I generally like to cleanse my cinematic palate after the SFFilm Festival with an escapist Hollywood movie. But since I’ve only seen four of the 21 blockbusters that came before Avengers: Endgame, I decided to watch two newly-restored Hong Kong action flicks.
Of course, those weren’t all I’ve seen after the festival.
B+ Police Story (1985), Castro
Jackie Chan is my generation’s Buster Keaton – a filmmaker, a movie star, a comedian, and a fearless acrobat. You don’t go to a Jackie Chan movie to become engrossed in the plot. You go to see him leap over fences, take falls that would kill most people, and do his own form of slapstick Kung Fu. But unlike Keaton, not all his stunts are done for laughs.
In Police Story (can you think of a more generic title?), he’s part of an undercover team out to destroy an evil syndicate. In the course of his duty, he drives a car down a hillside shanty town, hangs on a moving bus with his hands and an umbrella, and slides down several floors on an electric cable with lights blowing up in his face. Part of his job is to protect a beautiful witness, which upsets his girlfriend (the wonderful Maggie Cheung).
B+ Police Story 2 (1988), Castro
The first (of three) Police Story sequels is surprisingly light on slapstick, but still provides thrills. The plot is much more complicated, involving revenge, dynamite, a corporate extortion scheme, and Chan running a team of young detectives. The stunts are once again incredibly thrilling and exciting, but rarely funny. In fact, most of what little humor there is comes from a supporting character’s digestive problems.
There’s one problem I had with both movies: They had a Dirty Harry-like attitude about policing. Courts let evil criminals go free, and the cops have a moral right to use violence on anyone they don’t like.
B- Human Desire (1954), Criterion Channel
This one should have been a winner. It’s a noir directed by Fritz Lang, starring Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame – the team that brought us The Big Heat! What’s more, it deals with the very real issue of spouse abuse. And to top it off, all the main male characters work for the railroad, and the movie appears to have a love affair with trains. And yet, with all those good points in its favor, it’s nowhere near as powerful as it should have been.
C+ Cool Hand Luke (1967), Netflix
The Jesus symbolism is laid on thick and obvious in this prison movie, which I liked when it was new but not so much now that I revisited it. Paul Newman gets arrested for vandalism and is sent to what appears to be an all-white chain gang (I’d love to know how Warner executives made that decision). Luke earns the respect of the other prisoners by getting beaten up and, in a comic relief sequence, eating a lot of eggs. Then he keeps attempting to escape as he moves toward martyrdom.