See It Instead: Police Story Lockdown
Let me just begin by saying that there’s really no reason not to watch Jackie Chan’s newest offering, Police Story: Lockdown. The film has been out for two years in Asia, so you’ve had plenty of time to become fluent in Chinese and watch it before now. Today, the film is being given a limited release in America, and it is also seeing a simultaneous release on Video on Demand. Jackie Chan is 61 years old and has broken every bone in his body (often simultaneously) for about 60 of those years just to bring you top-notch entertainment. Are you trying to tell this man that 6.99 at Amazon is just too steep a price for six decades of dedication? Can you look into these eyes and say no?
So rather than see it instead, I’m going to give you three classic Chan films to see as well. That’s right, you’re going to need all 6 hours of these films to get your mind and spirit ready to see Lockdown. You’re welcome.
Police Story: Lockdown (2013)
An aging police chief (Jackie Chan) is thrust back into danger when an innocent reunion with his estranged daughter leads to violence and a hostage situation. Hong Kong’s notorious practice of branding a new movie with the same title as a previously successful film makes this sound like a sequel or spin-off to Chan’s 1985 hit, Police Story, but there is no connection between the two films (aside from involving both the police and Jackie Chan.) Those more familiar with Chan’s clownish roles may surprised to learn that our flexible hero has made quite a few gritty action films, more akin to Die Hard than to Supercop, and this film is certainly in tradition with those films. Sorry, fans of Rush Hour, this film isn’t going to be all jokes and silly faces…
Below are three films from three decades that showcase the multifaceted talents of Mr. Chan. For those scratching their heads about omitting The Legend of Drunken Master, fear not. I’ve covered that masterpiece…twice. So I’m giving Wong Fei-Hung the night off and delving a little deeper into the catalog of kung-fu hits.
The Serious Pick: Who Am I? (1998)
Jackie plays a commando whose unit is set up by their CO after completing a smash and grab from a very well guarded scientist. Left for dead after his evac chopper is downed, Jackie gets taken in by local tribesmen. They nurse him back to health physically, but Jackie cannot remember who he is, why he is so far from home, and why he’s got a top secret disk in his possession. The tribe dubs him “Who Am I” and bid him farewell as he heads back to civilization to find out the meaning of his missing memories.
As his own outfit and rival spy organizations all make their move to take Jackie out and recover the disk, we learn that one thing that stays with you during amnesia is how to kick ass. The final confrontation takes place 50 stories up as two martial artist assassins attempt to beat the memories back into Jackie’s head, all while trying to steal the disk. It works out about as well for them as you would expect. In the melee, the disk goes over the edge of the building, and Jackie goes right along with it, slipping and sliding dozens of stories down the sloped exterior of the sky-scraper in what is one of Chan’s most harrowing and exciting physical stunts ever.
While the amnesia aspect may seem comical, it’s played pretty straight in this film, and Chan showcases his tougher side. Like Rumble in the Bronx, this film was part of the Chan-invasion of America, and featured English dialogue (with only mildly janky over-dubbing.) Despite his greatest successes in America coming from family friendly fair such as Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour, Who Am I? is a classic action film through and through.
The Lighthearted Pick: Wheels on Meals (1984)
Jackie can do gritty, but what he does better than anybody else is chop-socky slapstick. During the early to mid 1980’s, Jackie teamed up with fellow Peking Opera alums Samo Hung and Yuen Biao in nearly a dozen films and were soon being called “the three stooges of kung-fu.” All three men shared tremendous physicality, excellent comedic timing, and a willingness to put their bodies in harm’s way for a laugh.
In Wheels on Meals, Jackie and Yuen are a pair of food-truck operators (see, Chan was so hipster, he ran a food truck 30 years before it became cool!) who get involved with a young woman with sticky fingers. Samo plays an ineffective detective who tries to help the pair out of their troubles, only to get sucked into the cross-hairs of a criminal gang, run by a ruthless and aristocratic Westerner, who are also after the girl.
While much of the film is light and silly, the final confrontation is perhaps one of the greatest martial arts sequences ever filmed. American kick-boxing champ Benny Urquidez squares off against Jackie (for the first of two movie fights the duo would oppose each other in) and the resulting action is so explosive that they just kept the camera rolling as the two juggernauts continued to push each other to the limit. At one point Benny’s kicks are so fast, they put out some candles nearby, without any trickery…he was just that fast. Following this fight, the three comedians team up for an unconventional sword fight against the head honcho, who is so menacing it takes all three to match him. Just talking about it makes me want to order take out from a greasy food truck and watch this film again!
The Unconventional Pick: Little Big Soldier (2010)
Rather than enjoy his silver years basking in the love of his many fans, Chan caught the historical epic fever that began with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Chan would go on to make half a dozen period pieces, and even gave fans the championship fight of their dreams when he fought Jet Li in The Forbidden Kingdom. While some of those pieces more epic and grand, and others are filled with better technical wizardry and choreography, my favorite Jackie Chan film from this period is Little Big Soldier, where Chan takes a subordinate role and shows his versatility and humble charm.
During the Warring States period, two armies meet in epic battle and slaughter each other until only two fighters remain: the wounded general from Wei, and a cunning foot-soldier from Lian (Jackie.) The soldier has survived without a scratch because he immediately faked death at the start of the battle. The young general, however, was wounded fighting honorably and cannot prevent himself from being taken prisoner by the unscrupulous peasant soldier. Jackie hopes to turn in his bounty in exchange for a discharge from the army; he is really a peaceable farmer and hopes to just live out the rest of his days with his family. The two are forced into a compromise when the constant warfare makes the escort mission nearly impossible, and they end up needing each other just to survive the chaos.
Little Big Soldier is worlds apart from Chan’s usual fair. It has light comedic elements, but is not a comedy. It has sweeping action and fights, but Jackie does not play a master martial artist, and the scope of the battles usually render him just a small part in a larger morass of violence. The film flirts with being a buddy film, but ultimately there is no crossing the divide between commoner and aristocrat. The social messages are artfully and subtly deployed, and Chan shows great depth as the cunning but good-hearted soldier.
See you soon, Jackie.