I met my wife in Hong Kong. But my first love there was Jackie Chan. I wasn’t alone in my affection: His movies, released on major holidays, were fun-for-the-family events, and this Caucasian cinephile always felt a little out of place when he showed up at the boxoffice. “This Chinese movie,” the ticket takers patiently explained, to what they took for a clueless foreigner. “You want English movie.” That’s what they thought—who would want an English movie when there was one with Jackie Chan playing?
As a three-year resident of what was then the Crown Colony I was fortunate to get in on the ground floor of Hong Kong cinema, and I experienced first-hand its last golden era, from the late 80s to the early 90s. I took in all the John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat, Sammo Hung, Stephen Chow, etc., that I could find, confusing a lot of ticket takers. Hong Kong movies, fast on their feet, quick-witted, and bursting with a crazy urban energy, made the dream factory across the Pacific look fat-assed and lazy. Evidently it agreed: Hollywood picked up some of that stardust and started sprinkling it around. By then, anxiety over the 1997 handover to China had gone from giddy to morose, and the local industry had lost a lot of its drive and ambition. (It was, I think, the feeling of an endpoint looming, a subtext to many Hong Kong films of that period, which gave them that restless, go-for-broke quality.) I’d say the last great movie of that singular, never-to-be-repeated time was Chan’s jaw-dropping martial arts masterpiece Drunken Master II (1994); the harbinger of things to come was his godawful, party’s-over Rumble in the Bronx, made the next year.
Ironically, it was that film that gave Chan his first U.S. hit, after some English-language misses in the 80s. Its unprecedented success led to the popular Rush Hour pictures and the Shanghai Noon/Shanghai Knights two-fer; the Chinese movie and the English movie married and gave birth to Jackie Chan, the crossover phenomenon. They’re light, enjoyable, fairly forgettable movies, as are most of Chan’s Hong Kong-made films since then, which nowadays tend to go straight-to-DVD here. (Have you heard of Rob. B. Hood? No? Well, I wouldn’t bullet it on my Netflix queue.)
The good news about Rumble was that it kicked up Chan’s earlier, salad-days features. True, they were redubbed, reedited, and rescored for American audiences—Carl Douglas must have made a fortune on “Kung Fu Fighting” covers. This bugs the purists, but not Chan, who goes into each film with ideas for five or six action sequences, then has the script written around them. Supercop, from 1992, has one of the tighter plots, tied to the only feature-length teaming to date between him and Michelle Yeoh, who parlayed its successful U.S. run in 1996 to roles as one of the best “Bond girls” in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies and 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. (With both their careers at creative loose ends they’re long overdue for a reprise.)
Supercop has been on DVD for years, but has just been reissued by the martial-arts mavens at Dragon Dynasty, in a scintillating two-disc package that joins its predecessors, Police Story (1985) and Police Story 2 (1988). (The fourth, from 1996, is available on DVD as the drastically, but not unreasonably, cut-down U.S. version titled Jackie Chan’s First Strike; out there as well is the 2004 “reboot,” the not-quite-related New Police Story.) Fans expecting the uncut Hong Kong version will be disappointed, as this is the 91-minute Dimension Films edit, with a Cantonese-language track and subtitles as a welcome relief from the patchy English dubbing. The other nine minutes resurfaced as a deleted scenes supplement on the Criterion Collection laserdisc. I saw the original cut (at a 1992 Hong Kong film festival in San Jose, with other early adopters like me), have the LD, and can say that you aren’t missing much, except for a few gaffes wisely removed and some cultural incongruities ironed out. In the U.S., a “family film” is across-the-board acceptable, content-wise; Supercop, in contrast, has slapstick for the kids, a chaste, silly romance for mom, gun battles for junior, semi-naked ladies for dad, and Chan and Yeoh drop-kicks for everyone.
It’s their chemistry that ignites the film, as Chan’s everyman Hong Kong cop joins forces with Yeoh’s no-nonsense China policewoman to stop gangsters from flooding Hong Kong with drugs. (Subtext alert: China’s citizens are otherwise presented as benign bumpkins.) The chase takes them from a mainland mining operation, for a pursuit on the chutes, to the streets of Kuala Lumpur, for a climactic helicopter, trains, and automobiles extravaganza that is one highlight after another, with Yeoh bouncing off a car and skittering down the roadway and Chan clinging for his life from a ladder off the copter. The closing credits outtakes, which add a little zing to even the most lifeless Chan pictures, confirm that this was a “look Ma, no special effects!” show, with death-defying stunts and funny flubs all a part of the day for Jackie, the human pinball machine. In this U.S. edit, these play over Tom Jones singing…wait for it…“Kung Fu Fighting.”
Going over the difference between the cuts, and going deep-dish into the production minutiae, is the sifu of Hong Kong movie commentators, Bey Logan, who mentions that his first marriage may have started on the wrong foot when he took his wife to see Supercop on their honeymoon. (I love my wife, and she likes Chan, but there are limits.) Logan, who knows the local industry inside and out, has an anecdote about every actor in the picture; literally and figuratively dropped along the roadside during the course of the story, Maggie Cheung, Chan’s reel and real-life girlfriend, picked herself up and retreated to the nunnery of the arthouse, for Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep and Clean. He’s a breezy, engaging speaker, and so informed I just about (not quite) forgive him for writing one of Chan’s Hollywood barrel-scrapers, The Medallion.
The second disc is devoted to lengthy interviews with Chan and Yeoh, who are always a good listen even if you’ve heard their war stories before. Also heard from are the film’s director, Stanley Tong, who has directed Chan in four other movies (and often road-tests their stunts), and Chan’s bodyguard, training partner, and co-star Ken Lo, who gets major smack laid on him as the bad guy’s henchman. This badge-of-honor Supercop edition is a welcome memento of a time when Hong Kong was the coolest place to make movies, and to see them.
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