|The title of Ding Sheng’s Police Story 2013 is somewhat disingenuous. True, Jackie Chan stars as a policeman, but that’s where the similarities between Ding’s hostage thriller and Chan’s classic action-comedies end. Chan plays Zhong Wen, a deadly serious mainland cop who’s a far cry from the cheerful and self-effacing Chan Ka-Kui from the Police Story movies. Not that character continuity is needed to use the Police Story name, but Police Story 2013 features little resemblance to any of the fun and supremely entertaining films in the same-named franchise. Calling this movie Police Story 2013 is like making a dour thriller called Lethal Weapon 2014 starring Mel Gibson as a deranged beat cop named Kyle Bogans, who pounds the pavement in Vancouver alongside his meth-using partner played by Justin Timberlake. If you raise your hand and yell, “Hey, that’s not Lethal Weapon!”, you’d be absolutely right. Prepare to feel the same about Police Story 2013.
That said, Police Story 2013 isn’t bad on its own merits, though one could debate whether Jackie Chan hurts or helps. The film starts slowly, introducing ex-PLA soldier and now cop Zhong Wen as he arrives at Wu Bar, an industrial factory-turned-nightclub that reuses large metal vats and extensive piping as décor, but adds new touches like superfluous submarine hatches. There’s a lot of talking in the first twenty minutes as Zhong Wen meets up with his rebellious daughter Miao (Jing Tian) and her boyfriend, the bar’s owner Wu Jiang (Liu Ye). Their conversations reveal Zhong Wen and Miao’s estrangement, as well as Zhong Wen’s preference for police work over family time. Meanwhile, Zhong Wen senses bad vibes in Wu Bar, a suspicion that proves correct when masked thugs take the patrons hostage. It’s not a surprise (to the audience, anyway), but Wu Jiang is behind the hostage crisis in his own establishment. The big question: Why?
Despite the slow pace, Police Story 2013 starts with solid storytelling and effective use of POV as Zhong Wen surveys the situation and suspects that something’s amiss. After Wu Jiang is outed as the bad guy, Zhong Wen realizes that Wu Jiang intended to entrap him and begins to theorize why, leading to flashbacks that may or may not have something to do with the current crisis. The flashbacks provide opportunities for action, while also expanding the film’s canvas beyond the claustrophobic Wu Bar. The action is subdued, however, with more car chases and running than Jackie Chan-style agility – though Chan’s flamboyant action design would be inappropriate for a serious thriller like Police Story 2013. Also, Chan is old. He can’t jump around like he used to, so stunts are limited to physical punishment like crashing into objects or getting his face shoved into a chain-link fence. Yeah, it’s not the same as hanging from a helicopter above Kuala Lumpur, but you wouldn’t do these things yourself, would you? Jackie Chan: still aiming to please.
Eventually, Zhong Wen discovers the motives behind the crime, creating sympathy if not an excuse for Wu Jiang’s actions. As in his previous films, Ding Sheng paints his characters in shades of gray, adding unexpected depth to main players while also fleshing out supporting roles. The wide focus is a nice touch, but Ding isn’t fully successful; some of the supporting characters come off as annoying, plus the time spent on each slows the film down. At a certain point, droning exposition is required to reveal every last detail, not to mention justify all the plot conveniences and contrivances, and the story becomes strained. Also, while the criminals do get humanized, the cops don’t – that is, aside from Zhong Wen, and his “flaw” seems to be that he’s so righteous that he’ll ignore his family for justice. Otherwise the cops are portrayed as inhumanly awesome – par for the course for a SAPPRFT-approved work, but hardly a portrait of three-dimensional human beings.
The script also gets Pollyannaish. Zhong Wen always talks about valuing life and giving people a second chance – something he does for Wu Jiang multiple times – and his constant parenting wears thin. Jackie Chan does convince as a grizzled cop and father, though his credibility may be a function of his age and everyman appearance. Chan is decent in the role but sometimes defaults to overacting, especially when under physical or emotional stress. Support is decent. Despite voicing too much exposition, Liu Ye makes Wu Jiang an intelligent and multi-faceted villain, while the ubiquitous Jing Tian is fine in the latest of her high-profile supporting roles. Overall, Ding Sheng mines the characters and their dynamic for suitable tension, and the shaky cam and jittery editing add some grit and style. Ding has always been a stronger director than his material would suggest, and that hasn’t changed in that he seems acutely aware of how the camera and performance can tell a story effectively.
Like most Jackie Chan films, Police Story 2013 ends with a blooper reel, though this one is a bit of a letdown since the outtakes are mostly flubbed lines and even more shots of Chan getting his face rubbed into a chain link fence. There’s also a Jackie Chan song and a joke where Chan throws shade at son Jaycee. This is Jackie Chan all right, but is it really appropriate for him to shoehorn his gimmicks and persona into a film that doesn’t require them? Police Story 2013 ultimately tries too hard to remind us that it’s “a Jackie Chan movie”, when it might actually have been a better as a pure “Ding Sheng film” with a different star. Chan simply brings too much baggage with him nowadays, and when he’s wrong for the films he stars in (e.g., 1911), the result alienates or underwhelms. While a decent enough thriller, Police Story 2013 can’t overcome the burden of having Jackie Chan as its star – or having Police Story in its title.