As the seasons change, so do sometimes my plans for this feature. I hadn’t originally planned on writing this review. I was going to do at least a straight month of nothing but European cinema, encouraged as I was of my OSS 117: Lost In Rio write-up. But, seeing as Jackie Chan turned 65 earlier this week and the man — along with anime and Godzilla — is probably most responsible for getting me into movies made overseas, I thought I’ve give the old man a shout-out today.
Again, I had to change format a little here, specifically my own preference for reviewing fairly new movies. Jackie, though, does technically qualify for social security now, which means he isn’t as spry as he used to be. He can still go, but part of you wishes he wouldn’t… especially when you see the end credits and the failed stunts. You fear that one day he won’t be able to get back up. Spectacular stunts are why you go to watch Jackie Chan movies, so when the stunts are not so great you die a little inside.
Besides, recent movies have increasingly relied on his less charismatic co-stars. I have a hard time distinguishing between Kung Fu Yoga and Chinese Zodiac. The plots are way too similar! I know Kung Fu Yoga has an unconvincing CGI lion, but that’s because I looked at the movie poster. There’s another problem to latter day Jackie Chan movies: the characters not named Jackie Chan are bland and interchangeable. This is probably why I liked Skiptrace so much. Love him or hate him, Johnny Knoxville does have a presence.
Instead, I’m looking at a Jackie Chan classic. And since Project A and Armour of God don’t seem to be available on streaming, we’re going with Police Story 3: Super Cop.
The movie was also known as simply Supercop in North America. Among its largest fans is, unsurprisingly, Quentin Tarantino. He praises the final action sequence, which he considered the greatest stunt sequence of all time. Supercop is the third movie in the Police Story series. I haven’t seen any of the other movies. Maaaaaybe I’ve seen First Strike, a.k.a. Police Story 4, but my memories of late 90’s-early 2000’s movie watching is a little hazy and for various non-pharmaceutical related reasons I cannot remember that part of my life that well. Like, is that the one with the iconic ladder stunt? Don’t make me visit the entire 100+ Jackie Chan filmography! I need to get to my weird and inscrutable European movies!
However, Supercop does work well as a stand-alone. This is probably why this movie, directed by Stanley Tong, was selected as the North American theatrical follow-up to Rumble in the Bronx (also directed by Stanley Tong) after Jackie Chan finally made his presence known to the American audiences. In a weird way, Tong* is almost entirely responsible for how the American public perceives Jackie Chan. Chan, after all, had starred in more straight-forward and serious roles in the 70’s. It’s got all the high speed martial art moves and slapstick humor that Jackie Chan was becoming known for, and it fit in with the action milieu that Western audiences were hungry for at the time.
That said, if we are picking movies to highlight Jackie Chan at his peak and praise his unique athletic and comedic abilities to the high heavens, Supercop is perhaps not a perfect choice. Sure, the American trailer ONLY mentions Jackie Chan. However, Chan is often upstaged by another great: the phenomenal Michelle Yeoh (credited here as Michelle Khan). Whenever I think of this movie, the stunt that sticks most prominently in my brain isn’t any of the ones Jackie Chan did. It the one where Michelle Yeoh launches a motorbike onto a moving train.
Yes… that’s her doing her own stunt. Cool factoid, Yeoh hadn’t ridden a bike prior to the scene. From a 1996 interview on Salon.com:
So [Tong] told me about this stunt. “OK, I’ve worked out the ending scene. Jackie is going to jump up onto the helicopter, and you have to go after him, so you hop onto a bike, and then you see Jackie land on a train, and you have to find some way of getting on the train. OK?”
So I say, “Yeah, that’s good. But then, I don’t know how to ride a bike.”
So he said, “OK, we’re going to teach you.” We had two weeks before that stunt. My first introduction to a dirt bike was in a car park in Kuala Lumpur. So I learned to ride the bike with these guys running around after me. The dirt bike is quite a high bike, so when I stop, I can’t balance on it, because my toes literally dangle off the ground. And so when I go past the camera, I just throw the bike and leap off.
