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Art house: Police Story

Paul Fonoroff

 

Arguably the weakest-scripted best picture winner in the Hong Kong Film Awards' history, Jackie Chan's 1985 blockbuster still deserves its status as a cinematic classic. The reason is encapsulated by the undisputed merit of its award for best action choreography. The danger and derring-do of Police Story's opening and finale, along with several scenes in between, nearly make up for the puerility of the plot machinations that string them together.

It's Chan's show all the way. As the film's director and star, he co-authored the scenario with Edward Tang King-sang and supervised the action (the credit went to Jackie Chan's Martial Arts Group). Last but not least, he portrays the cop at the saga's centre. Sergeant Chan Ka-kui is a part tailor-made for the headliner, whose humour, dexterity and determination were not markedly different from the persona Chan projected both on and off screen.

The titular "story" is little to write home about, being a trite affair in which the good sergeant and assorted colleagues go after a nefarious drug boss (Chor Yuen) by convincing the beautiful canary in his gilded cage, Salina (Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia), to turn stool pigeon. Lin and future acting great Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, as Chan's petulant girlfriend, are provided with pitifully little to do. Even more incredibly, Lin was nominated for best actress, testament to the dearth of pithy women's roles in mid-1980s Hong Kong cinema.

But all is forgiven once Chan and his stunt team go into action. This they fortunately do as soon as the title credits and obligatory introductory exposition are disposed of. Chan's pursuit of the crime baron through a hillside squatter village not only leaves the settlement in ruins, but neatly segues into one of the most acrobatic bus chases ever lensed, aided and abetted by the star's Chaplinesque use of an umbrella.

Overlooking the narrative inanities and more large-framed glasses than an entire season of Dynasty, the movie presents a number of non-perilous surprises as well.

Highlights include amusing cameos by contemporary luminaries such as radio personality Winnie Yu Ching as a boyish policewoman in charge of Chan's publicity shoot, and composer Michael Lai Siu-tin in a hilarious scene, displaying the sergeant's special talent for parallel parking.

These are but mere detours on the way to the bravura finish in the Wing On Department Store, a sequence whose novelty reflected the modernity of the then new Tsim Sha Tsui East district. More than a quarter of a century later the cop's multi-storey atrium leap remains an impressive feat, so much so that its instant replay from different angles is still welcome, despite serving no dramatic purpose other than a chance to savour Chan's tour de force.

It furnishes the proceedings with such an impressive coda that one can almost - but not quite - forget the vacuity of the preceding situations and characters, particularly the female angle.

Far more satisfying results were to be achieved in Police Story III: Supercop (1992), the apex of the five Police Story installments produced from 1985 to 2004. But for a look at Chan at his physical peak and relatively unfettered by scriptural stratagems, you can't do much better than the original opus.

48hours@scmp.com

 

Police Story , May 11, 7pm, HK Film Archive; June 9, 2pm, Broadway Cinematheque. Part of the 100 Must-See HK Movies programme

 

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