Jackie Chan’s Police Story – An Introduction

On April 1st the Crime – Hong Kong Style weekend at Derby QUAD was started with a screening of Jackie Chan’s 1985 classic Police Story. The film was introduced by Peter Munford. Here is the text of his introduction.

Hello and welcome to Satori Screen. My name’s Peter and I’m the man behind most of the Asian film related goings on at QUAD, including Satori Screen, our monthly Asian film night.

This month, however, it’s not a night. It’s a whole weekend! This is because we are hosting a series of screenings from the Crime Hong Kong Style programme that has been put together by Andy Willis at HOME in Manchester with support from the British Film Institute.

So first up tonight we have Jackie Chan’s Police Story and I’ll tell you a little more about that shortly. If you come back tomorrow you can see Johnnie To’s fantastic triad drama Election and the psychological cop thriller by director Dante Lam, That Demon Within. Whilst on Sunday we have Wild City, the new film from Ringo Lam, and the debut film by acclaimed arthouse director Wong Kar-Wai, As Tears Go By.

Okay, enough of the plugs. On with Police Story, and its creator Jackie Chan.

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Jackie Chan in Police Story

Jackie Chan was born in 1954 in Hong Kong. His name at birth was Chan Kong-Sang. Kong-Sang literally means born in Hong Kong reflecting his parents joy at escaping the turmoil that was present in Mainland China under Mao Zedong at this time.

Chan was set on to his path to stardom at the age of 6 when he failed his first year at school. By his own account he was a mischievous and energetic child who found it difficult to sit still long enough to learn anything. When they learned of his failure his parents decided he would be better suited to learn at the China Drama Academy, which taught the skills of traditional Peking Opera rather than regular school subjects. To enroll him there Chan’s parents signed a contract that required Chan to spend the next ten years studying martial arts, acrobatics, acting and singing under the tutelage of the school’s master Yu Jim-Yuen and also granted the master the right to punish Chan however he deemed appropriate up to and including death!

Towards the end of his time at the academy Chan was chosen to be part of the school’s performance group, The Seven Little Fortunes, alongside future stars Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. The group would put on performances to raise funds for the school at locations throughout Hong Kong. In addition to this, the skills Chan learned at the academy also enabled him to play bit parts in various movies as a child.

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Jackie Chan (centre) in The Seven Little Fortunes

 

Upon leaving the school at sixteen Chan sought work in the movie industry and soon was doing bits of extra work and the odd stunt here and there. His most famous work as a stunt performer came as in the Bruce Lee movies Fist Of Fury and Enter The Dragon.

Bruce Lee was Hong Kong’s reigning king of kung fu cinema at this time. When Lee died just before Enter The Dragon’s premiere in 1973 the race was on to find a star to fill the void. Willie Chan, a film producer, had taken note of Chan’s stunt work and brought him to the attention of director Lo Wei, who had directed Fist Of Fury.

Lo Wei signed Chan to an eight year contract that paid him 400 Hong Kong dollars a month and granted Lo Wei exclusive rights to use him as an actor. The first project in the mission to make Chan a star was to be New Fist Of Fury, a remake cum sequel to the Bruce Lee movie. Chan’s role in the film was very much a Bruce Lee type, an angry invincible avenger, and from the very beginning he felt it was not a good match for him as it gave him very little opportunity to display his sense of humour.

This led to disagreements with Lo Wei with Chan wanting to bring more of his own personality into the films and Lo Wei insisting they stick with what had worked for Bruce Lee. New Fist of Fury, released in 1976, was a flop, as were the various films Lo Wei put Chan in after this, all of which were fairly dour, humourless affairs.

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In 1978 a rival film company, Seasonal Film Corporation, made an approach to Lo Wei to borrow Chan for a couple of pictures. Chan was developing a reputation among cinema owners as box office poison at this point so Lo Wei was happy to be paid to have him off his hands for a while.

The first film Seasonal produced with Chan was called Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow, directed by Yuen Woo Ping, who has since gone on worldwide fame as the fight choreographer for films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix trilogy. At Seasonal Chan was able to have much greater influence on his films and in Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow he created a leading character who was not invincible, made mistakes, often felt pain and even ran away from fights at times. This more relatable martial arts hero turned out to be exactly what Hong Kong audiences were looking for and Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow ended up being the biggest grossing film in the history of Hong Kong to that point and after nearly a decade of toil, Chan was an overnight success.

Seasonal still had Chan for one more film under the agreement with Lo Wei and this was the now classic kung fu comedy Drunken Master, screened at Satori Screen back in 2013. This was another monster hit and Chan was established as one of Hong Kong’s biggest stars.

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Original Hong Kong poster for Drunken Master

Lo Wei quickly took advantage of having Chan under contract and brought him back from Seasonal to make a couple of movies more in the new style Chan had established and also, in an attempt to keep Chan happy, allowed him to make his directorial debut with Fearless Hyena. Despite this Chan wanted away from the restrictive contract Lo Wei was holding him to. When the large Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest offered him a huge contract as well as creative freedom to make the movies he wanted to make Chan broke his contract with Lo Wei and went over to Golden Harvest.

