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Police Story / Police Story 2 – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

A couple of years before this Criterion Collection release of Police Story and Police Story 2, international martial arts star Jackie Chan received an honorary Academy Award for the impact he has had on cinema. Having been in the business for over 50 years, it’s only right to some of this older and most famous films get the deluxe treatment. It further helps to cement Chan’s cinematic contributions into history, which is pretty great when you can see a couple of gritty (and occasionally quite funny) martial arts flicks sit on the same shelves as classic Hitchcock or Bergman features. Whatever the case may be, read on to hear more about what this release for two entries in Chan’s classic Police Story series has to offer.

Police Story: 

1985’s Police Story stars Chan as Hong-Kong cop Ka-Kui, who gets in over his head after arresting a major drug lord. While honored by the media as a model police officer, Ka-Kui finds himself the target of other criminals connected to his significant arrest. This means Ka-Kui will have to protect a witness (Brigitte Lin), keep himself out of danger, and keep things under control with his girlfriend, May (Maggie Cheung). All of this means fighting his way through many intense situations.

Jackie Chan likes to refer to this film as his favorite of his work, and you can see why. While he’s certainly made an impression in many other movies and even raised the stakes in terms of scale, there does seem to be the feel of Chan and his stunt team putting everything they had into this feature (which would only serve as a challenge to do more in the years that followed).

It makes sense, as he used this film as the one to truly prove himself, after pushing away from an initial bad experience in Hollywood, along with years of being built into a persona more akin to Bruce Lee, which Chan just wasn’t comfortable with. There’s a real sense of danger in Police Story, as the stunts are all grounded in a level of reality for a story that works as a gritty cop movie, even with Chan playing more of an everyman than an invulnerable action hero.

Something that will be seen in the follow-up film is how Chan used the Police Story series as a way to go after different genres within one franchise (not unlike how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has 70s-style spy thrillers, James Bond-type adventures, and heist comedies, depending on the film). For the first film in Chan’s series, it certainly feels like he’s trying to make a William Friedkin-type cop drama not too dissimilar from The French Connection or To Live and Die in LA. Yes, this is still a martial arts film that combines fights with Chan’s theatrical sense of humor (in some cases), but the plotting has a familiar structure.

That in mind, the story merely provides a framework for the action we see, and there are a lot of magnificent set pieces. Police Story opens with a huge raid on a drug lord’s shanty town, which eventually turns into a car chase, leading into a whole sequence that finds Chan hanging on the side of a bus. We know it’s all real, as Chan (who directed the film) makes sure you see him at every angle doing these stunts. The same goes for a climactic fight set in a mall, which features one legendary stunt that could have easily killed Chan due to the dangerous circumstances involved (it is also shown at full-length three different times to emphasize how crazy it is).

While the work by Chan and the stunt team is undoubtedly impressive, there is a lot to like about the film as a whole. It flies by thanks to how much emphasis is on the elements that matter. Police Story is also very likable, which comes in large part from Chan’s screen charisma. There’s a reason people love Jackie Chan. Along with the effort he puts in to do wild stunts, he has a great attitude and a sense of honor that keeps audiences rooting for him. It also speaks to his instincts as a performer that he’s never the aggressor. Chan tends to be pushed into fighting and does more blocking and avoiding than anything. It’s the kind of action that always keeps you on his side. Additionally, Chan has plenty of screen chemistry with a younger Maggie Cheung, who would become an international star in her own rights in the years that followed.

Of course, it still all comes down to the action, and Police Story is regarded as one of the best action films of all time for good reason. It starts with a bang and keeps plenty of action coming throughout its 100-minute runtime. While the entries that followed have some impressive sequences in their own right, the original does plenty to stand out as Chan’s push towards making something genuinely spectacular. It came at a time when Chan had returned from a bad early experience with Hollywood, so he was able to show audiences what he was made of in this film. The legacy indeed carried forward from there.


Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Details: Police Story is presented in its original aspect ratio with a new 4K digital restoration undertaken by Fortune Star Media Limited. A new digital transfer was created from the 35 mm original camera negative.

Clarity/Detail: There is so much to like about these new digital restorations. It’s always impressive to see what kind of work can be done to restore low-budget classics, but here we are with an immaculate presentation of what Chan and company put together for Police Story. There’s a high level of detail to be seen in the various locations, which only helps when it comes to watching actors throw themselves around, breaking through glass and other objects. It all registers quite clearly, allowing for the best look currently possible for this film.

Depth: A proper handle on character spacing goes a long way to highlight the intricate fight choreography, as Jackie takes on multiple opponents.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep. Many scenes take place in the daytime or indoors, but lighting allows for nice use of shadow, which always registers well.

Color Reproduction: The color reproduction for this film is terrific. It’s primarily reflected in costume design and the locations. While this may be a gritty cop movie, using Hong Kong as a location allows for some neat scenes that are full of a variety of colors on display.

