Sunday, June 12, 2011

Police Story 2

Police Story 2 (4/5)

Sequels in the 1980s and early 90s tended to be retellings of the original story. Sure, time had passed between the events of the first and second films and screenwriters would make a reasonable attempt to make obligatory mention of what happened the first time around, but largely sequels were designed to give us more of the same. The 80s/90s, if I have my chronology correct, were before the Lord of the Ringses and Pirates of the Carribeanses, movies that tried to string a single narrative through multiple films. The definition of a sequel and remake were dangerously close during this era of movie history. Ghostbusters 2 made the gang once again face an influx of supernatural activity in New York, leading to yet another climax where a giant creature walks the streets of the city; Predator 2 transplants the same plot into an urban location; Die Hard 2: Die Harder, apparently afraid the audience will not realize the similarities between the first and second movie, takes immense pleasure in having characters point out how much the movie’s events have in common with the original film, as if to say, “Hey, remember that movie you really liked, Die Hard. Well, this is a lot like that.”

Apparently Jackie Chan doesn’t like to hit the reset button because Police Story 2 not only deals with the fallout from the first film, but makes these consequences an important, if not always central, part of the movie. In fact, the opening title is translated as Police Story, Part 2. I think the “part” subtitle tends to class up the place. It’s a way for the filmmaker to tell you that he’s not in it for the money. He just wants to finish the grand narrative he began with the first one. As if to remind the viewer of the eyeball searing awesomeness of the original, Police Story 2 begins with a montage of the greatest hits from the first film set to the rousing “Police Story Theme.” We then pick up the story in what appears to be mere days after the events of the first film with Ka Kui Chan facing repercussions for going rogue. While Chan’s superiors, Superintendent Li and “Uncle” Bill, chastise him for his violent, impulsive means, they still respect him as a police officer and the ends his unconventional actions result in. Both have convinced the higher ups that Chan should not be ejected from the force. Instead they demote Chan to traffic duty.

While directing traffic, Chan is confronted by the villains from the first film, Chu Tao and his lawyer John Ko. Because he has contracted a terminal illness that gives him less than three months to live, Tao was granted a compassionate release by the Hong Kong prison system. Ko proceeds to harassed Chan and his girlfriend May by rolling up to their apartment and issuing barely veiled threats. Later, he makes good on these threats when he unleashes a handful of henchmen conveniently proficient in Kung Fu on Chan and May in an empty park at night. In addition to worrying about enemies out of the past, Chan must also contend with blackmailers who are threatening to blow up buildings owned by some corporate conglomerate unless they cough up ten million dollars.

Police Story 2 improves on the original in at least one area: the character of May. In the first movie May served as the irrationally jealous girlfriend and occasional point of comic relief. Unfortunately, this meant the outrageous action was often sideswiped by dubious humor and stereotypes that were more than a little offensive. In the sequel, May is allowed to be a fuller character whose grievances are legitimate and feelings for Chan are reciprocated. May is introduced to the story when she thoughtfully brings Chan water while he is on duty directing traffic in the scorching heat. At times May becomes subject to a disproportionate amount of abuse, whether she has been capture by the film’s villains or whether Chan’s forgetfulness causes her to spend over ten hours in a jail cell (long story), but unlike in the first film, at least her affection for Chan is mutual, which provides the inevitable damsel in distress routine with actual dramatic weight.

As is the case for most Jackie Chan pictures, Police Story 2 boasts some mesmerizing action sequences, including Chan dodging billboards while surfing the roof of a bus and a phenomenal fight in a school playground. This is the second Jackie Chan film I’ve seen that makes use of a playground to stage action, and it’s a fitting metaphor for the kind of mental and physical play required to choreograph Chan’s brutal ballet. Just as children transform parts of a playground into whatever their imagination requires of it—a swing might be used belly down to simulate the flying feats of a superhero or a slide might be climbed in reverse to mimic ascending the Himalayas—Jackie Chan transforms everyday urban ephemera into elements of a coliseum arena. Just as much as his swift choreography, Jackie Chan’s knack for incorporating every day objects into his set pieces have contributed to the success of his films.

While the action doesn’t quite reach the delirious heights of the first film (very few films do), Police Story 2 improves on all of those areas in-between. The humor routinely hits the mark (even if there are a few wide swings), especially a bit where Chan gives a rousing speech where he wishes the villains would take his life instead of those of innocent civilians, which his bosses both immediately steal verbatim when facing the higher ups. As Chan and his investigators attempt to uncover who’s behind the bombings, the movie relies more heavily on the genre of police procedural rather than the original’s use of Dirty Harry’s rogue cop archetype. Police Story 2 may lack some of the discipline of the first film—the dueling plots (semi-spoiler alert) never fully entwine at the end—but it nevertheless offers up vintage Jackie Chan at the height of his popularity as a Hong Kong action star.

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