If your only expe­ri­ence with Jackie Chan is Hollywood-pro­duced fare like Rush Hour, you’re miss­ing out in a big way.  From the late ‘70s through­out the 1980’s, he enjoyed his most cre­ative and inter­est­ing peri­od in Hong Kong, per­fect­ing a blend of mar­tial arts, acro­bat­ic stunts and slap­stick com­e­dy that made him a dom­i­nant box office force in the Far East.  The best place for a Western novice to begin is Police Story: he made bet­ter films dur­ing this clas­sic era but Police Story is a great start­ing point because it shows off every­thing he can do in one con­ve­nient film.

Chan’s char­ac­ter here is Ka-Kau, a cop who is forced to take deci­sive (if expen­sive) action when a sting oper­a­tion goes wrong.  He suc­ceeds in cap­tur­ing druglo­rd Chu Tao (Chor Yuen) but the evi­dence is flim­sy so he has to guard wit­ness — and Chu Tao’s girl­friend — Selina (Brigitte Lin) until the tri­al.  However, Chu Tao and his asso­ciates are full of tricks and do their best to sab­o­tage the case as well as Ka-Kau’s career.  Ka-Kau is forced into a cor­ner by their treach­ery and has to fight again­st mas­sive odds to bring down his ene­my and restore his good name.

Police Story suc­ceeds as a mas­sive crowd-pleaser because it is essen­tial­ly three films in one: it’s an action film with large-scale stunt sequences, a mar­tial arts show­case and a venue for Chan’s skills as a slap­stick come­di­an.  Edward Tang’s script is sim­ple in terms of char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and plot­ting but that actu­al­ly works here because it focus­es its ener­gy on a series of wild set­pieces, jug­gling film’s com­e­dy, action and mar­tial arts ele­ments in a very com­mer­cial way.

Luckily for view­ers, those set­pieces are fre­quent­ly mind-blow­ing.  Chan dou­bles as direc­tor here and his work reflects the years of expe­ri­ence he had gath­ered in chore­o­graph­ing and enact­ing action sequences.  The open­ing scene fea­tures some daz­zling car stunts, includ­ing the car-assist­ed destruc­tion of a squat­ter vil­lage that Michael Bay shame­less­ly aped years lat­er in Bad Boys II.  Chan also pulls off a daz­zling hand-to-hand fight that incor­po­rates two cars as part of the chore­og­ra­phy.

That said, Police Story’s claim to action fame is the amaz­ing epic fight sequence that clos­es the film.  It takes place in a mall and incor­po­rates the kind of go-for-broke, this is real­ly hap­pen­ing” fight chore­og­ra­phy that has endeared Hong Kong action films to cult film fanat­ics around the world.  The action is as bru­tal as it acro­bat­ic, involv­ing leaps from dra­mat­ic heights and lots of peo­ple get­ting thrown through panes of glass.  It all takes place in wide angles and is care­ful­ly edit­ed so you can see that they’re actu­al­ly doing every­thing you see with no cheats or cut­aways.  It’s the kind of action that will leave you feel­ing ener­gized and breath­less all at once — and is thus one of the great high­lights of Chan’s fil­mog­ra­phy.

As for the comedy, it will depend on the viewer’s taste for slap­stick but it’s worth not­ing that Chan chore­o­graphs the gags as care­ful­ly as he does his action.  A scene where he jug­gles mul­ti­ple phones and phone con­ver­sa­tions is an inspired throw­back to silent film era com­e­dy and a seem­ing throw­away gag involv­ing a pot­ted cac­tus pays off impres­sive­ly in a lat­er scene.

Finally, it helps that Chan select­ed an excel­lent cast of Hong Kong actors to back him up.  Lovely Brigitte Lin, bet­ter known to Hong Kong enthu­si­asts as The Bride With White Hair, is appeal­ing as the film’s reluc­tant wit­ness and for­mer Shaw Brothers direc­tor Chor Yeun is effec­tive­ly nasty as the film’s well–mon­eyed bad guy.  Maggie Cheung also pops up as Ka-Kui’s long-suf­fer­ing girl­friend: she doesn’t get to do as much here as she would in the Police Story sequels but she’s an excel­lent comic foil for Chan and does one mem­o­rably bru­tal stunt involv­ing some stairs.  It’s also worth not­ing that this is the first time Chan co-starred with Bill Tung, who plays his super­vi­sor here.  Again, lat­er Chan films would find bet­ter uses for him but Tung has nice chem­istry with Chan and would pop up fre­quent­ly in his sub­se­quent work.

In short, Police Story remains a key Jackie Chan film because it max­i­mizes on its star’s mul­ti­fac­eted skills in action and com­e­dy.  If you aren’t famil­iar with his Hong Kong work, it will show you why he’s such a big deal with the Asian film fan­base.