That’s part of what makes this one of the best Jackie Chan movies, though. As I said, many of his recent movies are hampered by an invisible supporting cast. That is impossible when you’re supporting cast this time around is Michelle Yeoh. “Chan seems to have met his soul mate in Khan,” said Richard Harrison of the Washington Post. Yeoh had previously been Miss Malaysia and had training in England as a ballet dancer. Injury, though forced her to stop doing dance… and to start doing martial arts movies. Boy howdy does she take to her role like chicken and waffles. She teamed up with director Corey Yuen for 1985’s martial arts movie, Yes, Madam! I haven’t seen it yet, a shame since the movie also has fellow female martial artist Cynthia Rothrock. Supercop represented her return to movies after a short retirement.
Still, Chan is no slouch here in amazing death-defying feats. Leaping through a tiny window to beat an explosion. Leaping onto a moving train in a single bound. Jumping off ledges to grab onto a rope ladder suspended by helicopter. Je broke a rib and dislocated a cheekbone on that last one when the helicopter hit him, by they way. Individually, any of these stunts would have made a career. Jackie Chan does many. Your heart leaps into your throat by how real and dangerous this is.
It’s made all the more incredible when you realize Hong Kong’s top star is doing many of these stunts himself, as evidenced by the end credits sequence that show where Jackie Chan fails. (Also filed there for proof: Yeoh’s motorbike stunt and some scary looking missed spots.) Nothing in Hollywood at the time could really compare. One can imagine Ton Cruise watching these films starry-eyed and promising to himself, “One day… I will grow up to be Jackie Chan.”
Chan — playing a Hong Kong detective — brings the speed, acrobatics, and physical comedy. Yeoh — playing an Interpol agent from mainland China — brings the agility, fearlessness, and grace. Together… they’re cops! It’s kinda appropriate that, in a way, they’re both the supercops of the title. Chan is this movie’s supercop… but Yeoh was the star of Project S (also directed by Stanley Tong!), which was released in North America as Supercop 2.
They should’ve called this movie Supercop: Supercop Too?
Chan and Yeoh both get their own individual spots to showcase their abilities. But when they’re together, magic happens. Despite the brutal and missed spots, what’s seen on screen looks flawless. I don’t know many who match so well with Chan’s fast-paced reflexes. (Sorry, Sammo Hung.) Watching their stuntwork is like seeing things in fast forward sometimes.
So that about covers Supercop… oh right the plot. Chan is a Hong Kong detective who’s tracking down some international drug dealers. He meets up with Yeoh in mainland China so they can go undercover to spring a prisoner who’s their best lead to the druglord. Chan poses as a petty criminal. Yeoh poses as his sister. Their trail takes them to a base of operations in Thailand, where many buildings blow up, Yeoh wears a dynamite vest, and people’s pants catch on fire. (Seriously, those pants must be covered in kerosene. They combust while the rest of the clothes remain unscathed.) Then they go to Yeoh’s backyard of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, where the druglord’s wife is on death row. Michelle Yeoh rides a motorbike and jumps it onto a train. It’s actually an easier plot to follow than most Jackie Chan movies, which, let’s face it, are just excuses to get from one action sequence to another.
Oh, and Maggie Cheung shows up as Jackie Chan’s wet blanket girlfriend. I admit, that confused me at first as I had no idea what she was doing in Kuala Lumpur when Chan is a Hong Kong detective… but I guess she’s an international tour guide. This does lead to what’s probably the movie’s funniest scene, where Chan pulls out all the stops to make sure that Maggie Cheung doesn’t see her while trying to keep up appearances with the bad guys.
Supercop is currently available on Starz… and it seems like it’s been on there forever! I watched this on Starz last year!
* – In a weird footnote, Tong also directed that Jackie Chan movie that I’ve been maligning, Kung Fu Yoga… as well as the live-action Mr. Magoo movie. Because when you get down to it, Leslie Nielsen is the Canadian Jackie Chan.