Jackie Chan Channels Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks and Harold LloydA column article, Riding Shotgun by: Don McGregor
Over the years I have met various film directors who claim they'd studied the film-making of Buster Keaton and had been influenced by Keaton's 1920s cinema-language defining work and mind-warping, eye-boggling stunts.
Keaton's superb timing and physical form leapt from the screen as if he defied gravity and mortal injury, with grace to spare.
Jackie Chan has been quoted that Buster Keaton was a major influence to him in many of his films.
SHOUT Factory has just released two of Jackie's Police Story movies on one Blu-Ray!
In Police Story, alone, if you are familiar with Keaton's work, you can see that in Jackie's case he wasn't just talking words.
I can find moments in Police Story and Police Story 2 where Jackie displays not only his incredible, balletic actions, but shows the influence of not just Buster Keaton, but also Douglas Fairbanks and Harold Lloyd's films from the 1920s.
To take nothing away from Lloyd, because he did do many of his own stunts, with fingers missing from one hand, blown off by a prop for a still photo shoot. But Harvey Parry did double Harold in the more dangFerous stunts.
Jackie and Buster and Fairbanks did their own stunts.
And Fairbanks's modus operandi was to make the most difficult stunt look easy.
You will see Jackie Chan do this again and again in Police Story 1 and 2.
This is the first time either of the Police Story films has been released on Blu-ray, a double-feature from Jackie's prime as a director and star. SHOUT has released them on DVD, also. You can't beat the price, even the Blu-ray can be found for less than $20. The prints are the best I personally have ever seen, and although I am far from an expert on the films, they certainly appear to be uncut. It's hard to tell with many of Jackie's films because there have been so many versions of different lengths released over the years.
If you don't have any Jackie Chan on DVD, this is an inexpensive way to own two of Jackie's most popular movies during the 1980s.
Police Story opens with one of Jackie's biggest-scale openings ever, a drug raid taking place in a hillside shantytown, with tiers of buildings scattered haphazardly down the long, steep mountainside. When the raid goes terribly awry within the first 5 minutes, Jackie is immediately in action. The chase for the drug-lord and his cohorts smashes by cars down the mountain-side, through the ramshackle buildings and bright red and yellow clotheslines and paraphernalia from store goods to furniture.
Jackie pulls the camera way back to showcase the entire hillside community, as the cars hurtle through everything, wrecking the entire place, demolishing it in their wake. Buildings explode into fireballs! Cars smash through rooftops! It's as big an action motif as Jackie has ever done. It reminds me of the huge action prologues for the Bond films. You watch it, surprised at how far they'll go, and wonder if they can have something that will equal the opening for the big climax.
Yet, you don't really come to see Jackie Chan race cars and smash buildings into kindling. It's impressive, but the real impressiveness is when Jackie is moving on his own. And Jackie knows it. His car is wrecked and he must struggle out of it and hurtle down the steep mountainside with curving roadway cut into it, trying to catch the bad guys who have now commandeered a bus.
Jackie hitches a bus ride by umbrella. Hell on the soles of your sneakers! From Police Story 1.
Jackie reaches the street, but has to catch the bus by grabbing a bystander's umbrella and hooking it onto the back of the bus as it races past. Not only does he manage to do this without yanking his arms out of their sockets, he holds on, almost effortlessly, in much the manner Keaton did in Cops.
From then on, Jackie is on top of the bus, hanging off the side of the bus in a shot that is framed much the way Harold Lloyd does in Girl Shy, where Harold dangles from the wire of a trolley car speeding down hillsides. There is no doubt in my mind that Jackie was impressed by this when he saw it, and wanted to do his version of that dangling body swaying perilously in the air.
Here is Jackie Chan dangling Harold Lloyd style, with a shot framed almost exactly the way Lloyd did in Girl Shy.
