Friday, June 24, 2016
AFOS Blog Rewind: Yes, Virginia, there is a better version of Supercop, superior to the one where Tom Jones got flung onto the soundtrack like a pair of panties at his face
The following is a repost of my June 8, 2015 discussion of one of my favorite threequels of all time, Police Story 3, a.k.a. Supercop.
Disney's recent decision to scrap its Tron threequel may be due to the studio becoming cautious about its spending after yet another one of its big-budget films, Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, tanked at the box office, but I think that cancellation is also due to the fact that threequels tend to suck. However, the hugely entertaining 1992 Jackie Chan/Michelle Yeoh action classic Police Story 3: Supercop--a recent subject in Stereogum editor Tom Breihan's "Netflix Action Movie Canon" column for Deadspin, as well as a movie recently brought up in this blog's comments section by both Bay Area film critic Richard von Busack and I--is a rare case where a threequel doesn't suck.
In its overviews of the films of Chan the modern-day Buster Keaton, Subway Cinema noted that Police Story 3 "was a movie that feels like a breath of fresh air for Chan... The foreign locations give things an expensive sheen, and [director Stanley] Tong's eschewing of complex choreography in favor of wide, clearly presented stunt sequences brings a crisp, new feel to Chan's movie repertory." It was also, according to Subway Cinema, a movie Tong (who took over as director after Chan directed the first two Police Story flicks) offered to Yeoh as a way to keep her spirits up after her divorce. The addition of Yeoh's mainland cop character to the mayhem ended up being the high point of Chan's Police Story franchise.
The franchise made its return in 2013 with the non-comedic Police Story 2013, which has nothing to do continuity-wise with the previous adventures of Hong Kong police inspector Chan Ka-kui (Chan's playing a completely different character, just like in 2004's New Police Story). A massive hit in mainland China, the mainland-made Police Story 2013 debuted in American theaters and on digital platforms just last week--to mostly negative reviews--under the title Police Story: Lockdown.
Present-day American viewers are lucky to be able to see Police Story: Lockdown in English subtitles and in its original Mandarin (whereas the previous Police Story movies, all Hong Kong-made, were originally in Cantonese, the most common dialect in Hong Kong), just like how I was lucky to see the original version of Police Story 3 back in 1993, at a Bay Area AMC multiplex that was experimenting at the time with showing badly subtitled--instead of badly dubbed--but thankfully uncut action flicks from Hong Kong. This was three years before Chan had his first box-office hit in America with a redubbed version of Rumble in the Bronx, the filmed-in-Vancouver action comedy that gave us a Bronx surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The surprise hit led to several older Chan flicks hitting American theaters and getting redubbed and butchered as well, as part of a misguided attempt--there's always a tinge of imperialism to this shit--to make them more palatable to American moviegoers. One of those flicks was Police Story 3.
I refuse to ever watch the version of Police Story 3 everyone in America has seen, even though Yeoh's crazy and legendary motorcycle-to-train jump stunt and all the other jaw-dropping stunts remain intact. It's the version that concludes with a very '90s Tom Jones cover of Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting," the same version that Dragon Dynasty--an Asian action film imprint of The Weinstein Company that's otherwise respectful of the Asian action classics it introduces to non-Asian audiences and gives them the option of watching those films uncut and subtitled--stupidly chose as the only version of Police Story 3 for the film's special edition DVD release.
Why do I refuse to watch that Miramax/Dimension version? I don't want my memories of Police Story 3 to be soiled. Police Story 3 in its original form was perfect, man--even with "I Have My Way," the slightly cheesy Cantopop tune Chan sang during the outtakes that concluded the film. Don't get me wrong: Tom Jones is the illest. His Burt Bacharach/Hal David-produced theme from Promise Her Anything is an underrated tune, graced with a guitar riff that's like "Jimmy Page fronting the Byrds," as Allmusic once put it, as well as a tune that's so evocative of Carnaby Street in the '60s. But "Kung Fu Fighting" and its asinine and stereotypical "Oriental riff"? What the hell's it doing in Police Story 3? Miss me with that shit.
I want to always tell anyone whose only taste of Police Story 3 was the Miramax/Dimension version that these Hong Kong films are always better in their original form and that something vital is lost when a terrific sequel like Police Story 3 is deprived of its connections to previous installments. Inspector Ka-kui may not have much of an arc in the four classic-era Police Story movies--in each movie, no matter what rank he's at, he's the same fallible but stalwart character, a "frustrated conformist," to borrow the words of Film Comment's Dave Kehr, rather than a rebel--but in this age of Netflix streaming and Amazon Prime, I wish I could be able to marathon on a lazy afternoon the inspector's fall to demoted cop, followed by his rise to respected lawman (and finally, globe-trotting defender of the security of the world), without any of the changes Miramax/Dimension and New Line Cinema made to the last two classic-era movies (Police Story 4 remains the only classic-era installment I've seen in just its butchered form).
Let's take another enjoyable threequel from a long-running action franchise just like Police Story. Now imagine if Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade got imported to another country, and an editor in that country replaced the first few minutes of Last Crusade's elegant opening sequence in the Utah countryside (actually a seamlessly edited amalgam of Utah and Colorado locations and movie sets in England and Hollywood) with a montage of Tiger Beat snapshots of Harrison Ford, and then the editor changed Indy's name to Adventure Jones. So that when Brody barks on horseback at the end, "Indy, Henry, follow me! I know the way! Ha!," he's been redubbed to say, "Adventure, Henry, follow me!" Then that's followed by John Williams' end credits score music getting replaced by Engelbert Humperdinck doing a cover of the Dazz Band's "Let It Whip" that horribly updates the tune for the '90s. That's exactly what happened to Police Story 3, and that's how inane Miramax/Dimension's butchering of it was.