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Apparently Jackie Chan is tired of being the “Clown Prince of Kung Fu”, as he’s commonly known, because his character in the highly anticipated “New Police Story” is prone to fits of crying at the drop of a hat. You would think a veteran cop with dozens of years on the hard streets of Hong Kong would have a thicker skin, but you’d be wrong. Somewhat embarrassingly, the film screams of an aging actor known for hijinks wishing badly to be known for something else. It isn’t entirely successful, and in fact “New Police Story” is most worthy when its leading man isn’t trying so hard to be something besides who he is.
In “New Police Story” (which, I’m told, is sequel in name only to the franchise that birthed Jackie’s international stardom), Jackie plays Inspector Wing, a veteran Detective in charge of a young group of cops, one of whom happens to be the brother of Wing’s fianc’e (Charlie Yeung). After a well-armed group of robbers knock over a bank and slaughters a gaggle of cops for kicks, Wing promises on TV that he’ll capture the thugs in 3 hours. The vain thieves take exception, and set a trap for Wing and his squad. After a brutal encounter, Wing emerges as the only survivor, but physically and mentally broken. No longer so sure of himself, he dives into booze and self-loathing.
A year later finds Wing a drunken shell of his former self. He’s forced back onto the case when young police buck Frank (Nicholas Tse) comes into his life. A charming young man with a secret (he only identifies himself to his fellow cops by his serial number), Frank works with computer cop Sa Sa (Charlene Choi, one half of the omnipresent “Twins” duo) using an Internet video game distributed by the cop killers. Led by Joe (Daniel Wu), a young suburbanite with daddy issues, the cop killers are composed of rich kids with too much time on their hands. They have made a video game of their bloody encounter with Wing and his men, further humiliating the already disgraced Wing. A showdown, as they say, is inevitable.
Let me start of by saying that I’ve always been a fan of Jackie Chan. Even most of his mediocre Hollywood films, like “The Medallion” and “The Tuxedo”, were amusing to me even when they weren’t to most people. Having now gone back to his roots, Chan has clearly made “New Police Story” as a vehicle to prove that he can act. Did he succeed? Well, let’s just say that you can count on one hand the number of successful Hollywood actors who used to be famous supermodels, but you’ll never be able to fill up that same hand with the number of stuntmen who managed to become real actors in the sense that Robert De Niro is a real actor. And you won’t be adding Chan to that hand anytime soon, I’m sorry to say.
Jackie Chan is a stuntman turned actor, and fans have always accepted Chan’s limitations. There’s little the guy can’t do, as most of his films can certainly attest to. Alas, acting is one thing he can’t quite grasp, and as a result the “acting showcase” that “New Police Story” was meant to be is simply a case of trying too hard. The reason Chan doesn’t quite succeed in “New Police Story” is, simply put, Chan’s frame of references is not acting school, drama classes, or summer stock. Chan’s idea of playing a drunk is to bob his head a lot and stagger, much the same way he played a drunk in the “Drunken Master” kung-fu films. As such, watching Jackie Chan cry on cue isn’t courageous, it’s just…awkward.
Chan aside, one annoying element of “New Police Story” is the overly pretentious “gothic” score, with its crescendo chorus and odd placement. Again, it reeks of trying too hard, in this case to make the movie into something obtusely dramatic. And here I thought seeing the main character’s police squad getting butchered by rich kids masquerading as giggling killers was dramatic enough. Apparently not. The script by Alan Yuen even imparts pathos onto Joe in a half-hearted attempt to explain his murderous anti-social behavior. Why inject phony baloney excuses into something that would have been remarkably more effective if it had just been a case of bored rich kids looking for some excitement?
Not surprisingly, it’s when Jackie Chan allows himself to just be Jackie Chan that “New Police Story” hits its strides. Of note is a bar fight between Wing, Frank, and some bouncers. And then later there’s a ride through Hong Kong on a runaway double-decker bus that demolishes a couple of million bucks from the movie’s obviously big budget. The hilarious “jail break” sequence is also a highlight; it also brings to light the observation that the movie works when its leading man allows it to.
Nicholas Tse, who was just a shade above God awful in “Moving Targets”, is actually quite good here, providing the film with much of its comic relief. And Tse’s Frank is sorely needed, too, especially in the 30 or so minutes where Chan works overtime on that whole “real acting” thing. The rest of the cast is hit and miss. Charlie Yeung, who supposedly came out of retirement to do the role, needn’t have bothered. She has less to do than the rest of Joe’s gang, who appears sporadically only to do one form of extreme sports or another. Charlene Choi is also wasted, although considering my indifference to her career and that of her fellow Twin, this might not be such a bad thing.
As the villain of the piece, Daniel Wu (“Purple Storm”) is effective without being outstanding. He has that shady look to him that makes him the perfect baby face villain. As a director, Benny Chan certainly doesn’t show the visual growth he showcased in “Heroic Duo”. Then again, in Jackie Chan movies, directors are like grips — they’re only needed when Jackie tells them they’re needed. (Although I must say that I always suspected that the cinematographer was mostly responsible for the slick look of “Heroic Duo”…)
I suppose one can’t really blame Jackie Chan for trying to stretch his muscles. The problem, of course, is that when you try this hard, it’s readily obvious that you don’t quite have the stuff that’s required. It would be another story if Jackie had always been an actor who stumbled across stardom. And really, for someone who has achieved all facets of fame, is it really so hard to take up another challenge? I hear Hong Kong needs a new Governor…
Benny Chan (director) / Alan Yuen (screenplay)
CAST: Jackie Chan …. Inspector Wing
Nicholas Tse …. Frank
Charlie Yeung …. Ho Yee
Charlene Choi …. Sa Sa
Daniel Wu …. Joe