Crime Story (1993)
Directed by: Jackie Chan, Kirk Wong
Written by: Chi-Sing Cheung, Lai Ling Cheung, Man Keung Chan, Teddy Chan, Tin Nam Chun
Starring: Au-Yeung Pui Shan, Jackie Chan, Kar-Ying Law, Kent Cheng
AKA CUNG ON ZO
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD, from 88 FILMS
RUNNING TIME: 103 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Inspector Eddie Chan of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau suffers from emotional stress after shooting several men in self-defense. He’s assigned to protect Wong Yat-Fei, a local businessman who fears that he will be kidnapped. A quick background check determines that his concerns are justified, and Wong is then kidnapped by a powerful gang with connections in Taiwan. Chan gives chase but loses his quarry when he takes an injured motorcycle cop to the nearest hospital. The gang demands a ransom of USD 60 million. Following a lead, Chan sets off for Taiwan to find Wong, accompanied by the seasoned and well respected Inspector Hung Ting-bong. However, it seems that Hung is secretly working for the other side….
Crime Story seems to actually consist of two films doing battle with each other. One is a gritty true-life crime thriller meticulously detailing the events of a kidnapping case. And one is a typical Chan movie with the man playing a tough cop determined to do right. As described in the paragraph below, director and star had different ideas about the movie when it hit the star what it was really going to be like, so the result understandably shows the results of this. This wasn’t the only time when Chan, though not intended to be the director, ended up taking over the job anyway and steered a film closer to what he wanted. He sure didn’t like taking creative risks. Yet Crime Story still works as a more serious, more no-nonsense Chan vehicle. There are a few small comedic moments, but they almost jar with the overall tone of the piece. However, despite being based on real events, it still remembers to provide plenty of action, and indeed a tight pace that’s perhaps more even than some of Chan’s [officially] self-directed films despite spending much time on the police procedural elements and some things that most similar pictures wouldn’t bother allotting much or any time to, a good example of this being when, after a big chase, the films dwells for just a little bit on the two other cops involved, one dead, one at death’s door, both with wives and one with a small child. This means that, despite the almost machine-like precision with which the plot is detailed and driven forward, there’s often a human dimension. In terms of martial arts, there are three fights though all are quite brief, which is probably as it should be, though in a way these scenes stick out too. But on the whole Crime Story just about gets away with trying to be two things at once, and offers a solid balance of thrills, drama and an almost documentary-like feel. It also has quite a decent performance by Chan who certainly doesn’t appear lost being unable to resort to his usual goofiness.
It was loosely based on the real story of millionaire Teddy Wang, who was kidnapped twice, first in 1983, and again in 1990. After the second kidnapping, he was never found. Teddy Chan’s original script had the crooked Inspector Hung as the main character. Jet Li was to play Chan, and even shot a few scenes, but then his agent Jim Choy was gunned down by the Triads and Li opted out of making a movie involving organised crime. Chan, despite filming City Hunter [what a contrast] at the same time, became interested, this causing rewrites to make his character the central focus. Wang’s kidnapping scene was filmed on the location of a past kidnapping in real-life. Chan’s legs were crushed after getting caught between two cars while filming the opening action scene, while two major set pieces, including the explosive climax, were filmed in the deserted Kowloon Walled City, which was a long time criminal safe haven and was scheduled for destruction at that time. Not planned was one of the Golden Harvest sets burning down due to a left cigarette butt. Chan became worried about the film affecting his image and eventually took over direction from Kirk Wong [who hadn’t long played a villain in Chan’s Twin Dragons], ensuring that a lighter tone took over in places, writing and shooting some new footage including a happier and less true to life ending, while removing some violence and three scenes involving his character with his psychiatrist that emphasised his emotional problems, though the latter remained in the Singaporian version which had other footage missing. After the success of Rumble In The Bronx in the US, Miramax wanted to release Crime Story next in cinemas, but Chan advised against it, so Police Story 3: Supercop was released instead instead. The original US DVD wasn’t as altered as other Chan films around the time, though did lose the pre-credits sequence, Wong being dumped overboard, and some dialogue right at the end.
Right away we see speeding cars slamming into each other and a man being bound, gagged and pulled out of a car, though it’s only a rehearsal for when these five crooks kidnap Wong Yat-Fei. Wong’s not a very nice guy, not seeming to give a damn about those of his workers who he hasn’t paid. The kidnappers have formed a kind of pact for this, which is one of several things the script could have elaborated on. We learn very early on that one of these criminals, Hung Ting-bong, is also a cop during a scene that I’m surprised Chan left in, where he meets his girlfriend Lara in a lift [despite her calling him “pig-like” which begs the question how did he manage to pull her?] and they clearly begin to get down to it, this followed by a badly written [unless it’s just the subtitles] exchange when he dumps her and she replies, “dare to dump me, I’ll go and hook up with men”. It’s possible she’s meant to be a prostitute, but it’s not clear. Chan is first seen talking to his [un-named] psychiatrist, and I don’t understand why, with the other scenes between the two removed, they didn’t remove this one also, because it sets something up – Chan badly affected by shooting some bad guys – that’s never followed through. The first time I watched this, I kept expecting the issue to come up during some vital moments and it never does aside from some tiny bits that would have still played okay if that earlier scene had been cut. But what with the intensity of a flashback gun battle on the street and shortly after that the car chase where Chan is trying to catch the kidnappers, it’s clear that we’re in a different world, at least for now, than usual. While there are no graphically gory killings, there’s still a hell of a lot of blood and a genuine feeling of realism. Chan is still able to push his car back onto its wheels when it’s been toppled over and drive it down a hill to catch up with the bad guys [a variation on a Police Story scene] but he’s bleeding profusely and eventually passes out, something he does again later. And the sight of the crooks using car jump leads to restart the heart of Wong’s wife [again, un-named], is also surprising.