Flesh Tones: The actors all look great with this presentation. Between the close-ups and wider shots, there’s always a good sense of texture to observe with these characters.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing to note.

 

Audio: 

Audio Format(s): Original Mono Cantonese, 5.1 Surround Cantonese, Mono English

Subtitles: English

Details: The monaural soundtrack was restored from an original soundtrack negative, and its mix was confirmed against an out-of-print DVD track. The alternated English-dubbed soundtrack is a fan-preferred monaural dub featuring original voice performances from a Dutch VHS. Fortune Star Media Limited provided the 5.1 surround soundtrack.

Dynamics: There are multiple tracks to choose from for this release, and each serves the film quite well. I stuck with the original mono track for a majority of my viewing, but I did sample the 5.1 DTS-HD track as well. There are limits to mono in a sense, but that original track speaks so much for the aesthetic of the first film. The various sound effects during the fights, for example, have a distinct feel that plays well to what we are watching.

Low-Frequency Extension: For the 5.1 track, you get some big moments to challenge the LFE channel, and they do well to round out the sound for those wanting a fuller experience.

Surround Sound Presentation: Not being films necessarily built for this sort of presentation, it’s neat to take in Police Story with all channels in mind. As a result, it’s very center-focused, but having some rear channel interaction is fine here.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone sounds clean and clear.

 

Police Story 2:

1988’s Police Story 2 picks up not too long after Police Story an interestingly finds Chan’s Ka-Kui demoted due to all the violence and property damage that took place in the previous film. That said, it may have been all for nothing, as the villains from Police Story are back, with the evil Chu Tao out of jail due a terminal illness that allowed for a “compassionate release.” It doesn’t make things easier for Ka-Kui at all, as he now has to deal with Chu Tao and his henchmen continuously screwing with him, intimidating him, and baiting him to attack. To make matters worse, a group of blackmailing bombers are causing chaos around the city. And, of course, Ka-Kui’s girlfriend May once again finds herself caught in the middle of all of this.

While it’s hard to say this sequel is darker and grittier than the first (the comedy has been amplified), you can see a desire to go bigger, as well as move in a different direction. The first film may have been rooted in ideas stemming from the 70s/early 80s gritty cop dramas, but Police Story 2 attempts to have a bit more Hitchcockian suspense involved, of all things. There are some “wrong man” elements, along with the whole bomber plot that involves nefarious villains watching over our hero.

Still, this is a martial arts movie, and some big fight scenes put a greater emphasis on Chan’s ability to take on multiple opponents. Police Story 2 may not have as many grand-scale action sequences as the first film, let alone Police Story 3: Supercop, but you can see the care put into the big, stand out moments. The climax, in particular, is a showcase for Chan and his crew thanks to the use of a large warehouse that provides an assortment of location-based fight sequences, with some dangerous stunts on display.

Something to emphasize is the work that goes into making sure we see all the action in the best of ways. While audiences were gifted with the cinematic masterpiece that is Mad Max: Fury Road in recent years, among other terrific action films, there are too many films that heavily rely on fast cuts and editing that make the action less exciting. It may hide the stuntmen doing the work for the actor and lessen the impact to help get a lower rating, but it shows just how far down the list of greats an action film is when it comes to providing the viewer with exciting action scenes.

For Police Story 2, however, you get to see all these intense fights playout and more. While lighter in action content than the first film, some brutal fights have you feeling the pain in many instances. A playground fight stands out plenty for this. A point where the film gets serious may not pay off well for the story overall; however, wanting to see Chan succeed is undoubtedly huge in having him take on multiple challenging opponents.

I’m not trying to come down on Police Story 2 too hard, but it a slight comedown from the first film. It is still very good in its own right, as you won’t quite see other action films like it in terms of what is seen in camera. At two hours, the pacing is not as strong, and while entertaining, the story is a bit ridiculous. Regardless, you don’t get many films like this because there is only one Jackie Chan, and his presence is wholly felt here. That alone is worth celebrating.

 

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Details: Police Story 2 is presented in its original aspect ratio with a new 4K digital restoration undertaken by Fortune Star Media Limited. A new digital transfer of the Hong Kong-release version of Police Story 2 was created in 2K resolution from a subtitled 35 mm print supplied by the American Genre Film Archive.

Clarity/Detail: This film has plenty to offer visually that’s not too dissimilar from what the transfer for the first film provides the viewer. Being a slightly newer film by a few years, there’s perhaps even more of a cleaner presentation to take in here. Police Story 2 is a bit less gritty than the first film, so the clarity registers a bit more. There’s still an exceptional level of detail to be seen as well. The final sequence, in particular, has a lot of movement around a single location and you get a real sense of everything on display thanks to the amount of detail that shines through.

Depth: Watch the playground fight scene to have a fine example of how well the level of depth registers for this film.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep. There are more darkly lit scenes this time around, such as a sequence where Chan is tortured. The presentation never betrays the quality in these moments.

