I’ll be honest; I’m not a big fan of Hong Kong cinema. While I do enjoy some of their exploitation fare such as Master of the Flying Guillotine and The Ebola Syndrome as well as being a pretty big Johnny To fan, for some reason I’ve just never been very attracted to most films from the country. It’s hard to put my finger on just what it is, but I imagine being forced to watch so many badly dubbed action films in the early-to-mid 90’s may have played a part. In an age where it was near impossible to get films in their original language with proper English subtitles (on occasion you could, but they generally cost double that of the dubbed version), I had to deal with what was available to me. Dubs didn’t ruin Godzilla films for me, but they sure as hell had an impact on more serious-toned action films where the awful dub jobs would often have you laughing far more often than experiencing the intended thrills.
It was at this time that Jackie Chan started to break out in the states, and many of his Hong Kong films were ported over, and yes, dubbed terribly. Whether it’s fair or not, when I think of badly dubbed Hong Kong action films, the first face that comes to mind is poor old Jackie’s. I’ve been told repeatedly by fans of his that I should give the guy a second chance, but I’ve never been able to actually devote any time to do so. Well, I finally have, and I’ve come to one conclusion: I was wrong. The guy is pretty damn good. If Supercop is any indication, I’ve been missing out for far too long.
Chan Ka-Kui (Jackie Chan), an inspector in the Hong Kong police force, is given the task to go undercover in mainland China to bust up a drug ring. He’s paired up with Inspector Yang (Michelle Yeoh) of INTERPOL to assist him in the mission. She provides him with the alias he’ll be using, Lam Fuk-Sang, as well as all of the background information he’ll need to integrate himself into the group of criminals. To do this, he’s assigned to infiltrate a reform camp and break out a man named Panther who is one of the top members of the criminal group.
The operation is a success, and Chan finds himself accepted into the group of criminals. A problem arises when Panther decides to visit the village of Foshan, which is where Chan’s alias was designed to live. Luckily, Inspector Yang has already thought ahead, and has amassed a group of people to act as Chan’s family, herself acting as Chan’s sister. After meeting with the family, Panther takes the two to a restaurant to meet some of his contacts, but are confronted by a group of police officers unaware of Chan and Yang’s position. A conflict ensues, and Yang ends up having to use her martial arts skills to assist in the escape, leading Panther to ask her to come along for the journey.
After a few more narrow escapes with the law, Panther finally takes the duo to meet the boss of the organization, Chiabat. Its here they learn about a stash of drug money that’s being held in a Swiss bank account. Unfortunately for the syndicate, as they owe various bad people money, the PIN number to the account is only known by Chiabat’s wife, who has been arrested in Malaysia for drug trafficking and is awaiting trial. A plan for a jail break is soon devised, and Chan and Yang are going along for the ride.
The story isn’t going to win any awards, and is pretty much just in place to move from one action set-piece to the next, but that’s really more than acceptable in a film of this type. As good as the action may be, you still need something to keep you interested throughout the runtime, and fortunately Supercop's story does that. The ending of the film is very abrupt however, and feels pretty rushed; basically, you have the amazing action payoff, and then about 30 second’s worth of loose-ends being tied up. It’s unfortunate, as this just sort of hammers home that the script clearly took a backseat to the action.
But then again, it’s a Jackie Chan film from the early 90’s, so I’m sure the audience for Supercop won’t mind at all. The action is extraordinary, filled to the brim with stunts that will seriously leave you breathless. Knowing that the actors you’re watching throughout the film are actually the ones performing all of the life-endangering stunts makes it even more amazing. Michelle Yeoh gets thrown through a moving cars windshield, jumps a dirt bike onto a moving train, and hangs off the side of a speeding bus while Jackie Chan hangs perilously from a flying helicopter and jumps from train car to train car while in motion. Its astonishing work all around, and the bloopers shown at the end (Jackie gets hit in the back by a flying helicopter!) really shows the danger these two put themselves in while making the film. For those looking for more violent action, there’s some spectacular gun fights and martial arts displays to gawk at.
One aspect of the film I was worried about going in was the amount of comedy it would contain. Of the Jackie Chan films I saw years ago, I remember them all having a heavy element of comedy to them. While that’s fine and good at times (Lethal Weapon is a prime example), I prefer my action films to be more serious in tone. While Supercop definitely has its fair share of laughs, they luckily don’t bleed over into the action sequences often, and are mostly confined to the story-heavy sections of the film. Sometimes the comedy gets a little too slapstick for my tastes, but generally it comes off well. The scene where Chan meets his undercover family is particularly amusing.
Alas there is one major downfall to the film: the soundtrack. While it has been updated in the dubbed version, for the purists, we’re stuck with a soundtrack that sounds like it’s been ripped straight out of a direct-to-video film from the 80’s. With so much money poured into the stunts and action, and seeing that the film is anything but a low-budget affair, you’d think the filmmakers would have enough to produce a fitting soundtrack, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The music contained in the films is quite cheesy, and as far as I’m concerned didn’t do the film justice whatsoever. Maybe this is a quirk that’s present in a lot of Hong Kong cinema that I’m not aware of, but it doesn’t mean I have to accept it.
I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong, and my preconceived notion of Jackie Chan films, and Hong Kong actioners in general certainly was. Supercop is a spectacle of a film that any fan of action-heavy cinema will be very pleased with.
Dragon Dynasty’s 2-disc Ultimate Edition of Supercop just falls short of the “Ultimate Edition” moniker it carries. The print is fantastic (anamorphic and flagged for progressive scan), and doesn’t show its age at all, which is more than I can say for many Hong Kong films of the same period that I’ve seen. The film is also finally available in the states in its original Cantonese language (Mono only) with English subs. So what’s the problem? It’s the US cut of the film, which is 4 minutes shorter than the original Hong Kong version (known as Police Story III: Supercop). Maybe the cut scenes refer back to the previous two films in the series, and since this was released as a standalone feature in the US, they eliminated them, but it’s still a shame they’re not available here on an “Ultimate Edition” DVD, even in deleted scene form. To me, it seems like it would have been easier to just include the original cut of the film instead of editing in the original language to the American cut of the film, but maybe there’s some rights issue that needs to be taken into account.
For anyone nostalgic for the English dub, it’s available in both 5.1 Dolby Digital and 5.1 DTS flavors. Extras include an insightful commentary from Dragon Dynasty’s Bey Logan, and fairly entertaining interviews with stars Michelle Yeoh and Jackie Chan, director Stanley Tong, and Jackie’s bodyguard Ken Lo. They all dish on the trials and tribulations of making Hong Kong films in general, the filming of Supercop, and the success of these films in the US.
If you can look past that the film is missing 8 minutes when compared to its original version, the disc comes highly recommended for fans of the film or those looking to experience it for the first time. It’s unquestionably the best presentation the film has ever received, even if the original cut of the film is unfortunately absent.
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