New Police Story Review
New Police Story is not so much Jackie Chan revisiting the film series that first brought him to real fame as a piece of cinematic hitch-hiking. Chan, after completing Around the World in 80 days, was looking for a project to make in his homeland and happened across this cop thriller from namesake Benny Chan. The director made some changes to the existing script and incorporated Jackie's desire to return to the all action Inspector Wing of the previous Police Story movies. With the added box office power, the project was always likely to provide a shot in the arm to the currently lethargic Hong Kong film industry. This happy accident of events gives the audience a film which showcases some of the high octane stunts and thrills of the original films whilst maintaining the intention of telling a modern more dramatic story.
We join the film with Chan Kwok-Wing, the most decorated officer in HK police history, on a self destructive binge of booze and self-pity. A year previously the formerly top cop was taught a serious lesson in humility by a gang of young robbers he had publicly pledged to capture on TV. When he and his squad tried to take the gang down the inspector found himself ambushed and his team dead. The gang clearly enjoyed humbling the Police more than the loot they take and they have even turned the ambush into a computer game. In the present, passed out from drink in the gutter, the inspector is helped back to his apartment, and eventually back to work, by PC 1667, a mysterious young policeman played by gorgeous pouting Nicholas Tse. This walking advert for haircare acts as a guardian angel and helps the distressed detective to get his life back on track. Returned to the crime fighting and romantic saddles, our intrepid inspector starts to make life unbearable for the gang who fight back by attacking the inspector's loved ones. Using the help, and youth, of PC 1667 and a young policewoman, the inspector tries to beat his enemies at their own games of extreme sports and cat and mouse.
The original Police Story doesn't know when to stop itself. No stunt is too dangerous, no action sequence is under choreographed, and no risk is too high for Jackie to take in order to deliver the goods to his filmgoing public. The sheer commitment of the movie to thrills is unsurpassed 20 years on. Compared with the original, New Police Story lacks the same proficiency of action or kinetic drive. That Chan isn't quite as lithe or limber as he was back in 1985 is obvious and the attempt for him to rely more on drama here than stunts is a sensible development in his career, but robbed of energy and miraculous stunts Chan is forced to emote and inhabit a character as he hasn't needed to before. The problem with choosing to press his thespian credentials is that as a dramatic performer he is a fine action star, and his limitations in terms of range are there for all to see. Chan is a talented comic but his straight acting doesn't convince and as retirement planning from action he may be advised to look for another option. In New Police Story JC is asked to show that he is falling apart, that he is becoming a wreck of a man and that he is psychologically broken. Chan does try and works hard but he can't quite carry this desperation off. Worse still, New Police Story is not committed to making this fall from grace believable either. The opening drunken binge includes an impeccably dressed and clean shaven Chan wobbling about like an extra on the bridge of the original Star Trek. That he wakes up in his equally impeccable pad with his stain free shirt, despite sleeping in a puddle, further adds to the lack of credibility to this idea. This is meant to be evidence of the nobility of Chan's character but it is really just fashionable angst in designer clothes. It is probably a long reach for a multimillionaire family man to do social and mental breakdown and the reach here is well beyond what Chan can grasp.
This is a pity as Chan's recovery to super crime fighter is a potentially excellent story and some of the script's ideas could work very well with better direction and performances. The guardian angel of Tse is a fine role and given a less superficial actor this could have been far more satisfying and a source of some pathos. Tse and Chan lack any chemistry and when the true nature of their relationship is revealed it lacks any emotional power because there is nothing real which binds them in the present. The two actors do seem to be in different movies but the consistent impression that Chan has been parachuted into somebody else's film is unavoidable anyway. This hamstrings the dramatic intentions of the film although I am not convinced that these would have been realised without the Chan's influence either. For instance, the villains of the film come over as surly youngsters rather than the arrogant sadistic rich kids that their actions would suggest. The young robbers here have no real motivation provided for them and are left to ham up their performances to make allowance for their lack of back story. The idea of bored young riche taking their video games out into the real world does have some interest, but we are not given enough grounding or understanding of the gang. Their representation resembles the prejudices of a particularly free-associating old aged pensioner used to expecting the worst of the youth of today - they drink, they cuss, they don't work, they play games all day and they murder police and innocent bystanders! The gang leader is given some saving characteristics in terms of motivation, still it is a little bit of a stretch that he would be leading the most dangerous armed robbery gang in Hong Kong from a hideout that would shame the bat cave for its resourcefulness whilst still living at home with his unsuspecting parents. Even as action movie caricature, the baddies are weakly drawn and silly in conception.