The story then goes that Lo Wei used triad connections to try and force Chan to return and honour his contract and the matter was only resolved when the Jimmy Wang Yu, who was a star from appearances in films like The One-Armed Swordsman, acted as a mediator. In return for this favour Chan ended up appearing in Wang-Yu’s shockingly awful Fantasy Mission Force.

Golden Harvest saw Chan as having the potential to be a star outside of Asia and after his first movie for them, The Young Master, they sent him to America to star in the Warner Brothers co-production The Big Brawl, directed by Enter The Dragon’s Robert Clouse.

The experience of shooting The Big Brawl (also known as Battle Creek Brawl) in Texas in 1980, when he spoke very little English and with a director who had little interest in hearing his ideas for how the action scenes could be shot was upsetting for Chan. In his autobiography Chan recounts an instance where a scene required him to leave a car and enter a restaurant. Chan was keen to employ his acrobatic skills and somersault out of the car but Clouse insisted he just get out and walk. “No one will pay money to see Jackie Chan walk!” is how Chan puts it in the book.

He was proven correct when The Big Brawl flopped both in the USA and Hong Kong and apart from a couple of small roles in the first two Cannonball Run films Chan put aside his aspirations of working in the States for the next few years, instead working on Hong Kong productions like Dragon Lord, Project A and Wheels On Meals where he retained control of both the set and the final product. He was then tempted back to America by Golden Harvest to star as a New York cop in 1985’s The Protector directed by James Glickenhaus.

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Idiot 1:”So we’ve cast a massively talented martial artist.” Idiot 2:”I know, but let’s ignore that and have a poster identical to every other low budget 80s action movie!”

Chan found himself in a similar situation to The Big Brawl though, he was isolated and working with an American crew and stunt team who were not used to his methods. The film’s complete misunderstanding of Chan and his appeal is encapsulated in its poster which features one of the world’s greatest physical performers firing a huge gun. Chan was so dissatisfied with the finished film he actually reshot scenes for the version that was released in Hong Kong. The film was another flop both at home and in the West and that was the end of Chan’s attempts to break out as a star outside Asia for a decade.

Chan’s unhappiness with both the experience of making The Protector and the final film did have one positive outcome though. It lead him to make another movie where he would play a cop, in an attempt to do it right. That film was the film we will be watching tonight, Police Story.

Chan served as writer, producer, director, stunt choreographer and starred in the film as the hero Ka-Kui and was so invested in making the ultimate Hong Kong action movie he invested his own money, and also went as far as making use of both his own car and house in action sequences to try and keep costs down.

The film’s budget was only around the equivalent of 2 million American dollars which is astounding when you consider what is up on the screen. The opening sequence where cars crash down a hillside and destroy a village as they go whilst large numbers of stuntmen jump out of the way at a split-second’s notice would probably cost more than that alone in an American film.

The film gained the nickname Glass Story among its crew because of all the glass that gets destroyed in the climactic sequence set in a Hong Kong shopping mall. This was shot in a real shopping mall meaning they could only shoot when it closed at night and they had to have it back in pristine condition ready for it to open again the next morning. No small feat when you have smashed huge amounts of glass with feet, fists, faces and at one point, a motorbike.

For the big stunt at this location, Chan jumps from a fifth floor balcony onto a chandelier and slides down the wires hanging from it and through a series of glass panels as sparks fly all around him. It’s a hugely impressive stunt (which Chan was clearly proud of as we see it from three different angles in succession)  and doing it was at the expense of a dislocated pelvis for Chan as well as second degree burns all over his hands.

Those are just a couple of the countless injuries Jackie Chan has sustained whilst doing stunts. The worst occurred in 1984 during the shooting of Armour Of God when he was left with a permanent hole in his head when a seemingly straightforward jump (by his standards at least) went wrong. Jackie Chan’s willingness to suffer for our entertainment is second to none. He is perhaps cinema’s ultimate masochist.

Police Story was a huge hit at the Hong Kong box office and in other Asian markets and since then Chan has seemingly gone from strength to strength. He has starred in countless hit Hong Kong movies and after finally making his mark in the West first with Rumble In The Bronx and then the Rush Hour films in the nineties he has a good claim to being one of the world’s biggest film stars.

Police Story ended up being a franchise. Chan went on to write and direct a sequel in 1988 which again features some spectacular stunts but doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first film. He also played his character from the first two films in 1992’s Super Cop but had his thunder stolen by Michele Yeoh who performs an astonishing motorcycle jump onto a moving train in this film. Then in 1996 there was First Strike in which Chan takes Ka-Kui outside Asia for the first time, with the second half of the film taking place in Australia.

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First Strike ups the scale for the franchise.

Chan has also played a cop in two films that have been badged as Police Story films but with no plot connection to the earlier films. In 2004 he released New Police Story which takes a more serious tone than the earlier films. In this one Chan plays a jaded cop, hitting the bottle hard, who comes up against a bunch of extreme sports loving criminals. Then in 2013 he appeared in Police Story 2013 (released in America as Police Story: Lockdown) in which he plays a cop on the Chinese mainland for the first time.

All of these films have their merits but the first film remains Jackie Chan’s best film in my opinion. A pure blast of adrenaline from start to finish, with some genuine big laughs, adding up to one of the most entertaining films ever made.

Thank you very much for coming. I hope you will join us for some very different takes on the Hong Kong Crime genre over the next couple of days. Enjoy Police Story.

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