Jackie’s almost eclipsed by the great Michelle Khan. Watch out for that building!
Supercop is the second crucial step, after Rumble in the Bronx, in the repackaging of Asian superstar Jackie Chan for American audiences. Earlier attempts to do this date back to the ’70s, when in spite of the domestic craze for kung-fu fare, Jackie was deemed unmarketable. Now, in 1996, his English has improved to the point where American audiences can understand him, production values on his films are much better, and, most importantly, there is a sense that the current repackagers (Miramax, Dimension Films) are – with a few missteps I’ll remark on later – willing to “let Jackie be Jackie.”
Formerly released (1992) as Police Story III, Supercop features Jackie as “Kevin Chan,” one of Hong Kong’s “supercops” who teams up with mainlander Director Yang (Michelle Khan) to infiltrate and bust a gang of heroin smugglers, led by the maniacal Chaibat (Ken Tsang) and his brother Panther (Yuen Wah). After rescuing Panther from prison, Jackie gains the confidence of Chaibat and, along with his “sister” Michelle, is made part of the gang. In one of the film’s best set pieces, Jackie and Michelle are caught in the crossfire of a drug war in a Thai jungle clearing. Typical of Hong Kong action films, the rivals are ridiculously overarmed, with everything from tanks and helicopters to grenades and M-16s. But – also typical – in spite of the nonstop explosions in this sequence, director Stanley Tong manages to isolate individual confrontations in the midst of the chaos. Here Michelle Khan shows herself equal to Jackie, the film’s razor-sharp editing highlighting her brilliantly balletic skill in dispatching her enemies and, in a comic mishap, even Jackie.
Jackie and Michelle impress Chaibat so much that he enlists their help in rescuing his wife, who holds the key to his fortune in a Swiss bank, from a Singapore prison. This is complicated by the appearance of Jackie’s Hong Kong girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung), a tour guide who’s staying in the same hotel as Jackie but knows nothing of his activities. Director Tong deftly exploits the humor in Jackie’s desperate attempts to keep her ignorant of what he’s doing without losing her forever. The situation is complicated when Chaibat learns who Jackie and Michelle really are and kidnaps May and offers her to Jackie in exchange for his wife.
The rescue of Chaibat’s wife is one of the great passages in Hong Kong cinema, an exhilarating resolution of all the film’s subplots – the destruction of Chaibat and his empire, the recapturing of his wife, the threat against May and her rescue, and the triumph of Jackie and Michelle. This sequence is punctuated by a dazzling array of stunts involving almost every known mode of transportation, from helicopters, cars, and vans to motorbikes and trains. Jackie gets around dangling at the bottom of a ladder rope hanging from a helicopter, the driver knocking him into buildings and through billboards in an attempt to shake him loose. Jackie’s extraordinary aerial stunts are matched by Michelle when she guides her motorbike onto the speeding train. As in most Hong Kong action films, allegiances can shift radically, and we see this in the fight, on top of a train, between Michelle and Chaibat’s wife. When the latter falls between cars and risks being crushed, Michelle saves her, one of several softening moments in this violent and terrifying – because the stunts are real – sequence.
Purists will question the cuts and additions made for the American version of Supercop. Dubbing is poor, aside from Jackie and Michelle, who did their own. A sequence establishing the basis for Jackie’s assignment, along with shots of white women injecting heroin, was cut. In this version, Jackie and his girlfriend improbably listen to gangsta rap (!). The opening credits are an awkward techno-psychedelic mélange of images, the very antithesis of Jackie Chan’s very human charms. And the closing’s no better, with Tom Jones bellowing ’60s kitsch hit “Kung Fu Fighting” over the bloopers, and Devo closing out the credits.
Ultimately, these stumbles don’t work seriously against the charms of Supercop. With the film’s apparent success, we can perhaps finally look forward to the day when Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and other big-titted, leaden action hero monstrosities are supplanted by the thrilling Mr. C.