Supercop Review

Michael Brooke has reviewed the Region 1 release of Supercop.

When originally released in Hong Kong, Supercop was given the rather less demonstrative title of Police Story 3 – though in fact the new title is rather more accurate: as the Police Story saga got bigger and bigger, it mutated from an extended episode of The Sweeney (with added kung fu) to something rather closer to a James Bond film – and indeed that’s exactly where co-star Michelle Khan (aka Yeoh) ended up (in Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit in a much watered-down form compared to what she gets up to here!)

Where Supercop is pretty much unique in Jackie Chan’s output is that for the first – and, as far as I can see, only – time in his career, he’s got a female co-star who’s every bit his match in terms of performing jaw-dropping and (in one case literally) death-defying stunts. Khan had a great deal to prove with this film, which marked her comeback after a few years’ retirement when she married Dickson Poon, a man who managed the bizarre double feat of owning Harvey Nichols and producing the ultraviolent likes of Royal Warriors (which I’ve reviewed elsewhere).

After her divorce, she needed a strong vehicle to put her back on top, and she certainly found it here – and although her co-star was initially reluctant to let her go as far as she eventually did (which seems to be more down to good old-fashioned sexism than anything else), after he gave up trying to persuade her he evidently decided to spend much of the film devising ways of topping the stunts that she was clearly determined to do. So, she’s going to do a flying leap from a motorcycle onto a moving train, is she? Right, I’ll jump off a tower onto a rope ladder dangling from a helicopter!

Of course, the main beneficiaries of all this competition are us, the audience, because Supercop ended up being arguably the most spectacular film in Jackie Chan’s extensive output. Shot on what appears to be an unusually large budget for a Hong Kong film, the action scenes are staged on an impressive scale and the best of them rank very high among his finest achievements, especially the all-stops-out battle on a moving goods train at the end.

The plot, as ever, is somewhat rough and ready – self-styled ‘supercop’ Kevin (Jackie Chan) is sent to mainland China to work alongside a Chinese undercover agent (Khan) and infiltrate a gang of drug smugglers, a process that inevitably involves him getting caught up in countless fights, shootouts and chases involving cars, trucks, helicopters, speedboats and trains, often combined in various exotic combinations, plus the usual slapstick girlfriend-based mistaken-motive subplot that those who’ve seen Police Story and Police Story 2 will instantly recognise.

All in all, I don’t rate this quite as highly as the likes of Drunken Master, Project A or the original Police Story – at base it’s a little too much like a conventional Hollywood action film for my taste, and the sheer scale tends to swamp the low-rent charm that you get with Chan’s best films – but there’s no doubting that as James Bond knockoffs go it’s sensationally entertaining, and the mere fact that most of the stunts are done for real elevates it far above most Western genre entries (I originally saw this in the cinema the same week as Brian De Palma’s Mission Impossible, and there was no contest – I’ll take Jackie Chan doing train-based stunts for real over a CGI-superimposed Tom Cruise any day!). And, as ever, it closes with a montage of stunts going horribly wrong, without which no post-1984 Jackie Chan film would be complete.

As for the DVD, I’ve got to kick off with a warning. Although Americans have only ever had access to this version of the film, we’ve had several opportunities to see the original Hong Kong cut, which is a fair bit longer. On this disc, subplots have been pruned or eliminated to focus on the action, the soundtrack has been entirely remixed and redubbed, a completely different score has been substituted (with numerous rock and rap numbers), the credits have been comprehensively (and expensively) redesigned and rescored – in short, it’s a significantly different version of the film from the one you may be familiar with from either the British VHS release or from Channel Four’s screening in the late 1990s.

So should purists band together and descend upon Dimension Films in torch-bearing hordes to demonstrate their outrage at this desecration? Actually, no – Jackie Chan has gone on record on several occasions as saying that he prefers this cut, and although it’s not in the original Cantonese, the dubbing is far superior from a technical point of view to that on the British VHS tape, helped enormously by the fact that the stars dub their own voices this time round. And as for the editing, I can’t say I especially missed any of the subplots – after all, it’s not as though you’re going to watch this film for its intricate narrative depth. I wanted lots of explosions and mad bastard action sequences, and on that score the film delivers in spades, shovels, trowels and any other gardening implements you care to mention.

I watched this DVD shortly after sampling Entertainment in Video’s Mr Nice Guy, and while I found that disc to have a great picture and a slightly disappointing soundtrack, Supercop is the exact opposite. Visually, the picture is adequate if unspectacular: it is at least framed at the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio, though the non-anamorphic NTSC transfer betrays a lack of definition – there are plenty of telltale jagged edges betraying the reduced resolution, and the overall image is very soft. It’s certainly not unwatchable, and the original print is in excellent condition – and most of the film moves so fast that this is less of a problem than it might otherwise have been – but it’s disappointing when set against the quality of the soundtrack.

And this is terrific – re-recorded in full Dolby Digital 5.1, it’s light years ahead of the soundtracks you get with most Hong Kong films, and real care has been taken to place the sound effects in an atmospherically convincing context, with the subwoofer kicking into action during the larger explosions, and the major action set-pieces come off exceptionally well, with bullets and even rockets flying forwards, backwards and sideways from speaker to speaker. The only downside is the dialogue – it doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s been dubbed (though, to be fair, it’s next to impossible to dub English dialogue over Chinese lip movements), and the vocal acting, while never plumbing some of the depths I’ve come across, is rarely more than functional. Chapter stops have been set at a can’t-complain 25.

Given that Dimension Films is an offshoot of Miramax, which in turn is an offshoot of the dreaded Buena Vista, are you surprised that there are no extras at all? Unless you count screenshots of the covers of Ransom, The Rock, Tombstone and Metro, that is – and I don’t.

Michael Brooke

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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