BENNY CHAN MUK-SHING has arranged wild gunfights inside Hong Kong Stadium and frenzied pursuits across the plains of South Africa. He also became famous for blowing to smithereens the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre - or at least a model of it - at a cost of $3 million. The director's latest stunt, however, could be more unnerving than any previous efforts: he's made Jackie Chan cry. For the first half of his latest film, New Police Story, Benny Chan has transformed the action hero into a perennially plastered cop, who gets beaten up by young rascals (played by flimsy pop duo Boy'z), shrinks from arguments, and is reduced to a snivelling wreck when confronted by his girlfriend. Benny Chan agreed that, given Jackie Chan's image as a macho, happy-go-lucky superstar, having him break down in front of pop queen Charlie Young Choi-nei is something as near to pioneering as all the budget-busting pyrotechnics in the film. 'We've edited a version with him crying and one without because, well, we were worried that audiences would find it improper that someone as strong as Jackie would cry,' he says. 'In his past work most people do not dare or wish to have Jackie handle such heavy, dramatic stuff. But I think it's time to let him try.' Jackie Chan's character, Chan Kwok-wing, started off as a brash cop who promises live on television that he will swiftly bring to book a group of crazed, trigger-happy spoilt brats led by the psychotic Joe (Daniel Wu Yin-cho). His bravado turns sour as his recklessness sees his team - which includes the younger brother of his girlfriend - outgunned in a trap-filled warehouse. This crude setback sets Chan off on a destructive guilt-ridden spiral into alcoholism, which ends only when Joe's gang strike again. Egged on by his haughty partner Frank (played by a revitalised Nicholas Tse Ting-fung), Chan is - unsurprisingly - lured back into action against the baddies. 'I hope the audience will acknowledge the fact that it's the acting that makes New Police Story a winner rather than the dangerous high jinks,' says Benny Chan. 'Journalists have been asking me all the time what breakthrough the film will bring in the action scenes or how dangerous the latest stunts will be. I believe, however, that all the action can work only with credible storylines and good acting.' Media obsession about the film's life-threatening stunts reflects how much New Police Story is seen as a Jackie Chan production. Those who watch the movie more carefully notice it is propelled by Benny Chan's trademark theme: exposing the fallibility of seemingly invincible heroes. 'Real heroes are not necessarily magnificent guys who save people and do great deeds. It's only those who can brush themselves off and learn how to live after failure who deserve to be called heroes,' he says. That was what inspired the director's previous film Heroic Duo in which the central figure is a desperate police officer (Ekin Cheng Yi-kin) who has to rely on a scientist-cum-convict (Leon Lai Ming) to solve a crime. Other directors might throw in gadgets, explosions and the token femme fatale to lift box office takings, but Chan made complex individuals out of the duo, weaving a web of intrigue and torment into each of the characters. Chan, 42, is no stranger to producing action films with proper narratives and flesh-in-blood characters since he graduated to the big screen after spending the 1980s in television production. His directorial debut A Moment of Romance (1989) is now seen as a classic of the gangster genre. Starring Andy Lau Tak-wah and Jacqueline Wu Chien-lien, it tackles the fate of a disaffected triad member caught between ruthless obedience towards his brotherhood and his own emotions. Big Bullet, made in 1996 with Lau Ching-wan and Jordan Chan Siu-chun, examines the dishevelled mentality of small-time cops in the face of a crisis. Gen-X Cops - the film which spawned a notorious scene of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre being blown up - was as much a celebration as an examination of the adrenalin rush of a younger generation. This theme - which was carried into the film's sequel, Gen-Y Cops - was further elaborated on in the depiction of New Police Story's villains, a gang of good-for-nothing rich kids who kill to alleviate their boredom. 'If you group together all the destructive youth in the world you would have more of them than terrorists,' says Chan. 'When I was working on A Moment of Romance, I saw all these young people racing cars on the roads. It was as if life meant nothing to them - they'll race themselves off the roads just for the sake of it. It strikes me that it isn't only the fiery criminals who imposes terror on us - how the new generation sees and acts is already a disaster waiting to happen.' While certain themes remain in Chan's canon - teenage angst, masculine vulnerability - he has moved with the times. As a director whose forte is the crime thriller, he has to. These films have undergone a seismic change in recent years, brought about by Infernal Affairs, and have flourished not only through explosive power and hackneyed car chases, but also through intriguing plots and intricate characters. Faced with the diminishing popularity of trashy violence - something which defined Hong Kong action flicks through the 80s and 90s - Chan seeks to offer a piercing perspective on human frailty. When Chan talked to the Post five years ago in a preview of Gen-X Cops, he spoke of beefing up technology and special effects as the only way forward for Hong Kong's then faltering movie industry. Since then, his films have been more narrative-driven. Crossroads, the film he has recently completed, was based on a script by Ivy Ho (who also wrote Ann Hui On-wah's July Rhapsody) about the personal predicaments of a lawyer (Ekin Cheng), a killer (Wu again) and a cop (Aaron Kwok Fu-shing). The virtual absence of digitally altered cinematography in New Police Story speaks volumes for Chan's altered view of local filmmaking. 'After Gen-X Cops, I thought special effects would help enormously in freeing the production constraints we have in making films,' he says. 'That's why in Gen-Y Cops we dared to conjure up plans of using robots and the like,' he says. 'We realised, however, that with our limited resources we were doomed to failure if we were to compare our work with productions elsewhere.' While some might question the largely decorative nature of Young's role in New Police Story - and the actress remains largely devoid of significant facial expression, whether she is trying to comfort a tearful Jackie Chan or keeping her balance while holding a bomb - the main cast has lived up to the director's expectations. Wu does well in a portrayal of a deranged cop-hater, and Tse is surprisingly convincing as Jackie Chan's sidekick. And then there's Chan himself. New Police Story is not without its share of visual impact. Shot in four months with a budget of $120 million, big explosions are plentiful. Chan and Tse, in pursuit of one of the villains played by Terence Yin Chi-wai, slide down the outside wall of the 28-storey Harbour Building in Sheung Wan. Actors are also involved in a series of perilous escapades on the curved roof of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre's new wing - a first for any production. These stunts, however, can barely conceal the differences New Police Story has with previous Jackie Chan vehicles by making the hero vulnerable. Jackie Chan's enthusiasm towards Benny Chan's tormented character is easily explained when one casts an eye over the work he did in trying to conquer the US. Jackie Chan's roles have spiralled into a racial, if not racist, caricature of the Chinese. The shallow and clownish roles in Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon and Around the World in 80 Days have left Jackie Chan with a battered reputation. And so with New Police Story, Benny Chan is reinventing himself as well as Jackie Chan - and all that will start with a few tears. New Police Story opens Friday.