Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: Jackie Chan has two new movies, Vanguard and Iron Mask, headed for release. To honor the occasion, we’re recommending a few of his best vehicles.
Every so often, someone on Twitter or Facebook or Reddit will ask, “What’s the best Part 3, movie-wise?” It’s a discussion-generating staple, perhaps because the question genuinely demands some thought; most franchises are starting to run out of ideas by their third iteration, so there are a lot more Godfather Part IIIs and Taken 3s than there are, say, Toy Story 3s. People often forget about Supercop, though, since it was released in the U.S. as if it were a standalone film, rather than a followup to Police Story (1985) and Police Story 2 (1988). Arguably, this is the rare Part 3 that improves on both of its predecessors, despite taking longer than usual to reach the truly spectacular action sequences for which Jackie Chan is renowned. Such difficult, expensive set pieces constitute a relatively small percentage of any action film, so keeping viewers entertained during the copious “downtime” makes a big difference, provided the promised stunts deliver as well. Supercop gets the balance just right, with a stronger plot, funnier comedy, and a boffo climax.
More crucially, it offers Chan a worthy ass-kicking costar in Michelle Yeoh, eight years prior to her profile-skyrocketing appearance in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (though she’d been blowing the minds of Hong Kong action-film buffs since 1985’s Yes, Madam). In theory, Yeoh plays Chan’s superior, an Interpol officer tasked with overseeing an undercover operation in which “Kevin” (as Chan’s Police Story character is often called in the English subtitles; it varies depending upon which version/release you’re watching) poses as a petty criminal. To allay the bad guys’ suspicions, however, the police force creates an entire fictitious country-bumpkin family for Kevin’s alter ego, with “Jessica” (Yeoh’s English-subtitle name) in the somewhat demeaning role of his little sister. Considerable comic subterfuge ensues, escalating when Panther (Yuen Wah), the sadistically grinning henchman whose gang they’ve infiltrated, heads to meet with the big boss (Ken Tsang) in Kuala Lumpur, where Kevin’s long-suffering girlfriend, May (Maggie Cheung), who doesn’t know about Kevin’s undercover job, just happens to be working as a tour guide.
That’s already more substantial intrigue than either of the two previous Police Story movies managed, and director Stanley Tong, taking the reins from Chan himself, keeps his star’s mugging to a minimum. Most of Supercop’s humor is situational, predicated on deception; even the goofier bits, like Kevin attempting to hide from May by lying face-down on a poolside recliner, with those vinyl slats obscuring key parts of his face from her view, don’t require any hyperactivity. Instead, Chan and Yeoh reserve that for the film’s explosive final stretch, which features several legendary stunts: Yeoh dangling from the side of a speeding bus; Chan clinging to a helicopter’s rope ladder as it flies high above the city; Yeoh somehow actually driving a motorcycle onto the roof of a moving train (without just falling off the opposite side, though you can also see her do just that in Chan’s standard montage of pain during the end credits). This sudden influx of near-suicidal athleticism, following more than an hour of proper narrative punctuated by occasional brief fistfights, serves as a fantastic dessert. But the main course is plenty nourishing on its own.