Police Story (1985)

Directed by Jackie Chan, Chi-Hwa Chen

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So this is maybe the best action movie of all time?

Police Story is about an officer assigned to protect a witness for the prosecution in its case against a drug lord, but it’s really a romantic comedy with a tantalizing amount of action set pieces that don’t involve guns.  These pave the way for a series of absurd Jackie Chan stunts that bring to the screen the same type of comic creativity that you’d find in a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin film.

Chan plays Chan Ka Kui who, after initially busting the aforementioned drug lord, becomes a poster child for the local police force.  He is celebrated as a hero and then assigned to guard a witness, Selina Fong (Brigitte Lin).  They develop the sort of chemistry you’d find in a Frank Capra film, and though this and the subsequent plotting is entirely predictable, it is nevertheless well-executed.  I mean, it’s more than that it’s f*ckin’ amazing.

Watching Police Story it’s easy to be struck with how awe-inspired more movies these days should be.  This is a conventional action movie that isn’t afraid to have some fun with its character or to get a little down and dirty.  It is alternately grim and self-serious (like in a Liam Neeson action movie) and deliriously comic, with slapstick scenes that seem to do nothing but try and make us laugh (they succeed).  With all that effectively intertwined this is just a very, very, very fun movie.

Jackie Chan knows where his strengths are, and the film sets up various action set pieces to let him play around, performing all of his own stunts.  There is an early shootout in a small village between a horde of police officers and the villain and his henchmen.  It gets underway only minutes into the film, and Chan handles gun violence in a way most action movies, particularly during this time period, failed to do.

The guns in this film are devastating, and you’re made to feel the impact and trauma of firing a weapon or being fired upon.  One police officer demonstrates such apparent PTSD, and in that moment it feels like the opening Normandy scene of Saving Private Ryan.

Beyond being appropriately violent, the guns in this movie, like many, feel like a crutch, so Police Story abandons them pretty early on.  In so many action movies people will fire round after round at each other, and the result is just a series of ducking and squib hits.  In Police Story, however, Chan writes them out of the script, almost in the same way you might write smart phones out of a story because of how many plot problems they would solve.

The memorable set pieces of this film involve hand to hand combat and any number of weapons, most of which aren’t actually weapons but instead repurposed as such.  There are stunts involving cars, motorcycles, a mall and a tiny village which is absolutely destroyed by the end (in one of the funniest visual gags).  In other moments Chan will perform stunts with umbrellas, pencils, phone cords, etc.  He takes mundane objects and figures out how to incorporate them into the action, demonstrating a level of ingenuity missing from far too many films these days.

The climactic series of stunts, a large-scale fight set in a multi-level mall, is mind numbing.  It’s like a virtuosic composer working at the height of his or her powers, and when the choreography here really sings, all music cuts out.  As far as the editing goes this is a fairly standard action movie, with the 80’s music you might expect, but for a few minutes we hear nothing but the grunts, swooshes and thuds of hand to hand combat.  It’s quite something.

So go see Police Story if you get a chance.  It’s a sign of what a good action movie and a good romantic comedy can be.  I could spend hours continuing to discuss the stunts, but it’s a wholesome, endearing, hilarious romantic comedy too.  There’s so much here to unpack, and every scene just feels so well thought through and assembled.  There are no real wasted scenes because even the expository ones quickly find a way to make you laugh.  Whether it’s an action set piece or a joke, every moment of this film has something to offer.  It starts with a bang and ends with one too.

Up Next: The Mustang (2019), Five Feet Apart (2019), The Sisters Brothers (2018)

One thought on “Police Story (1985)

  1. Great review, but seems like is a practice of Hong Kong cinema not to care about ”tonal consistency” as much as we do in the West. Hence, the movies from Hong Kong can be tonally all over the place much more than American movies. It is something I became used to after watching so movies from HK. I do find its one of the charms of Hong Kong cinema.


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