I’ve always been a big fan of Jackie Chan. I grew up on his movies, particularly Legend of the Drunken Master and the Police Story series, and spent a good chunk of time some years back watching every Jackie Chan flick I could get my hands on, from Wheels on Meals (or is it meals on wheels?) to Gorgeous. I’m the type to want to bitch slap you when you say you’re a fan and ask me if I’ve seen Tuxedo. So, when I hard about Police Story 2013, which as you can see was released in China last December, I got excited as hell.
I’ll be upfront here: I loved this movie, but I’m not sure where to start for a number of reasons. The reality is, it was fairly average, but as a vehicle for the performances given by the lead actors—Chan and his opposite, Liu Ye—it’s highly effective and can be very entertaining. I’m also not sure what was intentional; if some of the things I liked were totally intentional, then this is also a slightly clever film. I might be inclined to think they were, just because the director (Ding Sheng) also worked with Chan on Little Big Soldier, which everyone loved.
In the beginning, Detective Zhong Wen (Chan), exhausted, climbs out of a taxi and into a busy, bright lit street with a look of bewilderment. He is headed to Wu Bar to meet with his estranged daughter (Miao Miao, played by Jing Tian), who he finds has entered into a relationship with the much older owner, Wu Jiang (Ye). Of course, Zhong disapproves completely. During the conversation, one element of the film is introduced wherein Zhong recalls incidents from his work as a policeman. The first incident he recalls is from the day before, when he intervened with a man who was threatening to leap off a building (the guy apparently apologized and offered to treat him to a meal, which was a nice touch).
Chan and Tian combine fairly modestly. If anything else, they’re believable as estranged relatives, if not together capable of evoking the sort of melodrama that the situation usually demands. Their meeting is cut short by the arrival at Wu Bar’s 3rd anniversary bash of an unfortunate fellow with a load of dynamite strapped to him, looking to force someone to pay him back and taking him hostage in the process. This is primarily a diversion used to introduce another prominent feature of the film, wherein Zhong quickly plays out how a situation could go before acting. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always play out right on screen, as there is generally no warning that Zhong is only playing the scenario out in his head. At times, however, the effect contributes to the film (at one point a character death occurs in a nice little psych-out moment). His story about the jumper and this incident also establish Zhong as an effective officer in a hostage situation. With that out of the way, the movie can really get started. As he walks off, Zhong gets clocked hard by someone in a mask. Before long, we find that Wu has initiated a hostage situation in his own bar.
You’re right, that seems a little bit absurd. In fact, by the end we find that this was actually a scenario strenuously constructed by Wu, although in the interests of avoiding major spoilers I won’t mention why. At first Zhong deduces that he was the target in this scenario, and queries Wu calmly for answers as to why, via recollection of some of his arrests. Giving no real answers, Wu calls the police and makes a demand for ransom and a meeting with a prisoner familiar to Zhong. The unfolding logic is simple, straightforward, and without fault.
This film succeeds insofar as Chan and Yen receive screen time and get the chance to produce serious and largely organic drama. Wu, for his part, is at first convincingly smooth and friendly; when he can see that Zhong is not all that happy with their relationship, he politely leaves the room. When he takes Zhong hostage, the glasses go and he adopts a colder demeanor without losing any smoothness. This combines rather well with Zhong’s equally calm prodding, and that combination dictates how the scenario plays out for the rest of the film. Once Zhong has started putting the pieces of the puzzle together, that demeanor slowly strips away to reveal years of building confusion and rage. Zhong, an experienced policeman, remains largely stoic throughout, with flashes of passion and desperation. He is, above all, determined to keep safe his daughter and the other hostages. Although this movie is average or bad in a lot of ways, Jackie Chan manages to create moments of intense emotion that rival his best performances (which is good, because Jackie Chan has wanted to do serious dramatic roles for years upon years upon years at this point.)
Jackie Chan took a big cue from Donnie Yen in this film by including a lot of the same MMA influences that the latter has used to major success. I think it works extremely well:
In his big fight of the film, Chan uses a stuntman extensively, but this is only really apparent when you watch closely and hardly detracts from the fight. The real focus is on the quasi-MMA fighting and the way it allows Zhong to develop. The athletic quality of the choreography serves to emphasize Zhong’s age in contrast against his opponent’s youth and power. He’s even totally outmatched in technique, leaving only resolve melting away into total desperation. The result is not the flashy, comedic Jackie Chan of the earlier Police Story films, or even the hyper-athletic Jackie Chan of some of his other films. It’s absolutely grueling.
There is, by the way, a major plot line of family values. See, Zhong is a single father and the rest would be a major spoiler. Toward the end, he realizes that his job has taken far too much from his family. As with the rest of the film, it’s convincing as long as Chan is in the shot and stops making sense when he leaves the screen.
The editing and cinematography of this film are two primary failures, turning simple scenes into confusing, frenetic messes. That’s not a lot of fun. On the other hand, although some reviewers peg the editing of the fight scenes as an attempt to hide “bad choreography,” this is utter horseshit. The choreography is fine, it’s Chan’s newfound need for a stunt double that necessitated the fight editing. The editor, notably, had never been lead editor on a feature length film before.
The end of the film just about pissed me off on account of a makeshift trial which descended into the realm of anticlimax, with a completely out of the blue red herring character that I don’t recall even seeing for most of the film. Somehow, even the following series of highly dramatic explosions became a bizarre anticlimax. But Wu slips out of this scene, leading to a scene which is really the emotional climax.
To recap, reasons not to see this movie.
- Most of the actors contribute basically nothing.
- The cinematography is not great and the editing blows.
- If you’re looking for comedic action or hyper athleticism, watch Police Story.
Reasons to see this movie are:
- Liu Ye and Jackie Chan are awesome.
- Brutal Donnie Yen-style quasi-MMA fighting.
- There’s a dude in a big funny protective suit.
- Family values?
Watch it, Jackie Chan is awesome.