But Jackie isn't finished yet. As the bad guys try their damnedest to knock him off the bus, the vehicle comes onto a length of construction, and Jackie, still dangling from the top of the bus, has to lift himself above the oncoming traffic, his feet running over the tops of the car hoods! Tell me how many action scenes you've ever seen with that happening and the star in full view doing it. You can't. That's how many.
The bad guys finally manage to knock Jackie off the side of the bus, his body hitting to road, rolling. But this is Jackie Chan. Knocked off the side of a bus? That is not going to stop him.
I have never seen anyone but Buster Keaton snatch a bus this way, literally yanked off their feet and able to be carried bodily behind it above the street, at an amazing horizontal angle. Buster arguably holds his body at a straight out angle for a longer length of time. From the beginning of Police Story 1.
The full-tilt running down the rugged terrain is a treat in itself to watch. I couldn't help but wondering how in the hell Jackie managed not to fall ass over shoulders attempting it. Apparently he didn't or I'm sure it would have ended up in his stunts gone wrong shown during the end credits of most of his films from this time frame.
The first 20 minutes of Police Story comes to a rousing finish as Jackie stands alone in the road, gun aimed, the double-decker bus coming toward him. With some tricky cutting, Jackie manages to have a great long shot as he stands before the front of the mechanical monstrosity, dwarfed by it, as Jackie's stunt team guys as the villains come crashing through the top bus windows and the lower, all at his feet in the street.
Jackie leaping from double-decker bus after skillfully jumping above and sliding below flagpoles sticking out in the background. Reasons why you came to see Police Story 2.
This stunt did go wrong. Jackie's stunt team was supposed to hit the car behind him. It had a collapsible roof to help break the fall. The bus missed its marked and stopped short.
One of the incredible action moments in Police Story 1, as Jackie stops the bus by standing in the middle of the street. Unfortunately for members of Jackie's Stunt Team the bus stopped short of its mark, and the car with the collapsible roof was beyond where the men hit their heads on the street. Really. And you can get this movie from SHOUT! Now!
Now, Jackie has run himself ragged, been shot at, done death defying feats, and he is obviously pushing himself as a director and as to what he can do on film, but there hasn't been one choreographed fight of the kind that Jackie is renowned for. I note it, not as criticism, just that he's held all that in reserve.
Unlike many of the Bond films, Jackie does have an ending that attempts to be just as staggeringly visual and big as the opening.
For people who debate this kind of thing, this is where there are often comparisons between Jackie and Bruce Lee. Jackie does an extended sequence where he acts as a body-guard for the mistress of the drug lord, who wants to kill her to stop her from testifying against him. Being with a beautiful woman causes no small amount of rift with Jackie's girl-friend, May (the beautiful Maggie Cheung).
When some of Jackie's films were first being released in the States, he felt the audiences would not like the humorous sections of his films, and often many of the films had a lot of material cut, which explains why it's often difficult to know if the Chan films are released is in their entirety.
When Miramax released Jackie's Operation Condor on DVD, the print cut much of the desert footage where Jackie and the women he is travelling with are captured. Jackie has a hidden water supply with a spigot hidden on him, and the women continually go to him to get water from him, with the captors astounded and dismayed at what they assume is his physical allure.
Hopefully, if SHOUT continues to release Jackie Chan films on Blu-ray, they can find a complete print and restore it to the audience. I suspect if the company promoted this Operation Condor as the uncut version of the film finally on DVD or Blu-ray, there would be a lot of Jackie Chan fans who would be ready to buy it on opening day.
I can't find Dragons Forever or Heart of the Dragon anywhere on DVD. These are Jackie Chan films I would love to have done on Blu-ray and have available to an audience who have never experienced his work.
This brings me back to the debates about Jackie and Bruce Lee. There are some that feel strongly that the humor in many of Jackie's films weakens them, and that Bruce Lee was the best Martial Artist ever in movies.
I broach this topic because I believe the debaters are discussing two men who were the best at what they did, and they were both incredibly individual in their approach, each displaying their own temperament and superb abilities.
