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Police Story restoration artwork
Jackie Chan as Chan Ka-Kui.
Fortune Star/Janus Films

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Jackie Chan’s Police Story movies remain among the best action films of all time

Police Story and Police Story 2 return to theaters with a brand-new 4K restoration

When it comes to death-defying stunt work, if anyone could give Tom Cruise a run — or a punch, kick, leap, or unfathomable fall — for his money, it’s Jackie Chan.

For proof, look no further than the Police Story series, the first two installments of which were recently restored in 4K by Fortune Star at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in anticipation of a Criterion Collection release, with the announcement of a full theatrical run, a brand-new trailer, and poster debuting exclusively on Polygon. Directed by and starring Chan, as hotshot Hong Kong police officer Chan Ka-Kui, Police Story (1985) and Police Story 2 (1988) contain some of the most audacious stunts ever seen, and are long overdue to be seen in theaters again.

In his 1998 autobiography I Am Jackie Chan, Chan cites Police Story as his best work (at least in terms of action and stunts). The film’s first major set-piece — in which an entire shanty town is destroyed — more than earns that particular distinction. Police Story only escalates from there, its gangland storyline growing increasingly incidental (but no less entertaining), acting mostly as impetus to get from one action scene to the next. The final fight and chase occur just five minutes out from the end of the movie — in other words, the action’s the thing.

To wit, 1988’s Police Story 2 begins with what is essentially a greatest hits montage, cutting together the flashiest parts of its predecessor before diving into the new action. It’s not every film that can pull that off without either setting itself up for failure or coming across as unbearably cheesy, but Chan’s films manage it — Police Story’s big set-piece is even played three times in succession, as a sort of built-in showcase for the work.

As the value placed on practical stunts and effects increases — see: the fervor over Cruise’s ankle-breaking commitment to reality in Mission: Impossible - Fallout it feels like high time to revisit Chan’s old (relatively speaking) work. The appeal therein is obvious: The realer a stunt is, the realer it will look on screen, and the more latitude a viewer will have to believe that the performers, putting life and limb on the line, will literally defy death while escaping an explosion or clinging to the side of a moving bus.

It’s a subtext that the Police Story movies shift into explicit text as both Police Story and Police Story 2 play their credits over a series of outtakes. Some are humorous, as when props fail to work properly, but the majority of them showcase stunts gone wrong, as well as their aftermath, with Chan or other actors sitting patiently as bloody wounds are inspected and bandaged up. In a few, actors are even carried, prone, from the set. The outtakes are a little shocking to watch, not least because such injuries would likely become their own news item in today’s day and age — and they’re pure mana for anyone weaned on the Rush Hour series, or Chan’s later Hollywood work.

Police Story - Ka-Kui hanging onto the side of a bus with an umbrella
Jackie Chan in Police Story.
Fortune Star/Janus Films

Ka-Kui’s commitment to foiling criminals never leads to any particularly shocking revelations, but the scenes still zip along with verve thanks to the comedic instincts of the casts that Chan has assembled, turning even the most rote of confrontations into exercises in slapstick. Even when the scenes don’t break down into fights using anything and everything that’s within arm’s reach (a key sequence in Police Story 2 has Chan and company spinning around jungle gym sets), they’re dynamic. And besides, though the plot may be predictable — Police Story 2 sees Ka-Kui demoted, and you only get one guess as to how long that lasts — the action never is.

Police Story and Police Story 2 poster for 2019 restoration and re-release
A brand-new poster and trailer accompany the films’ restoration and theatrical run.
Fortune Star/Janus Films

Chan’s work also crosses into a sublime, Buster Keaton-like territory, as it’s not just a sense of veritas when it comes to stunts that set Police Story and Police Story 2 apart. His impeccable sense for how to stage a sequence extends to simple conversations, and the films are built around what’s possible in terms of action, rather than filling in action to support the plot. One of the best scenes in Police Story has Ka-Kui juggling three phone calls at once, spinning in an office chair as he attempts to keep the cords untangled and his head on straight. There’s an effortless grace to the way he pulls it off that’s just as thrilling to watch as the film’s denouement.

Chan is also a literalist when it comes to suffering for one’s art. The final big stunt in Police Story, in which Ka-Kui slides down a several-story chandelier and crashes through several panes of glass (earning the sequence the nickname “Glass Story” amongst the crew), left Chan with second-degree burns as well as a back injury and a dislocated pelvis, but the end of the shot still sees him hopping back to his feet to continue the chase.

The scene serves a distillation of Chan’s superstardom. The actor never lies to his audience, in part because he’s more than just the films’ star. Chan is the heart and brain of the Police Story films, and the lengths he goes to in order to impress and entertain extend beyond what we see on screen; that he’s also charismatic, can flip between comedy and drama, and can pull off every stunt demanded of him, even if it may take a few tries, makes him a rarity, and the Police Story films the pinnacle of his career.

Police Story and Police Story 2 will be screening in weeklong engagements at the Alamo Drafthouse (Downtown Brooklyn), the Alamo New Mission (San Francisco), and the Music Box (Chicago) beginning Feb. 1, as well as at the Los Angeles NuArt (March 8-14), the Coolidge Corner Cinema (Boston, Feb. 1-2), Landmark’s Ken (San Diego, Feb 1-2), the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz (Austin, Feb 2-3), the Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers (Feb. 4), the Alamo Drafthouse Littleton (Denver, Feb 6), SIFF Cinema (Seattle, Feb 8), the Hollywood (Portland, Feb. 16-23), the Alamo Drafthouse LaCenterra (Katy, Feb. 19), the Charles (Baltimore, Feb. 28), and the DIA (Detroit, May 26-28).