not the least the bookend action. Close to the start cars crash through a mountainside village setting the place ablaze, and at the climax there is an astonishing fight in a shopping mall which reduces the place to a glass-strewn mess and ends when Chan does a death-defying dive down a three-storey trail of lights which explode. It's so good that the film shows it three times from different angles.
But elsewhere this is pure Keaton/Lewis: Chan hanging on to a bus by an umbrella and later acrobatically juggling half a dozen phones.
In the '86 Hong Kong film awards Police Story picked up best picture and best action choreography, and it was nominated in five other categories, notably Chan for best director and best actor.
The success of this funny and sometimes violent film launched a whole Police Story series, and inspired some interesting homage sequences in subsequent American films such as Tango and Cash starring Sly Stone and Kurt Russell (1989).
Chan followed it up with the equally acclaimed action-comedy Armour of God in '87 which opens brilliantly with some ooga-booga primitives about to sacrifice a topless woman to the Holy Sword and Jackie out-fighting them.
After that it's straight into an Osmonds-type Seventies band, and a massacre at a fashion show intercut with a Cantonese pop group. A fantastic first five minutes.
From there on in the DVD version there's bad dubbing, cheesy Korg keyboards and a guitar solo worthy of Styx. Terrific.
Nominally the story -- which owes a debt to Indiana Jones -- is about locating the five pieces of the armour of God and a pipe-smoking Baron who lives in a castle guarded by 50 dogs and three leopards. And there are drug-dealing monks and some Partridge Family-type acting. It was all faintly silly and didn't get US theatrical release, but it became Chan's biggest grossing movie in Hong Kong and -- coupled with the reception for Police Story -- drew American attention his way.
The effect of these two films -- and Armour of God also launched sequels -- was to get him his long yearned-for foothold in the States. But he took his time and weighed up his options and by the mid-Nineties was on his way after Rumble in the Bronx got him a cult following outside of American-Asian audiences.
But with Police Story and Armour of God the Jackie Chan story really started, and to be honest most of it has been downhill ever since.
Around the World in 80 Days, anyone?
A mid-price set of three early Jackie Chan films Project A, Police Story and Armour of God is readily available as Jackie Chan: The Master Collection. Each film is digitally restored and remastered with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and comes with rare footage and special features.