For my money, this is where the wheels started to come off the Jackie Chan cart. Sure, we had already written off his American career after The Tuxedo (though I personally love Shanghai Knights and think Forbidden Kingdom is bland and stupid but largely inoffensive), but this is where the Hong Kong movies that were our refuge started to show signs of rot as well. I was with him through the 1990s, even when he was working with Stanley Tong, a director who has an impressive ability to make even the most talented action star seem dull and uninspiring. I was even with Jackie through the first part of the new millennium, and while some people didn’t care for output like Who Am I and Accidental Spy, I really enjoyed them.
But then came New Police Story, a movie so ham-handed, misguided, and downright ludicrous that it should have been every bit as enjoyable as Chan’s previous movies. Unfortunately, whatever enjoyment might have been mined from the idiocy of the script is smothered under tons of truly horrendous melodrama and attempts at grimness that will have you checking your watch and wishing, believe it or not, that you were watching Forbidden Kingdom instead. But not The Tuxedo. If nothing else, this is at least better than The Tuxedo.
Although this is called New Police Story, this movie has pretty much nothing to do with any of the previous films that were crammed into that series. Sure, Jackie plays a superstar cop again, but that’s about all there is to link this movie to any previous film in the generally enjoyable Police Story franchise. This time around, an aging Jackie Chan is up against one of those hilariously goofy ultra-violent gangs that only exist in Jackie Chan’s world, where all furniture is made of glass and people construct buildings in which entire floors are nothing but 5×5 rooms with a door in every wall. This gang is comprised of bored, rich youths who love extreme sports, computer hacking, video game design, and elaborate bank robberies designed specifically to lure in as many cops as possible so they can have a field day killing them then posting computer rendered versions of their mayhem to their surprisingly untraceable website. Obviously, they have every skill the script demands of them despite being bored twenty-somethings from protected families — and not even criminal families. I guess it helps that hong Kong police officers are apprently trained to handle heavily armed assailants by using the tactic of “trot directly toward them and wait to be shot.”
The gang is lead by Daniel Wu, an American-born Chinese actor who went to Hong Kong on vacation, got some modeling work, and next thing he knew, was waving guns and running around while wearing a jacket with no shirt, as young Hong Kong movie gangsters are wont to do. I guess they would wear silk shorts covered in obnoxious designs if they could, but I hear 100% of those kinds of shirts are actually shipped directly to Simon Yam’s house, where he rips the top three buttons off of them. Anyway, in this movie Daniel Wu’s criminal mastermind is also the son of an abusive police chief, which I guess is why he hates cops so much and why he can get more deadly hardware than the entirety of the apparently poorly trained Hong Kong police force. He’s also the single most brilliant and multi-faceted criminal in the entire world, despite leading a life in which he’s had relatively few opportunities to hone the skills he mysteriously possesses.
Not only is he a master of rollerblading, rappelling, and BMX tricks, but he’s also an expert marksman with every assault rifle ever designed. He’s also able to procure pretty much any and every weapon, no matter how esoteric and extreme, he could ever want. Seriously, he has a wall-mounted stash (because he obviously also has access to a super hi-tech warehouse to use as a headquarters) that would make even the most accomplished Russian mafia arms dealer drool with envy. As if all that wasn’t enough, he’s also the most amazing computer hacker AND video game designer in the world. Also, he can build the most elaborate, complex, and powerful bombs ever imagined. He can also perfectly forge documents and ID badges to get into secure areas. And oh yeah, he can design colorful costumes. This kid has every skill, every weapon, and every piece of tech any supervillain could want or need. Even Bond villains pale in comparison. In fact, about the only thing this renaissance criminal can’t do is act.