The crooks demand a ransom and the police trace the call to Taiwan. When Hung and Chan are sent there together, it begins a fair amount of suspense because you know that Hung wants to foil the police and maybe get rid of Chan too. Quite often you’re with Hung and know what he’s thinking. The very diverse Kent Chang is excellent as Hung, playing the role with subtlety yet even allowing some sympathy for this creep. But it’s when the two set off for Taiwan when we get our first two laughs. The first is intended, Hung refusing to sit down on the plane and being blown over by the turbulence. The second – well – just take a look at the interior of the plane. It has no cockpit! Soon one particular villain is traced to an illegal money-printing factory, but after the local police arrive with, as elsewhere, much emphasis on the mechanics of the operation, Chan pursues some villains over some rooftops where little attempt seems to have been made to disguise the artificiality of the set, and the chase winds up in a theatre where lots of the bamboo beams that also played a part in similar sequences in Project A: Part Two and Rush Hour 2 are clambered over. People fall and exchange blows and even bounce on cloth, and we seem to be back in the typical Jackie Chan world though there’s not a great deal of kung fu, making it come across much like a scene from one of Chan’s later efforts. The main point I’m making is that, while reasonably exciting, it’s fun and amusing – and therefore unlike what we’ve been previously watching. When it ends, Chan sees Hung shoot dead a crook who threatened to grass him up if he didn’t help him, but of course nobody at headquarters will believe him. His journey into finding Wong and the villains is fairly well plotted, even the convenient bit of evidence he comes across being believable, while we’re allowed to feel the plight of Wong’s wife continually. A young child trapped adds some more urgency when the two are in a building that has explosions going off all over the place, but there’s no feeling of elation come the conclusion.
Chan [who I should really call Eddie so it doesn’t seem like I’m talking about Jackie himself, though of course he did later go on to actually call himself Jackie Chan in several films] is a rather contradictory character, unlike say the very flawed but believable Ka-Kwi of the Police Story films [well, the first two anyway]. There’s a scene in a bar where crooks throw drink in his face, trip and taunt him, but he just does a few of his cool avoiding maneuvers and refuses to fight. Yet a few scenes later, his colleagues have arrested a bad guy and Chan insists on besting him one-on-one in the middle of the police station, followed by a cheeky flip. This must have been a Chan-added scene, it sticks out a mile. But it makes no sense. He won’t fight when his life is possibly threatened, but will do it to make a flimsy point. And why should Eddie be a great martial arts fighter anyway? Saying that, the end brawl between Chan and familiar opponent Ken Lo plus a few others is cracking stuff even if it’s very short, showing a more ferocious Chan than we usually got in the ‘90s. Elsewhere he falls around a ship’s engine [pretty good mock-ups here]; sliding down tunnels, bashing about on things and nearly hanging himself. He leaps over cars and – Jesus – when he’s running from explosions cradling the child he’s clearly doing it for real, just after we’ve seen the child really close to a fire. The child’s parents must really have had confidence in Chan. Physically he clearly put more into this than City Hunter which, as I mentioned earlier, he shot at the same time, and where you can tell that he employed doubles often. On the whole his performance is fine too, even avoiding the histrionics that you sometimes see in the likes of Police Story. I didn’t miss the usual clowning and wish that he’d played more ‘serious’ characters in his heyday.
Cinematographer Arthur Wong overdoes the blue filters at times, but the neon pink that bathes the rooftop chase makes it one of Chan’s most visually impressive set pieces in a career not normally known for such stylisation. After all, Chan doesn’t need visual stylisation – he is all you usually need to thrill and marvel at, but overall this might be one of Chan’s best looking films, something really brought out in the 88 Films Blu-ray. I should also mention the music score from two composers – Mark Lui and James Wong – which sounds like it’s the work of just one person. The synthesised drum backing given to most cues helps to maintain the pace while the several themes are employed in a cohesive manner. The music helps a great deal. I didn’t used to like Crime Story very much, largely because it seemed so unlike what I felt a Chan film should be, indeed what a Chan film at the time was. And it’s pretty obvious Wong and Chan were at odds even if you didn’t know the production history. But there is a lot to appreciate nonetheless, not the least being that it at least tries to be genuinely intelligent. Now I love Chan, I’m sure you know that by now if you’ve been reading me for some time, but even I wouldn’t use the word intelligent to describe much of his stuff.