Crime Story (Jung on zo)
Hong Kong (1993) Dir. Kirk Wong
If you think about it, the last person who should ever orchestrate a kidnapping plot is an active police officer. Sure, they can find ways to sabotage the investigation and put their colleagues off the scent but eventually, their malfeasance is going to catch up with them and backfire spectacularly.
Wealthy, controversial Hong Kong businessman Wong Yat-fei (Law Kar-ying) believes he is the target of a kidnapping attempt, so Inspector Eddie Chan (Jackie Chan) is assigned to protect Wong, by way of giving him a light job after suffering from PTSD following a recently traumatic case. Wong fears are proven true when he and his wife Lara (Puishan Au-yeung) are run off the road by a criminal group, with Wong abducted.
Chan managed to arrive near the scene but was unable to stop the kidnappers, driving him to being them to justice and save Wong. Working alongside Chan is Detective Hung Ting-bong (Kent Cheng), his slightly older long time partner who shares Chan’s vow for justice – except Hung is the mastermind behind the kidnapping and has to do all he can to disrupt progress in the case until Lara pays the ransom.
Over the past decade, Jackie Chan declared he would move away from his trademark action and martial films and concentrate on straight acting and serious dramatic roles. Like many of his showbiz peers, this wasn’t easy to uphold and Chan still makes action flicks, though far less dangerous than those of his prime years, but they are becoming fewer. Apparently.
Based on real events, Crime Story was Chan’s first attempt at making a serious crime film as opposed to churning out endless comedy driven vehicles. This was sort of achieved as it is predominantly played straight and carries a strong message regarding police corruption and to a lesser extent, the effects of PTSD on serving police officers. Unfortunately, much of the film feels no different from the rest of Chan’s output with slapstick fights, poor dialogue, and thinly drawn characters.
Yet the potential of the plot of the duplicitous cop assuming dual roles right under the noses of his colleagues isn’t squandered for comedic purposes, even if Hung is a porcine lump of a man. His occasional concerned sideways glances when a lead begins to bear fruit are only seen by the audience and rather than appear hokey, delineates the nastiness and contempt of this otherwise jolly buffoon.
That Chan or nobody notices his subterfuge, some of it deftly executed in plain sight, is either a testament to Hung’s sneakiness, or exposes the ineptitude of the others for not spotting it. It is only on a trip to Taiwan where the bank accounts the first instalments of the ransom money have been deposited that Chan is given cause to suspect his partner but getting proof when returning to Hong Kong isn’t easy.
Hung is way ahead of Chan and uses his influence and clout to erase any traces of his misdeeds and silence anyone who might talk. It is at this point where things get a little farcical, such as Hung’s police pager files being deleted from the computer right in front of Chan, or the interrogation with Hung’s call girl floozy Gaga (Christine Ng), due to Gaga being the worst kind of stereotype/caricature in the whole film.
It is also bizarre that Chan carries out his investigation into Hung and doesn’t hide it from him, and as his superior, doesn’t see fit to suspend him or at least report him to a senior officer. Worst still, Hung carries on like he is innocent and unaware of Chan being suspicious of him, despite practically confirming Chan’s hunch by having his gang try to distract Chan at every turn.
Such clumsy writing invites us to forget this is supposed to be a serious film, leaving us incredulous for the wrong reasons. In the years after this film’s release, the concept of a corrupt figure trying to evade capture by their own people has become a crime thriller staple, and is handled with much more sophistication and intelligence than it has here, so if anything this can be seen as a template for how to improve on an idea.
Wong is based on real life businessman Teddy Wang who was kidnapped twice but never found after the second time in 1990 and was declared dead in 1999. Originally, Jet Li was to play Chan, but before filming began, his manager was killed by Triads, and Li felt it was inappropriate to make a film about organised crime, handing the role to Jackie Chan, who also became its producer.
Also, the original script was much darker and focused more on Eddie’s problems with the PTSD from being involved in a violent mass shoot out. However, it is only featured early on in the film in which his psychiatrist tells Chan to stop wallowing in misery and take a break (some help there) and is largely forgotten here after. As a hook to give Eddie an emotional handicap it is a shame it wasn’t give more prominence in the story, but there are fight scenes and car chases to fit in too so something had to give.
You can always rely on plenty of action from a Jackie Chan and even being serious film there is no shortage of acrobatic, often amusing, prop filled fights, structural and vehicle damage, and death defying stunts which see Jackie and his stunt team suffer dearly for in the name of entertainment. I wonder if delays for injury explain why the length of Jackie’s hair varies throughout the film?
Crime Story is every bit a Jackie Chan film, but comes from a period when his well of ideas was beginning to run dry. It deserves kudos for trying something different despite not actually being different, but is nonetheless a worthy popcorn action flick that delivers plenty of bang for your buck in this superb newly restored Blu-ray release.