Crime Story Review
In April of 1983 pharmaceutical tycoon Teddy Wang was kidnapped and chained to a bed until his wife met the ransom demand of $11million. Seven years later in 1990 lightning struck twice when Wang was kidnapped again, but despite his wife meeting the ransom demand for a second time Wang was dumped in the sea and his body was never discovered. The case received intense media exposure in HK, so it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the idea to base a film around the case. That someone turned out to be film director Kirk Wong Chi Keung, who envisioned the film with Jet Li in the main role, but unfortunately that year Li’s manager was shot by triads and the diminutive kung fu star decided it was time he moved back to the mainland. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise however when Kirk Wong managed to sign Jackie Chan up as Li’s replacement.
Jackie Chan plays Eddie Chan, a burnt out inspector in the Organised Crime & Triads Bureau who’s having hard time coming to terms with the fact he shot and killed three armed robbers in a recent stand off in the streets of HK. His next assignment is as a bodyguard for real estate tycoon Wong Yat Fei, a man who has been kidnapped once before and has reason to believe that history is about to repeat itself. Wong’s intuition proves right when, despite Chan’s diligence, he and his wife are abducted by a gang of violent thugs. The wife is later set free so she can gather up the ransom demand of $60million, but Chan persuades her to hold off on paying the entire fee so the police can launch a full scale investigation into Wong’s whereabouts. At this point Detective Hung is brought in to aid in the investigation; Hung was the cop who handled Wong’s first kidnapping, and he also happens to be the man behind the current kidnapping. Hung starts sabotaging the investigation at every chance he gets, but as his actions become more desperate, Chan begins to suspect there is something seriously fishy about his new colleague.
Crime Story has a special place in Jackie Chan’s filmography as the first time the Kung Fu clown took on a completely straight action thriller. Straying from the action-comedy formula that Chan has built his career on was quite a risk, he’d only done so once before with Heart of Dragon in 1985, but Crime Story was a minor hit grossing over $27million at the HK Box Office. The reason for this is simple: Crime Story is a damn fine thriller in its own right. In Kirk Wong’s hands a very generic plotline becomes quite intense; his partnership with Cinematographer Arthur Wong makes sure the film’s visuals are constantly engaging, and Jackie Chan ensures that the action set pieces make leave a big impression. For a good hour or so while each character is introduced before the abduction takes place and the initial manhunt afterwards the editing is relentless and the camera never stops working. With lengthy handheld sequences and complex aerial pans there’s a sense of real visual exploration in the film. As a result fresh life is imbued into rather mundane moments like a scene where tycoon Wong is having a business discussion atop an unfinished apartment block and the follows the men with a lengthy pull back and then sweeps into the sky to reveal the neighbouring blocks that they’ve already built. The colour scheme too is equally inventive; a shootout on the rooftops of Taipei which is gorgeously lit by a red neon advertising board leads into a fight sequence among the rafters of a theatre that is basked in deep blue. This is also the stage for a pivotal moment in the film to occur and the strong lighting emphasises the impact.
Alongside the many stylistic touches, Kirk Wong has made every effort to ensure the story remains as gritty and realistic as possible. In fact, this one of the few HK action films where the police procedural work actually feels authentic and the director was also brave enough to include a very realistic triad ritual near the start (something which earned the film a harsher rating in HK). There’s also room to slap in the odd bit of social commentary - like when Chan is trying to call for back up during the kidnap attempt on Wong. He phones his bureau but they won’t let him report the crime until he gives them his badge number and password (which he doesn’t have on him because he’s off-duty), in the end Chan realises it would be quicker to get back up by dialling 999 and report the crime as a civilian.
If Kirk Wong’s direction is stylishly overt, he’s backed up admirable by two refined performances from Jackie Chan and veteran character actor Kent Cheng. Perhaps because of his influence from the silent classics of the 20’s, Jackie has always been prone to over-act his dramatic scenes like he does the comedic. Here, bar one hospital scene, he’s surprisingly restrained and sells all of his scenes with Kent which require subtle suspicious glances. He won best actor at the 30th Golden Horse Awards and has yet to put in a dramatic performance as strong in any of his subsequent films. Given Kent Cheng’s physicality he doesn’t have much to do in the action department, but he aptly expresses the seediness and disillusionment that ultimately corrupted Detective Hung. As for the action, it too is tastefully restrained by Jackie’s standards; there simply isn’t any room for fighting hi-jinks in a gritty action drama like this. Chan has a chance to engage in some moody fisticuffs in three reasonably brief fight scenes, one of which (the aforementioned fight atop a theatre) has obviously been added in later to increase the fight quotient, as Jackie’s hair is about half as long as it is for the rest of the film! Unsurprisingly too given the theme of the piece, there’s a lot more gunplay than you’ll find in other Jackie Chan films, and while they don’t match the balletic nature of John Woo’s action, the short outs are suitably intense and Jackie’s reactions in the shootouts successfully convey the psychological effect on Eddie Chan as every single death clearly has a heavy emotional effect on the character. Saving the best for last, the closing action sequence features a combination of martial arts, gunplay, and some impressively large scale pyrotechnics in a truly explosive finale that proves a very fitting end to a constantly engaging action thriller.
PresentationThe Joy Sales R3HK DVD of Police Story comes housed inside a slipcase, as is the standard for HK DVDs these days. Inside the case there’s a little pamphlet that displays a few poster designs for the film. Inside the pamphlet is also the original film synopsis, which harks back to director Kirk Wong’s original vision for the project. In the original synopsis there is considerably more romance between Detective Hung and his escort girlfriend Ka Ka, which plays a large part in his motivation for kidnapping Mr. Wong. The romance between Eddie Chan and Clarissa is also one of the primary focuses of the story.
