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The young master returns
A region 2 DVD review of NEW POLICE STORY / SAN GING CHAAT GOO SI by Slarek
 

In a world where labelling just about everything and everybody seems to be the norm, it could be argued that there are two categories of Jackie Chan fans: those who discovered him through his earlier Hong Kong work and those who know him primarily for his Hollywood adventures. It's very likely that a good many of the latter have retrospectively discovered the delights of his pre-US movies, but I'd imagine that there are considerably fewer fans of old school Chan who hold the later works in equally high regard. In Hong Kong Chan became the reason for any film he appeared in to be made in the first place, but in Hollywood no producer was prepared to risk all on a Chinese martial arts star, no matter how famous or talented he is. The execs knew only what they needed to know, that he had made his name with comedic kung-fu and made an awful lot of money doing it. But he's Chinese. And they're not ready yet for a Chinese lead to carry a film on his own. He was thus repeatedly cast as the Asian action man alongside bankable western comedy foils in stories of mismatched partners who learn from each other and become best pals. Chan was allowed to choreograph the action, but the Hollywood directors just didn't seem to know how to film it. Rush Hour may have made a fortune and have a great many fans (it is rather fun), but compare it to Police Story or Armour of God or Project A and it absolutely pales.

The news that Chan was returning to Hong Kong to make his first full blown action movie there for some years was thus met with excitement by the fan community, albeit tinged with a little apprehension. Freed from the safety restrictions imposed by the Hollywood system, Chan could once again seem to risk his neck doing the sort of insane stunts that had once been his trademark. But despite the star's extraordinary athleticism, sooner or later even he is going to have to acknowledge that he's getting older, and when he made New Police Story he was almost 50 years of age. However fit you are, you really can't do at 50 what you were capable of at 20.

With this in mind, electing to make further chapter in the Police Story series for Hong Kong return was a smart move. Unlike some of his wilder comedy capers, these films have always incorporated the action into a reasonably solid dramatic base, balancing the combat and stuntwork with narrative and playing down the comedy, which tended to be character based rather than all-out slapstick. There are also specific expectations associated with the series – familiar dramatic arcs (Chan's cop will be defeated or humiliated in some way and return to form in order to shine by the end), furiously choreographed and performed fight sequences and at least one spectacular action scene involving motorised vehicles (buses are particularly popular). If that makes it sound as if the films are made to a formula then you've read it right. They are. But with Chan it really is all in the execution.

New Police Story [San ging chaat goo si] opens in unexpected fashion, with Chan's super-cop (who is also named Chan) stumbling around in an alcoholic stupor before collapsing in the gutter and being robbed by two punks. It turns out that this is actually not the start at all, but a flash-forward taste of things to come. The story proper kicks off in breezier fashion, with Chan freeing two hostages from a pissed-off, grenade-waving investor (he's just lost all his money and wants revenge on his financial advisor) and giving a pep talk to his younger colleagues. But trouble is not far away, perched on a ledge far above the Hong Kong streets in the shape of four nihilistic rich kids known as the X-Crusaders, who rob banks for the buzz and encourage their victims to call in the cops solely for the fun of shooting them up when they arrive. Chan is assigned to the case and boldly claims that he can nail the gang in just three hours. He appears to making good on this, quickly locating their hideout and leading a force in to apprehend its inhabitants. But it's all a set-up, an elaborate trap that leaves everyone but the despairing and humiliated Chan dead. Ah, so that's why he hit the bottle...

In narrative terms, none of this will be particularly surprising to series fans, but director Benny Chan (no relation) doesn't let that bother him, borrowing a CGI trick from Fight Club to introduce his bad guys (and girl) and staging the fatal ambush as a nerve-wracking cross between an elaborate police assault course and the multi-trap maze of Cube. This sequence climaxes in a scene of extended psychological torture, as Chan's injured colleagues are dangled above his head and plunged individually to their deaths when he fails to complete set tasks at the required speed. His humiliation is completed when the gang then upload the ambush onto the net as an on-line game.

Chan's slow crawl out of his alcoholic haze is initiated and aided by the impossibly cheerful young Cheung Sui Fung (Nicholas Tse), a fresh-faced officer assigned by the Chief to work with the detective and catch the gang responsible. Chan is initially hostile to Cheung, but when the young cop hooks up with pretty young technical support officer Sasa (Charlene Choi), the trio become determined to bring the X-Crusaders to justice.

Although plot is usually little more than a direct route from one action sequence to the next in Hong Kong action cinema, there's actually more meat to the narrative here than I have chosen to reveal, including a couple of twists that should definitely not be spoiled in advance. Of course, there are a fair few plausibility issues to deal with, from police station security (just who is in charge of checking who comes in and out?) to the best shot in the force missing with every bullet when the plot requires, while the X-Crusaders are as cartoonishly immoral a group of villains as you'll find in the wildest martial arts movie. But it all plays out in consistently enjoyable and energetic fashion. There are even some intriguing and unexpected subtextual undercurrents in the shape of the loud, flashily dressed, BMX-riding youth gang, who award themselves points for kills, videotape their gunfights with the police and hurl themselves down the sides of skyscrapers to effect an illegal entry, reflecting the older generation's dismay at what it sees as a valueless youth culture obsessively in search of the next high, so hooked in to the technological age they are unable to disconnect reality from the wired world. This is balanced a little by a flashback that suggests that the seeds for this are sewn not by the hardware trappings of a modern society, but by family and parental attitudes, something of a favourite for demented movie killers.

