Police Story/Police Story 2
The jaw-dropping set pieces fly fast and furious in Jackie Chan’s breathtakingly inventive action comedies, two smash hits that made him a worldwide icon of daredevil spectacle. The director/star/one-man stunt machine plays Ka-kui, a Hong Kong police inspector whose methods are, ahem, unorthodox; the phenomenal Maggie Cheung, in a star-making role, plays his much-put-upon girlfriend, May. Packed wall-to-wall with astoundingly acrobatic fight choreography, epic explosions, charmingly goofball slapstick, and awesomely 1980s electro soundtracks, Police Story and Police Story 2 set a new standard for rock-’em, sock-’em mayhem that established Chan as a performer of unparalleled grace and daring and would influence a generation of filmmakers, from Hong Kong to Hollywood.
Jackie Chan’s Police Story and Police Story 2 both enter The Criterion Collection, presented in their original aspect ratios of 2.35:1, each receiving a new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation. The films are each presented on their own dual-layer disc and have both been restored in 4K, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Though not entirely without issue the final presentations still go well beyond anything I was expecting. Because of the general lackluster quality of various VHS, DVD and (a handful of) Blu-ray releases I have come across for 80s/90s Hong Kong action films I seem to unconsciously curb my expectations and not hold out much hope when I pop one into my player. Even knowing both films came from 4K restorations didn’t help me any. Well, I’m pleased to say that the end results are spectacular, the films looking fresh and new. What struck me most was not only how great the colours looked (they lean warmer, but they’re saturated beautifully, with some stunning reds and greens), but also how clean the sources appear to be, with the restoration work really going over the films with a fine-tooth comb (a few little marks do remain). The pictures are also, most of the time, incredibly sharp and detailed, though their respective sources seem to hold this aspect back a bit at times. Some shots and sequences can look a little fuzzy, a bit out-of-focus, and there are also shots that can look almost as though they’re a bit dupier, with weaker colours, muddier blacks, and so forth (moments during meat-up between Chan’s character and a explosives seller in the second film being a bit of an example). I think these instances come down to source materials in the end. Even when the source appears to be less-than-ideal, film grain is always rendered beautifully, never looking like noise or coming off blocky. Blacks can vary, with details getting eaten up in a few darker sequences, but I was generally pleased with them.
It also doesn’t hurt that the digital presentations themselves are clean, and there is a wonderful photographic quality to the picture in the end. The fight scenes move quickly through both films, but the image stays smooth without blur, keeping it easy to see what is going on. Both films just really exceeded my expectations.
Criterion presents three audio tracks for each film. Police Story and Police Story 2 each offer two Cantonese tracks, including the original monaural one presented in lossless PCM audio along with a remastered DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track. Both films also get optional English tracks, the first film’s in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono, and the second film’s in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The DTS-HD 5.1 tracks appear to have been mixed and provided by Fortune Star while the other tracks were sourced from other home video releases, some of which were provided by a fan, an online user named Irongod2112. The Cantonese mono track for the first film came from a negative but was checked against an out-of-print DVD provided by this user, while the mono track for Police Story 2 was sourced from the Japanese LaserDisc. The English track for the first film is a Dolby Digital mono one that comes from a Dutch VHS, and is apparently a fan favourite. The second film’s English track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The notes don’t indicated where this track has been sourced from, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it came from a DVD.
Each track has their own share of pros and cons, so it will ultimately come down to preference. For each film I primarily listened to the DTS-HD 5.1 surround tracks and then heavily sampled the other tracks. I did rather enjoy the DTS-HD 5.1 tracks for each film, finding their respective mixes effective. Dialogue and music can be both flat and weak (which is an issue with the other tracks as well), but the action scenes end up being very dynamic with surprising range and superb movement between the speakers. Gun shots and explosions are far stronger in these surround tracks in comparison to the other tracks (even the Dolby Digital 5.1 track for the second film), and bass shakes things up in a few instances.
