All reviews by Judge Jonathan Weiss are performed without wires or CG enhancement. Suck on that, Jackie Chan!
A new breed of crime.
Jackie Chan is back in the latest, and most likely the last, installment of his incredibly popular Police Story series. What made this latest (and fifth) effort most interesting is that on initial inspection it felt that it was ironically taking an almost Rocky V approach to its story in that here's a character that was at the height of his game and is now shown as a washed up has been. This is a Jackie with lines and creases in his face; a Jackie who crawls into a bottle to blot out painful memories; a Jackie who hits rock bottom and reluctantly has to claw his way back on top. In other words it's a character piece, something the previous four installments never really delved into too deeply. It's also a lot darker than the previous films in the series, going for hard drama instead of laughs. Remember, we're now at a point when Jackie's martial arts abilities and death-defying stunts have been mimicked so mercilessly by other films that you no longer have to wait for a new Jackie Chan vehicle to see them. So how does this intentional break from formula stack up when compared not only to previous efforts but also from all the other martial art, stunt-filled titles crowding the DVD market? That, my friends, is the real case we're here to crack.
Facts of the Case
After a gang of cop-hating, video game-playing bank robbers slaughters his entire team, Jackie leaves the force, drinks heavily, and refuses to forgive himself for their gruesome deaths. Found lying in a drunken stupor in a rain-drenched gutter by his new partner, Jackie is reluctantly forced to put the past behind him in order to find, confront, and apprehend this gang before they can kill even more cops.
Before we even get into the movie, there's one thing that needs to be said: what's up with subtitles that repeat the same words in English that are already written in English on screen? If there's a freakin' building in the background with the words "Bank of Asia" clearly written in English on it then why in the world do we need to see the words "Bank of Asia" pop up on screen? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and if anything, takes attention away from other stuff in the scene that's more important. Same goes for scenes where characters are clearly talking in English. Guess what? They're already talking in English!! No need for a translation. Get with it subtitle people!
Whew. Just needed to be said, that's all. Okay, on with the review.
New Police Story starts in the present, works its way into a flashback, comes back into the present and then ends with an even earlier flashback. Important? Not really. Except for the last scene, the whole movie could have been played within normal continuity. Only if it did, you wouldn't know up front that this was a different kind of Jackie Chan Police Story you're watching. And that's what makes New Police Story so interesting. Up until now, Chan was Supercop. Sure he bumbled and fumbled about during his cases every now and then but no one got seriously hurt, and Jackie always won out in the end. Not so with New Police Story.
This film gets dark. The scene that sets up the whole premise—where Chan and his squad hit the warehouse where these culprits hang and are systematically taken out—is positively unsettling. You never really get to know the members of Chan's team except for a few token lines here and there (let's face it, they might as well have be wearing red Starfleet shirts and beamed down with Kirk and Spock to some remote planet—that's how much of a chance they had of surviving) but you still feel for them in how they're basically mere playthings, cattle being herded to the slaughterhouse, to be wiped out whenever and however their captors wish. And if it wasn't bad enough that these men were all under Jackie's command, to make matters even more personal, one of them was going to be his brother in-law. That's right, his fiancée's brother was killed right under Jackie's protective glare. Now if that doesn't get you sucking back Jack on the rocks by the bucketful, nothing will.
And that's where we're first introduced to him—drinking. After which we see him stumbling. Then throwing up. Then falling. And then lying faced down in the gutter. It's not that you don't feel for the man—even before you find out how he got this way—it's just that there's something 'clownish' about Jackie's performance in these scenes. Now anyone who has ever seen a Jackie Chan movie knows how integral this side of his performance is to his ongoing popularity. Only here, this probably wasn't what he was going for. It's not a bad performance, it just feels, well, exaggerated, like a guy playing sloppy drunk instead of being sloppy drunk. A much better scene is when Jackie finally sees his fiancée (Charlie Yeung) again after what went down. It appears many months have passed since they have seen each other and it's obvious just how ashamed, guilty, and in pain he is. In fact, other than the drunkenness and certain over the top moments during the ambush, Chan handles drama really well.
As you can see, New Police Story is more than just case gone wrong, cop finds redemption. There are subplots galore, the first one being the relationship between Jackie and his girlfriend. The second is the relationship between Jackie and his new partner. The third is between the key villain and his stepfather; and the fourth is between Frank, Jackie's new partner and Sasa, a technician in the Hong Kong Police Department. It's enough to make you drink. Do all these subplots come to satisfying conclusions? Yes and no. Oh, like you were expecting a resounding "you betcha"? Please.