You won't find Martial Artist/Actors/Directors like either of them again. There will be other people, with talents that will astound you in their own way, but it does not diminish what Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee did. Bruce died young, and like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe nothing can eradicate the iconic nature of who he was at the time he died. Time cannot alter the image. Bruce's powerful physique remains as steady as James Dean's red windbreaker, or Marilyn's dress billowing up her shapely legs.
Both Bruce and Jackie will influence action film makers in the future, the way Buster Keaton had an effect on Jackie.
I mentioned Douglas Fairbanks earlier, and I suspect Jackie took some cues from Fairbanks, as well. Fairbanks was notable for wanting any of the incredible actions he took seem effortless, and in doing so, constructed railings, tables, stairs to his particular height, thus his Zorro and Thief of Baghdad are heroically agile, and can vault, leap, jump over just about anything with ease. (By the way, the Cohen Film Collection has just released a superb copy of Fairbanks's Thief of Baghdad (1924) on Blu-ray, beautifully restored.
After a number of situations that find Jackie in compromising situations that get him in trouble with May, he finally ends up in court against the drug lord, thinking he has on tape the man trying to bribe him. In a pretty funny turn the tape has accidentally been recorded over during one of the sequences with the mobster's mistress that embarrasses Jackie and is misinterpreted by the entire court. Jackie, the masochist, is tormented physically and emotionally.
Mall showcase displays shattered into chaos by flying bodies. From Police Story 1.
The conclusion of the film is set in a huge shopping mall, decorated for Christmas. Jackie uses everything in the fights that follow, clothing racks to fend off slashing metal pipes. Crashing through wooden flower and shrub houses. Some superb stunts on escalators where it seems impossible that someone would not get hurt. Motorcycles racing at and over him! Manikins as weapons. Hand to hand fights that showcase that Jackie can dish it out as well as take it. And the ending has Jackie jumping from a high floor, catching a tall pole wrapped with holiday lights. He hurtles downward, lights bursting all about him, through a rooftop below, glass from the shattered bulbs raining down on him! We see the stunt three times, from different angles. You'd never see that in American cinema. But if you have something as spectacular as this, why throw away other takes? Show it off from every which way is the methodology employed here. Reportedly Jackie burned his hands during the stunt. And his spinal column. That's not enough apparently to stop Jackie.
Jackie burns his hands in the slide downward and hurts his spinal column in the landing. But the fight must go on.
After battling all the henchmen, Jackie really pummels the drug lord. Sometimes in Martial Arts films I wonder why the hell the hero doesn't just go for the head guy and put an end to it right there, rather than fight dozens of idiots, who, after seeing opponent after opponent get knocked into oblivion, still charge at the hero.
Police Story 2 was made a few years later, and it does pick up on the previous storyline while bringing in new elements. In some ways this film appears slicker than the first, with more of a polish in the editing. The film doesn't rigidly follow the format of the first, though. There isn't a real action sequence for the first fifteen minutes, and then it's a relatively small one in a diner, but it showcases one of the elements of Jackie's film-making that kept his fights fresh and original, different from anyone else.
In Police Story 2, there are at least two sequences, this one in the diner, and another half way through in a children's playground in a park that are prime examples of how Jackie utilized everything in a specific environment to become a part of the conflict.
There are also lots of specific images of Jackie using spatial elements to go through seemingly impossible spaces, ducking through them, when it would appear that he could not possibly do so. Villains plunge through narrow gaps in the metal steps and land on their faces below.
The playground fight against inexhaustible foes highlights this approach magnificently. This is an incredible display of acrobatics, ballet, martial arts, with swings, slides, and metal climbing arcs as props. This five minutes of graceful mayhem is quintessential Jackie Chan; a display that showcases his unique abilities.
You won't see anything like this anywhere else, not with this superb timing by Jackie and his stunt team.