The Cantonese mono tracks for each film are about the same in quality, even though the second film’s track comes from a Dutch VHS. Dialogue and music are still both flat and weak, and both present incredibly flat sounding action sequences, with weak gun shots, explosions, and punches. Neither presents any severe problems and both sound pretty clean.
The English mono track on the first film manages to be even weaker than the Cantonese mono track, sounding very flat and tinny, with gun shots being even more blunt. The English surround track for the second film does sound better, but the sound effects have a more hollow, tinny sound to them in comparison to the other two tracks on the disc. The surround mix is effective. Not surprisingly, the English dialogue does not match lip movements, and is severely detached from the onscreen action (with some of the voice acting being a bit much at times) but then I’m going to guess that is part of the charm.
Overall, I’ll probably stick with the DTS-HD surround tracks, but I love that Criterion gives all of these options.
Each film gets their own disc and each disc receives their own collection of supplements. With this set being Criterion’s first Jackie Chan release (ignoring their fairly basic LaserDisc edition of Supercop, aka Police Story 3, back in the day) it should come as no surprise that Criterion has dug up a lot of content around Chan himself, and the material on the first disc focuses primarily on Chan, his stunt work, and his career. This all starts with 65-minutes’ worth of excerpts from the 1999 documentary Jackie Chan: My Stunts. It has the feel of being more a promotional video than an actual documentary, but the material here proves to be invaluable and fascinating. In this video Chan walks us through step-by-step how he plans out his action set pieces, from concept, to development, to creating props (where needed) and then the intense training and choreography that will go into it. These sequences are literally broken down into shots (though in many cases it appears they are longer and all done in one take, with editing being employed later to help the pace) and each one is meticulously planned. Chan even demonstrates the choreography in a slower fashion so we can see how hits are landed (or not actually landed) and even demonstrates how editing will help the illusion. When watching his films it can appear everything is just easy and natural for everyone involved but this documentary clearly demonstrates that is not the case at all, and Chan and his team of stunt people put a lot of effort into even the most mundane moments of a fight sequence. I’m sure most Chan fans have seen something like this, but for people not familiar with Chan, or only have a basic familiarity of him, should find this a great look at his work.
Criterion next gets filmmaker Edgar Wright to talk about Chan. For 13-minutes Wright explains how he first discovered Chan and his work and how the filmmaker/actor has influenced his work directly (even getting Chan’s collaborator Brad Allan to help him with the fight scenes in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). Wright also mentions first meeting Chan to interview him for a Podcast while the actor was promoting The Foreigner and Criterion has seen fit to include that Podcast here as well. Running 36-minutes Chan talks a little about his past work (even getting into his Peking Opera schooling) while getting into how he has changed his goals as he has gotten older, noting it is significantly harder to do the stunt work he once did years ago. Chan is always an absolutely charming interview subject, always feels genuine and very forthcoming, and having Wright kind-of geeking out (though keeping it in check) makes the interview a very breezy one.
Grady Hendrix, Author and co-founder of the New York Asian Film Festival, provides a couple of interviews for this release, with his first, entitled Becoming Jackie, appearing on this disc. This 16-minute interview explains how Chan developed his persona through the years after a series of, what could be called, false starts, landing on the blend of comedy and martial arts his name has become synonymous with, and the “every man” characters he developed on screen (and off), who took their fair share of hits and were obviously not immortal, that allowed audiences to relate to him. As I’m admittedly not too familiar with most of his early work I appreciated this short primer showcasing the genesis of the actor I’m more familiar with.
Criterion then digs up some more archival material, including 12-minutes from what appears to be some sort television special from 2017 commemorating Chan and his work, called The King vs. Kins II. The excerpt we get offers a look at Chan’s stunt team and includes interviews with current and past members. There is also an undated interview with Jackie Chan that features the actor talking for 20-minutes about how he develops his stunts with a focus on how he planned the final mall fight at the end of Police Story. This involved him visiting the mall and then coming up with scenarios he could pull off.
The disc then closes with two theatrical trailers: the original trailer for Police Story and then Janus’ trailer for the new restorations and re-release for both films.