Take Jackie's new partner Frank (or Fung as he's called in the IMDb—darn you subtitle people, DARN YOU!!!); here's the guy who finds Jackie sprawled out on the street lying in his own viscous bile. There's obviously something going on with this guy—and no, you won't find any spoilers (not big ones anyway). As played by Nicholas Tse, Frank (or Fung) is a young, smart, wily dude who obviously has a case of hero worship when it comes to the Chan man. He's also not bad when it comes to kicking ass. But that's not what he's here for. Frank is here to play Jackie's conscious and give him a reason to get back on the case. He's here to give Jackie someone to look after, someone he can protect in a way that he couldn't his fallen team. So does it matter that when we do learn Frank's back-story we still don't really know why Frank would willingly risk his life for Jackie? Not so much. But does it matter that after everything he goes through, we never get a clear picture of what happens next? Actually in this case yes, yes it does matter. Frank was simply too cool to be left hanging like that. On a side note, he and Sasa (Charlene Choi) make a sweet couple.
You can't have sweet without the sour (and no, that's not meant to be a Chinese food joke—okay, not much of one) so that brings us to our villains. These are rich, bored, sadistic thrill seekers. Killing cops is just another video game to these kids. In fact, they turn the initial ambush into an online game. Now that's cold. These late teens or early twenty-somethings are people you can't help but hate. You want to hate them. You need to hate them. They give you every reason to hate them. And then for some unknown inexplicable reason New Police Story tries to make us feel sympathy for them. What is that? Sure it sucks big time that gang leader Joe (Daniel Wu) hates his dad and for good reason—he beat him on a regular basis. It's also a good way of setting up why he does what he does in his own sick and twisted mind. But did we really need that little extra nugget of back-story? Couldn't he have just hated his dad's abusive manner or something? Did we have to see the black and blue bruises? Can't you just watch a movie and hate someone's guts anymore? If there was ever a gang of killers you want to see punished in a brutal manner this would be it—and it could be argued that in the end they do get what they deserve. Only they could have gotten more of it. After everything they did, serious Rambo type retribution was needed; closure through unbelievable violence. If that's what you're expecting (or hoping for) there's a good chance that you're going to be disappointed.
Okay, all those niggly bits aside, New Police Story works; and it works well. Which is really good news if you're Jackie Chan because in this age of CGI and Honk Kong wirework it's important to have an actual movie to fall back on now that the whole "does his own stunts" thing doesn't hold the same awesomeness it once did. Not that that means Jackie doesn't still scale walls like Spiderman or kick ass like a man twenty years younger. He does. But sadly there's now a been-there-done-that quality to action scenes that used to have jaws dropping to the floor. That's why it's so important that the drama quotient has been upped. If you can't dazzle them with tricks, awe them with intensity. And overall, that's exactly what New Police Story does.
It also looks pretty good doing it too. The picture is a little soft every so often and there are definite signs of pixilation, but they're nothing that will take you away from enjoying the flick. The colour palette is very subdued and on the cool side of the spectrum—ideal for the story being told. As far as sound goes, the 5.1 Cantonese track will fill your room with gunfire; that much is certain.
There are extras included on the disc and it looks like they gave it their best shot but truthfully, some of them were downright bizarre. The first two that come to mind are the Jackie Chan introduction to the disc and the Jackie Chan "Public Service Announcement" on piracy. On paper they might have looked to be a good idea but on film, well, they just come off as if they happened to have extra film in the camera and figured it couldn't hurt. The PSA snippet comes off as just sad as a clearly exhausted Jackie pleads with you to buy the original and not the pirate—which when you think about it makes even less sense considering you're watching this PSA on the disc anyway. So if you did get the pirate, what? You'll feel so guilty that you'll run out and get the original? Whatever. The making of piece was done with heart but there's nothing here that gives any more insight into the film—so again, its value is negligible. Another extra are two scene specific commentaries, again, something that could have been really interesting especially considering the two scenes chose were the two big action pieces. But again, the end results left you wanting more. The commentary for the bus scene in particular comes off really oddly because Jackie barely talks about what's going on in the scene. Instead we learn that Honk Kong filmmaking just doesn't have the budget that Hollywood movies do. Mind blowing stuff.
The one really interesting extra is a sneak peek behind the dubbing process as Jackie dubs his lines in English. Here at least we learn a bit about Jackie's true feelings on American audiences, English in general, and the dubbing process—but if you really want to enjoy New Police Story stick with the Cantonese track and English subtitles. It's great that Jackie does his own dubbing but it appears that none of the other actors do. Watching the English dub is the equivalent to watching pantomime narrated by hardcore caffeine addicts, and that's just not right.
Jackie Chan's New Police Story is a step in the right direction for this aging action star. It's a gritty, tense, action thriller with enough chop-socky and stunt work to satisfy his fan base with the addition of a true characters, story, plot, and motivation for everyone else to enjoy.
New Police Story is found not guilty. However the folks responsible for the bizarre extras are sentenced to three months detox. Case dismissed.
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