I look at it and wonder how no one was seriously hurt making this film a reality. If your only exposure to Jackie Chan has been the Rush Hour films, then when you see this fluid exhibition of motion, you'll understand what all the accolades for Jackie were about.
I wish I could run some sequential photos to illustrate how deftly executed all this is, but I don't have a clue how to do that. When I did the Buster Keaton Magazine for Eclipse, Raymond Rohauer made the films available to me so I could pick a few of Buster's amazing skills in human ability and cinematic timing. I did not do the bus stunt, which would have been perfect for this piece, but here's one page from the magazine that was scheduled to tour with the Buster Keaton films.
All of Buster Keaton's classic films are available from Kino.com on DVD and Blu-ray. If you have never seen any of them, you are missing out on some of the best comedy films of all time.
Police Story 2 proceeds to offer odd bits and pieces. A female interrogation squad appears for awhile to show that women officers can commit police brutality as competently as the men. There is a long surveillance and tracking of suspected extortionists using explosives as an incentive to get a big corporation to pay against having their business blown to smithereens. The trailing takes a tour through the city streets and subways, but that's not why you came to Police Story 2, is it?
Eventually Jackie gets captured by the gang with the explosive know-how, and rather easily, like the average private eye who leads with his head, given that we have seen Jackie pummel about a dozen thugs in the children's playground. The gang also has May tied and bound, and Jackie once again faces embarrassment as the gang read her love letter to him aloud, and then proceed to throw tiny explosives at them, that flame off Jackie's bare skin, and off May's blouse. Everything becomes amped up when the gang turn Jackie into a human time-bomb messenger. Histrionics follow for a bit, but then again, if you have explosives locked and strapped to your body you probably have the right to some histrionics.
Jackie has a limited amount of time before he is blown apart, and after the histrionics, he makes good use of the time. There is a clever way he escapes from the lethal trap and takes the fight back to the bad guys.
During his race to find May, Jackie finds himself atop buses once again, this time leaping from one moving bus to another. And then, in one of his eye-widening, you can't believe Jackie is doing this moments, he has to leap above flag-posts, lie down to let them pass over him, all superbly timed. Off by a few seconds and the results would not be good. Jackie finally leaps off the bus at a second story landing, bursting through a window. Now, that's why you did come to see Police Story 2.
The closing ceremony isn't in an upscale mall this time, but an abandoned factory of some kind, set against distant mountains and a desolate landscape in the foreground. Jackie accidentally shoots into some fireworks, and by the time a number of fights have ensued through-out the structure, Jackie is fleeing from the huge building as it erupts into huge flaming fireballs.
Once the flames reach their peak and Jackie and May stand in the foreground with great gouts of orange flame and gushing smoke beyond them, Jackie says, "It's over."
And when Jackie says it's over, it's done quicker than when the fat lady sings.
Jackie running ahead of the holocaust before the flames can engulf him.
"Tha…tha…that's all, folks!"
SHOUT offers both films in English and Cantonese, with subtitles. Personally, I prefer the Cantonese version. I just can't get used to Jackie's voice dubbed by someone other than him.
Now, I'm not an expert on any of this. You can find a review of this release by Cameron Yee on Home Theatre Forum that goes into the technical aspects of this Blu-ray. You'll also find more on the new set on DVDTalk.com in a review by Randy Miller. I can say I have never seen these prints look better. Sequences like Jackie handling a half dozen phone calls in the squad room are intact. Both films seem uncut.
And this is a serious but for any Jackie Chan fans that have the Dragon Dynasty editions of these films on DVD. None of the interviews with Jackie's Stunt Team are included in this set. I'd hoped to replace those DVDs with this set, if only for space reasons. I suspect those particular extras were done exclusively for Dragon Dynasty at the time.
But for those of you who like Jackie, and have never seen these films, or don't have them on Blu-ray, the price is right, and SHOUT hopefully will continue to bring more of Jackie's films here UNCUT.
And we'll all take the ride with Jackie.
Copyright © 2013 by Don McGregor