Needless to say, Chan and Hong Kong’s finest aren’t especially big fans of these snotty young killers. Given that the gang is responsible for countless cop deaths and bank robberies, Chan leads a team of something like six guys, all of them rookies, to storm the massive, labyrinthine warehouse. No backup, no second team, no radio contact with other cops or a command center or anything, no SWAT guys — I thought this was exactly the kind of things we had SWAT guys for! This and mistakenly breaking down the door of old ladies and holding them at gunpoint because someone wrote down the wrong address for the raid. I mean, Chan doesn’t even make his guys suit up in awesome police raid uniforms. They’re just wearing suits and bullet proof vests. This is shoddy police work even by Police Story standards, and not surprisingly, it all goes horribly awry, since on top of everything else he can do, the evil Daniel Wu can also rig up a series of diabolical mouse traps and pitfalls worthy of a villain from the Adam West Batman series. Chan’s entire team is wiped out as he is forced to engage in one-on-one fights of so-so quality (for Chan) with his much younger targets — because on top of everything else they can do, they are also so good at kungfu that they can whup Jackie Chan’s ass.
After a laughable scene that I think was supposed to be dramatic, in which Chan desperately tries to gather up the corpses of his fallen comrades and wheel them out on a dolly before the entire warehouse explodes, Chan’s police inspector sinks into a deep blue funk. Frankly, he deserves it for leading a team of poorly equipped rookies with nothing but handguns into the headquarters of a heavily armed and murderous gang dedicated almost exclusively to staging crimes so they can kill cops. What follows is more supposed drama that comes across as utterly ridiculous. Chan becomes an alcoholic and, despite tabloid reports of plenty of real world experience from which to draw, puts on a drunk act that you might expect from an old timey Charlie Chaplin movie or vaudeville comedian. Only instead of the “wah wah wahhhh” comical trombone music this bit deserves, it’s accompanied by melodramatic orchestration and this movie’s favorite thing: incongruous opera singing. Seriously, even the most mundane of attempts at tragedy are accompanied by music grandiose and bombastic enough to have been lifted from The Lord of the Rings. At this point, I think even John Woo was calling up and asking if they couldn’t tone it down a little.
Time passes, and eventually drunken inspector Chan attracts the attention of a young cop named Zheng (interchangeable young actor Nicholas Tse) with a love of parkas. I guess maybe Chan was hoping all the opera music would get him a wizard or an elf sidekick or something, but all he gets is a forgettable pop idol. Zheng takes it upon himself to sober up Chan, get the fallen hero back together with his girlfriend (the always welcome Charlie Yeung), and help him recapture his mojo so they can finally take down Daniel Wu’s gang of superhuman thugs. Some fair action ensues, including a dumb chase through a rooftop extreme sports complex that culminates in a completely ridiculous bus chase featuring a runaway bus that cannot be stopped by obstacles that would stop a tank (and culminating in a decent use of rubber duckies), a decent fight in a bar, and a finale in a Lego store that is good enough to have deserved to be the finale of a much better movie than this one. If you’re thinking “Jackie Chan was born to have a fight scene in a Lego store,” then you’re right, and if nothing else (and I mean “nothing else”), this movie at least gets that right. At least Jackie knows that if you show one of those giant Chuck E. Cheez ball pits, then at some point, you damn well better have everyone fall in it and fight.
There’s more wrong with this movie than I can count, but the primary offender has to be the acting. Jackie Chan can do serious and heartfelt — witness his recent Little Big Soldier as the best example — but what he can’t do is pull of the grim and gritty, haunted and depressed shtick this movie demands (but doesn’t deserve — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). Every attempt he makes to be serious in this feels like it’s still classic comedy mugging. Are these scenes supposed to be taken seriously? Yes, they are, but it’s impossible to do so — especially when they keep cranking up the opera music to remind you how heavy it all is. Oh brother. Matching Chan punch for punch in the bad acting competition is Daniel Wu. I think Wu can pull off a decent performance with the right material and proper direction. He gets neither here, and coming still relatively early in his career, the acting job he does here reminds of nothing so much as it reminds me of a young Michael Wong. As with Chan’s character, Wu’s “insanely talented at every single thing in the universe” criminal is asked to tackle overblown dramatic scenes that would be way out of his league except that they themselves are so stupidly written. The painfully protracted stand-off and confrontation with his jerky father than wraps up the movie is particularly wince inducing.