Color Reproduction: Colors come through quite strong here. There’s a lot to like in the look of Police Story 2, as the film does attempt to work on a broader level. As a result, you get a wide variety of scenes full of color that play well in certain sequences where there are plenty of good contrasts to view.

Flesh Tones: The actors all look great with this presentation. Facial textures all register quite strong.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing to note.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): Original Mono Cantonese, 5.1 Surround Cantonese, 5.1 Surround English

Subtitles: English

Details: The monaural soundtrack was sourced from a Japanese laserdisc release. Fortune Star Media Limited provided the 5.1 surround soundtrack.

Dynamics: Similar to Police Story, I sample all three tracks to get a good idea of what each had to offer. There’s nothing to complain about here. As the score kicks in and the fights start up, a viewer can get all they want out of the dynamic soundtrack.

Low-Frequency Extension: With a choice of 5.1 surround options, the LFE channel gets a real chance to work, given all the bomb-related moments in this film, which add depth to the explosives.

Surround Sound Presentation: The surround track comes through better in Police Story 2, as the film is more refined and plays well in this format. It is still center-focused, but the rear channels have more to do in this sequel.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone sounds clean and clear.

 

Extras:

Given that Jackie Chan’s films have found their way into the Criterion Collection, it feels like the extras presented are doing all they can to provide plenty of insight into the star’s career achievements. As a result, you get a lot of excellent documentary footage, interviews, archival clips, and more to make for an exciting set of features. Commentary tracks would have been nice as well, but there’s plenty of material here.

Features Include:

Police Story:

  • Jackie Chan: My Stunts (SD, 1:04:08) – A 1999 documentary co-directed by Jackie Chan. It puts focus what’s behind his stunts, a look at his stunt team, and other neat tidbits that provide a good, if dated, look at what turned Chan into an international superstar and how his work has continued to be so successful. Presented in English.
  • Edgar Wright
    • Interview (HD, 13:25) – This new interview has filmmaker Edgar Wright going into what it is he appreciates about Chan’s movies. We see many archival clips and more, in addition to hearing Wright talk plenty about what makes a Jackie Chan film special.
    • The Talkhouse Podcast (HD, 36:03) – Audio only. Edgar Wright, being a massive Jackie Chan fan, has his chance to talk with Chan in this podcast episode, where the two enjoy going over the past and action cinema.
  • Becoming Jackie (HD, 16:15) – Author Grady Hendrix discusses Jackie Chan’s on-screen persona, where it came from, and why it’s been so useful for him as a performer.
  • The King vs. Kings II (HD, 12:13) – This is an excerpt from a 2017 TV program that had Jackie Chan singing the theme from police story with his stunt team present, only to be surprised by the original members of his team. It’s a sweet clip for sure, given the emotion on Chan’s face. Presented in Cantonese with English subtitles.
  • Interview (SD, 19:36) – An archival interview that has Chan talking about his vision for Police Story. He goes over making a film that has action, drama, and comedy at a time when this sort of concept was rare for a Hong Kong action film. Presented in English.
  • Trailers (HD) – Original Theatrical and Janus Re-release Trailer

Police Story 2:

  • Hong Kong Re-Release Version (HD, 1:45:14) – Presented with a new 2K digital transfer, this is the condensed Hong Kong release of Police Story 2, which preserves the roughness of the release to make for a more “grindhouse” style viewing experience.
  • Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show (SD, 41:11) – This is an episode of an old Jonathan Ross TV show, which features interviews with Jackie Chan and Maggie Cheung. The program also features several older clips and a retro look in general at how Ross would dig into genre material.
  • Reinventing Action (HD, 20:59) – Author Grady Hendrix is back to talk about the evolution of action filmmaking and the various influences that can be seen in the Police Story films.
  • Benny Lai (SD, 15:43) – One of Chan’s deadlier (and more irritating) foes, “Deaf Criminal,” gets his time to shine for this archival interview where he talks about being a part of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team and more. Presented in Cantonese with English subtitles.
  • L’Opera De Pekin A Paris (SD, 12:41) – A television program of 1964 that details the challenges that come with Beijing-opera training, which is how Chan trained as a child.
  • Stunt Reel (SD, 4:42) – A montage of bloopers and stunt footage from Chan and his team.
  • Trailers (HD) – Original Theatrical and Janus Re-release Trailer

PLUS – An essay by critic Nick Pinkerton

 

Summary:

It’s pretty great to see Criterion put out these two Jackie Chan classics in a deluxe passage. Police Story, in particular, feels like such a triumph for a performer who stepped up to show what he had to offer if he had total control and a means to deliver some death-defying stunts at a swift pace. The films both look and sound terrific thanks to a spectacular remaster. Plus, there are so many great extras here that highlight what makes Chan unique in the world of cinema. If you’re an action fan or just a fan of the cinematic greats, there’s no reason not to add this set to your collection.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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