For disc 2 (to accompany Police Story 2), Criterion starts things off with the Hong Kong version of the film, which runs around 16-minutes shorter than the main version. Eureka’s UK edition for both films presented a number of versions for each film and I’m not sure why Criterion only included this one alternate version for the second film; I can only assume it’s a fan favourite or something along those lines. What’s odd is I can’t really specify how they differ directly (though the fart in the elevator sequence adds a sound effect I don’t recall in the other version). Despite there being a big chunk missing, the plot seems to be the same. I can only guess it’s some trims here and there.
The film is presented in high-definition (the first time this has happened to my understanding) and has been scanned at 2K from a 35mm theatrical print but has received very little restoration work, if any. Subtitles (which offer both Chinese and English text) are also burned in. Colours are weak, as are blacks, and damage is rampant (scratches, tram lines, stains, dirt, etc.), though not as bad as I would have expected. The digital presentation is fine, though, looking clean, so it has a film-like quality to it even if the condition of the source is less than ideal, and it handles the fast motion of the action sequences beautifull. The image is also surprisingly sharp. The Cantonese soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono.
A nice little inclusion, after Edgar Wright mentioned it in his interview on the first disc, is an episode of Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show, hosted Jonathan Ross, covering Jackie Chan. The 45-minute program offers a surprisingly comprehensive introduction to the action star, going over his filmography, his fame, and his stunt work. The program also includes a wonderful collection of interviews with Chan, coming off humble (he usually is but it’s amped up a bit more here), addressing his “ugly” looks for the reason he pushes the envelope the way he does, in order to stand out (Ross doesn’t agree with Chan’s self-assessment), and he also talks a bit about his opera background and developing the persona he has come to take through the years (and the many failures along the way). A nice little addition is that Maggie Cheung also shows up here. It’s a wonderful program, a nice little encapsulation of Chan’s appeal, and I can see why Wright felt inclined to mention it. Very happy Criterion saw fit to include it in their set.
Grady Hendrix shows up for a second interview with Reinventing Action, where he looks at the relationship between action films from the East and West and how they have influenced each other over the years, with the focus primarily on Chan and his work. Hendrix goes over the history of Hong Kong cinema a bit and how the martial arts films morphed and changed through the years, and then how people like Chan constructed fights not only in regards of choreography, but also when it came down to editing. He then shows how Hollywood films have “borrowed” from Hong Kong films through the years. My knowledge on Eastern action films is limited so some historical context helped me see the impact Chan and films like Police Story have had all around the world on the action genre a little better. It runs 21-minutes.
An undated archival interview with stuntman/actor Benny Lai (who plays the deaf/mute villain in Police Story 2) pops up next, the actor talking about Chan’s stunt team and how they plan and train for the action set pieces in his films. Lai also talks a little about his character in the second film. This is then followed by an excerpt from a 1964 episode of the French program Edition speciale on a Peking Opera school, showcasing the training Chan would have gone through. The footage of the training is impressive but it’s when we get to see bits of the finished opera, which includes fights delivered as dances, where it becomes easy to see the influence in Chan’s work. It runs 13-minutes.
A 4-minute stunt reel presents a collection of painful looking bloopers put together from many of Chan’s films, and then the disc closes with the original theatrical trailer for the second film. This trailer ends up showing quite a bit of footage showing Chan in the directing chair.
The set then includes a poster insert featuring an illustration of Chan from the first film (when he’s on the motorbike during the photoshop) and then an essay by Nick Pinkerton on the importance of both films, their stunning action scenes, and how each film differs in construction and execution.
It’s missing some great looking content found on Eureka’s UK edition, like more alternate cuts for each of the films, and what appears to be deleted scenes, yet Criterion has still gathered some wonderful and engaging content that offers a wonderful primer on Chan and Hong Kong action cinema. I had a lot of fun going through this set.
I think fans will be thrilled with this release. Both films have received impressive restorations and have also been both encoded beautifully here, offering a couple of the better looking home video presentations I’ve yet seen for an 80s Hong Kong action film. Criterion also puts together a wonderful smattering of material, from alternate tracks to an alternate version of Police Story 2, along with a wealth of features around Chan and the action genre.