Charlie Yeung is asked to do very little, fulfilling as she is the “eventual hostage” girlfriend role previously occupied by Maggie Cheung before people discovered that Maggie Cheung was actually fifty different kinds of awesome and shouldn’t be playing slapstick second fiddle in Jackie Chan movies. Charlie is equally talented, and if nothing else, her character here is afforded a quiet dignity Chan never granted to Maggie during her three turns as a Police Story girlfriend. Plus, I just love Charlie Yeung. Charlene Choi, sometimes known as “the half of the pop group Twins who can actually act a litle bit,” shows up to do little more than make her two faces — the “I’m confused” pout and the “I’m peeved” pout. In a minor role, she’s harmless. The rest of the supporting cast is pretty forgettable, though somewhere in the mix is Timmy Hung (Kungfu Chefs), one of Sammo Hung’s sons.
In a way, the script matches the woeful acting perfectly. They are exactly what each deserves. Benny Chan directed what I thought were some pretty good movies, including 1996′s Big Bullet starring Lau “we don’t have anyone else to cast so let’s cast him” Ching-wan (who I like, but seriously, that dude starred in every movie made in 1996). Then he directed Who Am I, a movie I liked so much that I proclaimed Benny Chan a talent to watch. Then came Gen-X Cops, which was harmless stupid and sort of fun, followed by Gen-Y Cops, which is unwatchabley abysmal. One Rob-B-Hood later, and I was ready to swear off Benny Chan forever. Hell, he might even make me apologize to Stanley Tong. Benny Chan totally mismanages this mess, attempting to wring pathos out of ham-handed and clumsy writing that doesn’t deserve it, and actors who can’t deliver it. The attempt to make Jackie’s character haunted and grim is undercut not just by Chan’s inability to pull it off, but also by Benny’s decision to film everything in crisp, vibrant colors. Actually, even that can be subverted, as was often done in the 1980s, but not here. This movie is just one bad directorial decision after another.
Finally, screenwriter Alan Yuen desrves to be dragged through the mud with the rest of them. I don’t know if he thought he was writing a John woo classic, a modern noir masterpiece, or just an expectation-challenging Jackie Chan film a la Ringo Lam’s Crime Story (which I thought was successful as a Jackie Chan crime drama, much more so than this movie). It doesn’t matter, because all he managed to write is a comedy that thinks it’s serious. From overwrought soap opera melodramatics to incomprehensibly talented cartoon supervillains, Yuen delivers one dumb scene after another while I suspect he thinks he was delivering something much better. All the elements of a goofy Jackie Chan movie are here, including the absurd villains, but Yuen drains it of comedy and tries to serve it up as something serious, which at least makes this movie a train wreck worth laughing through. The only unfunny moments come during the scenes that were specifically supposed to be funny.
By just about any measure, this is a clumsy mess of a movie, but it’s not a total wash. There is, like I said, a pretty good Lego store fight, and everything else is so dumb that you can probably struggle through to the end just sustaining yourself on how stupid it all is. If you drink every time in appropriate opera music underscores a scene, you’ll be as drunk as Inspector Chan. But you have to be really hungry to claw for the meager scraps New Police Story will throw to you. This is the dark time, my friends, when Jackie Chan fans were alone in the wilderness and Chan himself seemed to be coming apart at the seams. Better times were on the horizon, but we didn’t know it then. If you insist on seeing everything Chan does, then I guess you’ll soldier through New Police Story regardless. But for anyone else, you’re better off skipping directly to Shinjuku Incident.
Release Year: 2004 | Country: Hong Kong | Starring: Jackie Chan, Nicholas Tse, Daniel Wu, Charlie Yeung, Charlene Choi, Yu Rong-guan, Andy On, Steven Cheung, Kenny Kwan, Terence Yin, Coco Chiang, Ken Lo, Timmy Hung | Writer: Andy Yuen | Director: Benny Chan | Cinematographer: Anthony Pun | Music: Tommy Wai | Producer: Willie Chan, Solon So, Barbie Tung | Original Title: Xin jing cha gu shi