Seeing Jackie Chan play a cop wasn’t that big a deal by the time he made Crime Story.  In fact, he had made three Police Story films and all had been hits, with the third film also becoming a popular import in the U.S. in 1996 as Supercop.  However, those films also played to Chan’s natural strengths as a comedic performer and were essential action comedies that shied away from the tougher edges of the cop genre.  Crime Story showed he could do a genuinely tough and mean cop film – and the results are one of his best Hong Kong films.

The plot of Crime Story is loosely based on a real-life kidnapping case that happened in Hong Kong.  Inspector Eddie Chan (Chan) is a troubled cop who is assigned to the case of Wong (Law Hang Kang), a hard-nosed construction magnate who is convinced he is targeted for kidnapping.  Wong is proved correct during a hard-hitting action scene where crooks kidnap him while he and his wife are driving.  Chan tries to stop this but is hopelessly outmanned.

The crooks soon begin to make ransom demands and Chan struggles to find some leads on who might be responsible.  Unfortunately, every lead and witness gets manipulated before he can get to it: what he doesn’t know is fellow cop Detective Hung (Kent Cheng) is behind the kidnapping and his using his access as a ranking officer to stymie the investigation.  When Chan realizes his treachery, the result is an intense cat-and-mouse battle between the two as the clock for the ransom demands winds down.

The above description might sound like boilerplate cop movie material – and in archetypal terms it is – but Crime Story manages to make a strong impression because it is told with a vigorous, almost palpable sense of intensity.  Director Kirk Wong hits the ground running with an adrenalized car-chase/kidnapping scene that is revealed to be a dry run for the film’s main kidnapping scene and doesn’t look back.  He maintains a taut pace throughout and digs into several large-scale action scenes with a bombastic yet richly-detailed and structured approach.

Indeed, the action sequences are gloriously bombastic in Crime Story.  The aforementioned “kidnapping on wheels” is a white-knuckler of a sequence packed with wince-inducing stunts… and that’s just the start.  There’s also a memorable foot chase that becomes a fight scene high above a theater stage, a really brutal shootout/hand-to-hand fight when Chan finally locates the crooks’ hideout and a finale where Chan and Cheng square off against the backdrop of an apartment building that is in the process of exploding due to a gas leak.  They’re the kind of action scenes that are so intense and relentless that they’ll leave action fans gasping for air (but smiling, too).

The lead performances are equally intense. Crime Story relies on Chan to carry the film and he honors that risk by giving an all-stops-out performance.  The smiling jokester of previous Chan vehicles is gone, replaced by an unsmiling, troubled man who is always ready to throw down with a brutal fight (fists, feet or guns) or an intense verbal exchange.  It’s a very serious performance and Chan does quite well, managing to translate his kinetic physical grace into macho bluster to suit the film.  Better yet, he gets strong support from Cheng as Chan’s  sweaty, shifty nemesis.  Often typecast as a sad-sack or comedic performer due to his weight, Cheng manages to use his bulky physique to menacing effect here – and when he and Chan circle each other nervously in the film’s final act, it’s got the right kind of hard-boiled intensity.

Simply put, if you think Chan is just a big-screen comedian then Crime Story is worth checking out to see what else he can do.