New Police Story does carry off some fine moments of action. The chase down the side of a skyscraper is death-defying and Chan's humbling ambush has some moments of cruelty and initiative about it. Sadly though a lot of the action is derivative or a case of the great JC repeating himself. The finale on top of the convention centre recalls Infernal Affairs as does the photography of the film, the ambush is a less sadistic steal from films like Saw or Cube and the runaway bus is a homage to a far superior scene in the original Police Story series. Jackie is 53 now but the amount of wirework here shows how much artificial support his martial arts rely on now, and the amount that it is left to the more athletic younger cast to impress suggests that the old man's bones are not quite what they were.
The film does try to straddle the stools of modernity of genre and familiarity with Chan. So we get the trendy sadism of the gang and some hokey old fashioned humour when the inspector escapes from an uncaring Police station, and we get some crappy digital explosion effects and an embarrassing and decrepit romantic ending. Chan's romance kinda sums this tendency up as his girlfriend is a good 20 years his junior and their intimacy is bewildering in so many ways. The film falls between the two options of a wholly modern direction and following the worn out formula of the past, and the director's abilities are not quite up to covering the join. Benny Chan's film lacks decisiveness and vision and only some of this fault may be down to editing the movie down from three hours. The end of the film particularly captures this lack of identity and quality as the incompetence of the finale in the convention centre will live with me for some time, especially Inspector Wing's top ploy of beating the robbers by embarassing them in front of their parents. If I also mention that there is a fight in a lego land you will get the idea of how silly the denouement is that it wants to be trendy and adult whilst plugging toys for small children. The film's waywardness is undeniable and given the serious resources available to the director what could have been far far better is relegated to a so so flop.
New Police Story is excellently produced, weakly written and emptily directed. The quality of the cast's hair is the most remarkable thing about the film and the care it takes to ensure that the gutter surfing Chan looks cool tells drunks everywhere to buck up their sartorial ideas. As a product it is satisfactory although if you watch it twice I think there are a lack of good movies in your life.
Hong Kong Legends release the film in a 2 disc set. The first disc contains the film in a clean, sharp anamorphic transfer at the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The print is spotless and does look very nice indeed. When comparing the transfer to the earlier disc reviewed here by Kevin you can see some minor differences in the transfers worthy of comment.
The new presentation is a little more colourful and has had it's contrast boosted. There is also more evident edge enhancement and if you compare skintones you will notice greater warmth in the new disc as well. To my eyes, the preferable transfer is the original one which looks more natural and less glossy.
In audio terms there are 3 fine surround tracks available on the new set including an English option which is a surprisingly well done dub. The two Cantonese surround tracks do sound very similar indeed and switching from DTS to Dolby 5.1 whilst watching the film creates little contrast between the options. Surround effects are distributed well and dialogue is also present throughout all the speakers where appropriate. The audio integrates foreground and background noise well and all the tracks sound clear and crisp. I wouldn't describe the sound as punchy but it is very acceptable and the surround does not sound artificial at all. The English subtitles are removeable, clear to read, and well translated.
On the first disc, the only extras are a number of trailers from the Hong Kong Legends catalogue. Both the discs have well designed menus which are easy to get around. The second disc yields far more with interviews in English with almost the whole of the supporting cast, and a longer one in Cantonese with the director. Benny Chan talks a lot about his development in the film industry and his work in television before describing how Jackie Chan became involved with the project. His interview confirmed my impression that the director is more an artisan than an artist and his words here are not worth buying the set for. The interviews with the young cast are just gushing affairs about how lovely Jackie Chan is which paint him as a saintly cross between Mother Teresa and Robert de Niro. The second disc also features a short featurette which does feature short moments with the star and again shows the cast in awe of the man, it is very much a promotional piece with no particular depth or insight. There are four trailers for the film with three announcing it at the cinema and one for the dvd release. The majority of the second disc is taken up with video of the actors working on set. There are so many of these scenes on the disc that it gets very repetitive and why someone hasn't edited these scenes into a making of documentary instead of showing them unvarnished here is a mystery. These scenes are not narrated, very prosaic and a tad boring. Admittedly, I didn't love the film but the extras didn't add much to the experience for me and the largely missing Chan is a shame.
Jackie Chan deserves his success. He has worked harder than the rest and been a smart cookie with it. There is great business sense in moving his career onto the dramatic but this vehicle isn't fit for that purpose as it doesn't hold together as a hybrid of the old and the new. I am sure that as a rental, this would pass an evening harmlessly enough but Jackie can do better and I hope he will. This set is well put together and probably has the edge over the Joysales release because of the better English options even if the transfer of the older release is more to my taste.