The original Police Story, now more than thirty years old, is perhaps the greatest pure action film ever made. Yes, it has an average script, cardboard cut-out characters, and the story is as transparent as the glass in that bone-shattering finale, but for pure, brutal spectacle, only The Raid has ever come close to topping it.
Written, directed, starring and choreographed by Chan, the film has become synonymous with his name and he remains inseparable from it. But like the franchise, Chan is now thirty years older and the film must adapt to reflect this. He can no longer hang off a speeding bus from an umbrella, or slide down a pole through a glass ceiling. Seriously, if you haven’t seen the original Police Story, go watch it. It’s amazing.
What we have instead of the back-breaking, pelvis-injuring stunts, is a film that fits more into the age group that Jackie Chan finds himself occupying in 2013. The kind that stars such as Liam Neeson have discovered can be wildly successful thanks to a demographic that feels underserved by today’s bright and breezy superhero blockbusters. Jackie Chan stars as a cop with regrets who has let his family slip away from him. Looking for his rebellious and estranged daughter, he goes to a notorious night spot to find her. She’s going out with the club’s owner, Wu, a shady dealer with some mob connections.
Chan’s character might not be the best version of himself that he can be, but his law enforcement honed instincts are flawless and his family shouldn’t have been so quick to doubt him. All sound familiar so far? The relationship between the separated family and Chan’s performance as the archetypical firm-but-flawed father figure – unreasonably paranoid, but vindicated for it throughout – are what really drive the Taken comparisons home. The film has also abandoned the comedic tone of the previous Police Story films and picked up a darker, grittier quality, more akin to hardboiled noir. I’m not going to say that this film has no business being called a Police Story film – it’s no business of mine to tell someone what they can and can’t call their movie – but this couldn’t be less related to the original franchise if was filmed in English.
Suddenly, the whole club is taken hostage by Wu and police are called to the situation to negotiate their release. He wants a hefty ransom and the handover of an imprisoned criminal. What does he want the criminal for? Chan is trapped inside with his daughter and must unravel the sinister plan at the heart of the film to ensure the safety of his family and the other hostages.
The initial scenes are uneventful; the paint-by-numbers story and the sometimes laughably simplistic father-daughter dynamic fail to make up for what we have lost in explosive action and thrilling set pieces. But Chan is still a humanitarian, though, and he carries that philosophy with him into all of his projects, this one included. It’s when the plot starts to play around with those themes that it regains a little of my attention.
Suddenly, in the middle of the siege, Chan is forced to use his martial arts skills to fight with one of the kidnappers. Liam Neeson’s Taken character would have no qualms about snapping his neck. Chan’s character, however, is reluctant to kill another human being and shows compassion in a genre western filmmakers would have you believe has room for none.
The lead villain Wu, is also more complex than the film would initially suggest, taking a note from 2004’s New Police Story in trying to create a more sympathetic villain. That film actually did a piss poor job in getting you to empathise with a bad guy who was actually no more than a sadistic rich kid with daddy issues. Instead, this film’s antagonist takes a cue from Spike Lee’s Inside Man where his motives and methods are actually far more complex than you think.
This all comes to a head in the last twenty minutes, as the film suddenly becomes Rashomon. It’s such a left turn for the film to take and one it has been cleverly leading to so the film does earn this sudden attempt at mystery. It’s a thrilling and compelling conclusion, but one that cannot erase the memory of all of this film’s derivative flaws.
Police Story: Lockdown is a strange puzzle box of a film. Once you think you have it figured out, it surprises you. But can a great ending make up for the boring journey getting there? It’s a tough trade. One I was happy to go through once, but perhaps not again.
Dir: Ding Sheng
Prd: Yang Du, Yong Er, Zhang Wang
Scr: Ding Sheng, Alex Jia
Cast: Jackie Chan, Ye Liu, Tian Jing
DOP: Yu Ding
Music: Zai Lao
Run Time: 110 minutes
Police Story: Lockdown is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.