Movie Review: Police Story Lockdown
Jackie Chan: a movie icon for more than 40 years; a triple threat to direct, act, and sing (you didn’t know that he was a pop icon in China?); a masterful choreographer who meticulously plans his own death-defying stunts and martial arts fights. The man is an industry who has put his stamp on every aspect of film making in numerous genres. Police Story (1985) was one of Chan’s biggest hits: it put his star on the map as more than a quick-footed Bruce Lee clone toiling away in B-movie chop-socky flicks and gave Hong Kong it’s first bankable action hero to compete with foreign stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. 30 years later, Chan is back with a new Police Story, and he’s still showing American action stars how it’s done…while adapting his physically demanding style to modern techniques.
Police Story: Lockdown (2013)
Zhong Wen is a cop who has dedicated his life to the force, so much so that he is losing the love of his adult daughter. Wen takes a last gamble to mend his broken relationship by meeting his daughter and her new boyfriend at a trendy night club that resembles a fortress taken over by punk rockers. At the club, he continually meets familiar faces that remind him of an uncomfortable case many years ago, one that lead to a personal tragedy for Zhong Wen. When the boyfriend arrives, he reveals himself to be the owner of the night club…and as he seals up the impenetrable death trap of a club and takes the guests hostage, he also reveals that he has purposefully filled the club with people connected to that case in order to extract revenge upon them.
Many fans of Jackie Chan will want to cut to the chase: is the action any good? The star is getting on in years (though he is still younger than Liam Neeson, who has slipped into actions movies seamlessly as he has aged) and many of his newest films have avoided the gonzo stunts and furious kung-fu action of Chan’s classics. While there is less action than one would hope from a Jackie Chan film, Police Story: Lockdown still delivers hard hitting thrills that recall Chan’s glory days. Several sequences, including a suicide intervention that has Chan toppling off of a parking garage and a brutal fight sequence in which Chan faces off against a Muay Thai champion, are redolent of some of his best work. The film takes into account the star’s diminished (though still cat-like) prowess by adopting many Hollywood techniques such as quick-cuts, restrictive camera angles, and shaky-cam sequences that help to hide any miss-steps in the action. There is some evidence of CGI chicanery, but Chan (who also directed this film) rarely lets the computer rob his scenes of visceral impact, and there is an admirable amount of practical effects that augment the visuals. Gone are the days of a ten minute fight scene filmed almost exclusively from a wide angle with minimal cuts, and that change can sometimes be glaring, but the finished product is as good or superior to fights found in modern action flicks like The Bourne Identity or the Taken series.
Where Police Story: Lockdown shines (and shows it has been doing its homework) is the story telling, which borrows aspects of seminal western police thrillers. Like the film Vantage Point, the narrative constantly shifts depending on who is recounting the story (a good deal of the movie is involved in flash-backs that slowly reveal the complete story of the incident that has drawn all of the characters together.) Like The Usual Suspects, there is a reliance on the unreliable narrator, as each character, even Zhong Wen, shapes the story in ways that is personally helpful and not entirely truthful. By the time all of the pieces are in place, the plot becomes edge-of-your seat riveting, not because of fights or explosions, but because the narrative has become stretched to a breaking point. I was completely caught up in the revenge story, and though it took time to build to a climax, it was wholly engaging. Chan’s hands may have slowed with age, but his attention to detail and ability to craft a tense story are still razor-keen.
Master with Cracked Fingers
What impressed me most about Police Story: Lockdown was the artistry Chan shows in crafting a film. As a director, Jackie Chan has meticulously deconstructed the genre and chosen the best techniques to enhance his product. Nothing seems to be in the film that Chan didn’t select for maximum impact. There are beautifully shot sequences that use aspects of lighting, cinematography, sound work, and digital effects that all blend together to create amazing imagery. In one shot, Chan has his head smashed through plate-glass in slow motion and the finished product is breathtakingly gorgeous while being jarringly violent.
New Master of Kung-Fu
Jackie Chan has continued to grow and improve as an artist. He’s clearly studied his craft, and his latest films have managed to impress with visual prowess and story telling acumen. Some recent comments hinted he was growing tired of the medium, but Chan has seemed to expand his skill-set as he’s aged and to successfully re-invigorate his passion for movie-making. In Police Story: Lockdown, he’s created one of the most memorable police thrillers in recent history, and really raised the bar for action movies that want to excite and engage a savvy audience.