Chan may be taking a few less risks as he reaches middle age (the extent of the wire work involved in many of the stunts is revealed in the extra features), but he and his fellow cast members are still willing to go where actors would normally send their stunt doubles. Chan leaps, dives, fights and gets hit in a manner that would leave many younger men in traction, but it's probably Nicholas Tse who gets the roughest ride of all, hurtled head first and backwards down the side of a skyscraper, and tied up and dangled off a steeply sloping metal roof, both locations potentially fatal distances from the hard ground below.

If the mad stunts have been reigned in a little, then the increased weight given to the dramatic elements put greater demands on Chan the actor, something mainstream reviewers have not been all that kind about. While I'll concede that the histrionics of despair are played a little to the gallery, I would also point out that this is normal for Hong Kong cinema and that in the quieter moments (the scene in which Cheung re-unites him with his wife is a good example) Chan delivers the goods with impressive restraint. There is no exaggerated mugging here, with the film's few all-out comic moments confined largely to a break-out in which an entire police station seems complicit, a genuinely funny scene whose best-timed gag caught me with a wine glass at my mouth, the contents of which the resulting guffaw sent spraying into the air.

Where the film shines the brightest is in its technical handling – the direction, cinematography and sound mix are all first rate – in the excellent location work and, as you'd hope, in the action set-pieces. Wire work or not, they deliver in spades, the most outrageous of which sees two gang members launch themselves down the side of a very tall building on rollerblades and a BMX bike, followed by Chan and Cheung, improvising wire brakes with handcuffs and a metal pole (and let's not forget the poor camera operator who's hurtling down with them), although for the sheer scale of the destruction, the out-of-control bus that tears through a shopping street with Chan balanced on its roof takes some beating. The fighting, when it comes, is blisteringly choreographed and performed.

All things considered, New Police Story is something of a delight. I realise I am speaking as a member of the old-school Chan fan base and that even we know that a fourth sequel is always going to fall some way short of such an esteemed original. But for my money this is Chan's most enjoyable, most substantial and most exciting film in several years. Really.

sound and vision

Framed 2.35:1 and anamorphically enhanced, the transfer here is nothing short of gorgeous. Detail is excellent, contrast and black levels as close to perfect as you'd want and colour reproduction is bang on, with natural skin tones and rich, vibrant primes. I've got no complaints at all here.

Three soundtracks are included – Cantonese Dolby 5.1, Cantonese DTS and an English Dolby 5.1 dub, voiced by what sounds like many of the real cast (most of the X-Crusader actors, though of Chinese parentage, actually reside in the USA). The Dolby 5.1 tracks are good, but the DTS is superb, having considerably more volume and oomph and a sometimes ear-bending use of surrounds – the street gun battles are a blizzard of gunshots, impacts and ricochets that place you right in the middle of the action. LFE bass is also impressive, with explosions in particularly good at shaking the cutlery and frightening the neighbours.

extra features

A 2-disc release, the only extra on disc 1 is a trailer gallery for other related HKL releases. The disc 2 extras are divided into three categories.

Promotional Gallery

Original Theatrical Trailer 1 (0:57) hints at what you're going to get and is likely a pre-release teaser. Original Theatrical Trailer 2 (2:26) and Original Theatrical Trailer 3 (2:06) are a lot meatier and really give a flavour of the film. The UK Theatrical Trailer (1:24) does OK.

Interview Gallery

Benny Chan (19:21)
The director discusses his career, working with Chan (who apparently would be on set even on his days off) and the other actors, location shooting and a lot more. He expresses regret that he did not get the balance between characters, drama and stunt work right, and usefully explains that some of the plot holes are the result of having to chop an hour from his original cut of the film. The interview is intercut or screen-split with making-of footage, which sometimes spirals in to draw attention to itself, but it's a considerable improvement on the tiresome dual view of the same interviewee approach we've been subjected to on some recent HKL releases.

Star Attraction: UK Exclusive Cast Interviews (19:33)
Key members of the support cast are interviewed in English, which is not a problem given that most of tem seem to reside in the USA and actually have broad American accents. Most seem to have been awed at the chance to work with their idol, but they also have good things to say about their director.

The Making of New Police Story (15:35)
What looks like a Hong Kong EPK, with behind-the-scenes footage cut with interview snippets in which the actors tell us about their characters and the director talks about the film in general, all set to constant music and presented with zippy graphics. This does reveal the extent of the film's wire work, which might ruin the illusion for more devoted fans.

Behind the Scenes

18 behind-the-scenes videos (57:21 total) presented without commentary or interview. They range in length from just 39 seconds to a far more substantial 10 minutes and are of variable interest, the key sequences being the coverage of the bus crash, the skyscraper drop and the Conference Centre roof shoot. A couple of nice out-takes are included, and there's an amusing moment when Jackie is throwing balls at the camera then turns to walk off and bangs his head on the set. The sound drops very low on some shots, but does recover.

summary

If you're not a fan of Jackie Chan's style of action cinema then all of this will fall on deaf ears, and that's fair enough. If you are, and especially if you long for the old school Chan of his pre-Hollywood era then you can put your happy shoes on, as New Police Story plays like the trip to America never even happened.

The extra features here are pretty good, but if you're buying this disc it should be for the main feature, which is impressively presented. Hong Kong Legends have done a splendid job on the transfer, and those of you with DTS sound will have particular reasons to be pleased with this release.

New Police Story
San ging chaat goo si

Hong Kong / China 2004
119 mins
director
Benny Chan
starring
Jackie Chan
Nicholas Tse
Charlie Yeung
Charlene Choi
Daniel Wu

DVD details
region 2
video
2.35:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 5.1 surround
DTS 5.1 surround
languages
Cantonese
English
subtitles .
English
extras
Trailers
Director interview
Cast interviews
Making-of featurette
Behind-the-scenes footage
distributor
Hong Kong Legends
release date
5 February 2007
review posted
4 February 2007

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See all of Slarek's reviews