Presented anamorphically in the original 1.85:1 ratio, this Joy Sales release benefits from using the remastered HD Fortune Star print and it looks very nice indeed. The print exhibits the occasional nick and scratch that shouldn’t be particularly noticeable in normal playback; some scenes also appear to be somewhat grainy in certain shots (especially during the workers wage dispute scene), and it seems some digital noise reduction has been applied to reduce this - which leads to a reduction in fine detail in certain shots (again the workers wage dispute sequence is affected). Other than the rare case of DNR induced softness the image is razor sharp, with close ups in particular looking very detailed. Mid to long range shots also exhibit a pleasing amount of detail, but some very minor Edge Enhancement can be seen in the occasional long shot. Brightness levels are a little on the dark side, resulting in some poor shadow detail in one or two dimly lit scenes, contrast though is excellent. Last but not least, the colour scheme is absolutely fantastic; colours are very clean, bold and extremely vibrant, perfectly complimenting the very colourful cinematography.
There has been much debate among hard core HK film fans online about the previous UK R2 release of Crime Story by HKL, with fans pointing out that their remaster had colour corrected the blue tint out of the film in certain scenes. Such fans have been awaiting this Joy Sales release with much anticipation, and they shouldn’t be disappointed as this transfer walks all over the HKL release. The colour scheme is much more vibrant, including the blue tint in all the appropriate scenes, the detail levels are much higher, and there is slightly more picture information in certain shots. Comparison screengrabs are provided below.
Note that Joy Sales grabs are on the left, with HKL on the right. Click the thumbnails to see the full size grabs
It’s worth noting that the reduced blue-tint on the HKL edition only affects a few scenes in the film. For the most part they have kept the blue tint in, just in a lighter shade of blue. These grabs shows scenes that have been badly affected by the HKL colour correction:
This comparison highlights how much darker the Joy Sales transfer is, but it also shows how much better the contrast is in comparison to HKL, which is much too high. In the HKL the detail of the car headlight is almost completely lost by the white light. Also the front of Hung’s car next to Mrs Wong’s head is pitch black, but in the Joy Sales you can work out a circular grill:
Here you can see just how much richer the colour scheme of the Joy Sales transfer is compared to the HKL. It also shows much more detail, but look how DNR has reduced the detail in the arching scuff marks on the front wall of the building the workers are standing on. Although just about every other aspect of the image is sharper than in the HKL, these scuffs are noticeably more blurry than the HKL:
Included on the disc are three Cantonese options: the original DD2.0 and remixed DD5.1 and DTS. For the purpose of this review I primarily listened to the original Cantonese DD2.0 track and have to say that it is a very muffled audio track, which can be a bit harsh on the ears at first but you eventually get used to it. Once you do, then dialogue is clear and audible, while bass is deep but a little too fuzzy. The audio in general is quite clear but there are moments of sound dips, background hiss, and the occasional pop.
The only real difference between the Cantonese DD5.1 and DTS tracks is their volume; the DTS is merely louder than its Dolby Digital counterpart so I’ll just refer to these tracks together to save repeating myself. In stark contrast to the DD2.0 track, the treble in these tracks seems a little high, resulting in some sequences sounding a little hollow – for instance, check out the gongs in the Golden Harvest intro. Treble aside though, the audio is much cleaner and better defined than the DD2.0. Bass is also much tighter and providing suitable thump in the action sequences, and dialogue is very clean and perfectly audible throughout. The remix itself is surprisingly subtle, just the some extra sound elements added to car crashes and shootouts mainly, and I’d expect only those who are extremely familiar with the original soundtrack to notice any difference in these surround tracks. Finally, the dubbed Mandarin DD5.1 is comparable in quality to the Cantonese DD5.1.
Optional English subtitles are included, I only recognised one or two spelling and grammatical errors so this is a pretty good job by HK DVD standards. One thing that did disappoint though was that the written message Eddie Chan scratches into the piping of the ship to attract Detective Hung’s attention during the police search of the ship the kidnappers were using is not translated at all, which means a pivotal moment of the film is made a little less clear for newcomers to the film.
ExtrasWhile there’s no audio commentary on the disc, Joy Sales have provided an excellent set of extra materials that reveal some interesting facts about Kirk Wong’s original vision to the version that eventually made it into HK theatres. Except for the film trailers, all extras feature removable English, Simplified Chinese, and Traditional Chinese subtitles.
First up is an Interview with Kirk Wong. At just over ten minutes long, Kirk covers how the project came about, how they remained true to the real life case, his leading actors and the difficulties of blowing up the Kowloon Wall City for the film’s finale.
Next is a bunch of Deleted Scenes that made it into the Singaporean print of the film to cash in on Pan Ling Ling’s fame over there. Each scene has come from the romantic subplot between Eddie Chan and his psychiatrist. In one scene based in a Jazz Bar the doc treats Eddie Chan to a bizarre clarinet serenade, plus there’s an alternate ending that finishes the film on a much lighter note with some light comedic (read: unfunny) interplay between the two.
The best feature on this disc, entitled Confidential Files, is a series of seven slideshows that have been struck from the stills of scenes that may have been dropped when Jackie Chan took creative control of the project away from Kirk Wong. The most interesting of the sequences are four scenes that would’ve been a part of the romantic subplot between Detective Hung and Ka Ka, featuring a prolonging of their sex scene from the corridor outside the lift to actually on top of Ka Ka’s car in the underground car park.
Rounding off the extra features are Original Film Trailer, New Edited Trailer, and a Photo Gallery.