It isn’t much of a stretch to say that Jackie Chan is the Charlie Chaplin of our time. Both Chan and Chaplin write, direct, produce and star in some of their films. The two filmmakers even contribute songs to the soundtracks of their pictures. Most importantly, however, Chan and Chaplin both wish to impress upon their audience the feats they are willing to perform. This makes Jackie Chan’s brand of slapstick and stunt work more of a fusion of silent comedy and martial arts film sensibilities.
Police Story (1985) is one of the best examples of this impulse in Chan’s work. During the finale showdown in a shopping mall Chan even replays his stunt of sliding down a pole through a network of hanging lights no fewer than three times. Chan, like Chaplin and Buster Keaton, wants the audience to sit up in their seats, point to the screen, and proclaim “by gosh, he’s actually doing that”. Chan takes this philosophy and applies it to the action genre, spawning a wave of lesser imitators from Jean-Claude Van Damme to Tom Cruise.
Police Story marries Chan’s dual strengths as a physical comedian and stuntman pretty seamlessly in a rather cookie-cutter narrative revolving around a cop and a drug ring’s vendetta against him. Amazing stunts like Chan crawling all over a moving bus and pulling bad guys out of windows balances the comedy of errors that make up Chan’s scenes with his onscreen girlfriend Maggie Cheung and star witness Brigitte Lin. The latter sequences are more affecting but they are never as memorable as a car chase straight through a shanty town.
Jackie Chan’s made so many movies but Police Story may be the best place to start really digging into his early filmography. It’s a less off-the-wall version of his persona than one sees in something like Project A (1983). It also happens to be readily available through the Criterion Collection.