To watch Jackie Chan in the fresh and exhilarating “Supercop” is like watching Douglas Fairbanks Sr. or one of the silent-era clowns in one of their biggest hits. A whirling dervish with a Beatles mop top and an impish grin, the boyish Chan is a one-man Cirque du Soleil, and “Supercop” shows off both his sense of humor and his acrobatic martial arts wizardry just as effectively as “Safety Last” served Harold Lloyd seven decades ago.
“Supercop” played the Monica 4-Plex in its original Cantonese-language version, and now it has returned three minutes shorter and in an English-dubbed version to appeal to a wider audience in the wake of Chan’s recent “Rumble in the Bronx.”
Dubbing is almost always a dubious enterprise, but here it was done with more care than usual. Chan and his co-star Michelle Khan dub themselves, and the other actors are dubbed with varying effectiveness, which is typically the case. Once the story is set in motion there’s more action than talk, and the dubbing becomes less distracting.
“Supercop,” which is actually the third installment in Chan’s “Police Story” series, has been given a sharp new opening credit sequence and an appropriately hard-driving new score by Joel McNeely, incorporating a number of songs from “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” to “Stayin’ Alive.”
“Supercop” is as topical as tomorrow’s headlines but gets back to the basics of discovering what can happen when you turn loose an athletic, charismatic star, backed by a clever plot and firm direction, and then capture his every move and expression with virtuoso cinematography and editing. When Chan, with his sunny personality, tilts at life’s comic absurdities, he’s doing what Buster Keaton or Laurel and Hardy did long ago.
A fearless, devil-may-care Hong Kong cop, Chan is the inevitable choice for a highly dangerous mission. He’s to be sent to China as an undercover agent to retrieve a gangster named Panther (Yuen Wah) from a prison labor camp. The gangster, in turn, is to lead Chan to Panther’s Hong Kong-based older brother Chaibat (Ken Tsang), a drug lord so mighty that the authorities believe that his capture would diminish the Southeast Asian drug trade by half. Chan’s adventures lead him to a secret jungle compound along the Thailand-Cambodia border and culminate in a whirlwind chase through Kuala Lumpur involving a helicopter, every kind of street vehicle and finally a train.
Arriving in Canton, Chan meets his match in his new boss, a People’s Republic of China secret agent (Khan) who’s as elegant as she is skilled in martial arts--and lots more disciplined than Chan. They’re a terrific team, and the whole business of extricating Panther from the prison camp, a coal-mining site, is as much a cliffhanger as a chapter ending in the serial “The Perils of Pauline.” But it’s just a prologue to all the nonstop action and comedy that follow.
Chan and Khan play with just enough tongue-in-cheekery: The humor is often broad but never lapses into burlesque. Joining the fun in the final reel is beautiful Maggie Cheung as Chan’s lively girlfriend, a tour guide who arrives in Kuala Lumpur at the very wrongest moment possible.
Chan, who was also co-executive producer, director Stanley Tong (who subsequently directed “Rumble in the Bronx”) and their cast and crew recall what Hollywood has largely forgotten: how to make pure escapist entertainment that’s fast, light and unpretentious.
“Supercop” and other Hong Kong pictures like it rely, out of economic prudence, on making imaginative use of the full resources of the medium rather than relying on megabuck production design and gadgetry. The film’s extensive use of colorful and far-flung authentic locations are in fact a key appeal.
* MPAA rating: R, for some violence. Times guidelines: The film is appropriate for all but the very young.
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Jackie Chan: Det. Kevin Chan (a.k.a. Fu Sheng)
Michelle Khan: Chief of Security Yang (a.k.a. Hana)
Maggie Cheung: May
Yuen Wah: Panther
A Dimension Films in association with Media Asia Distribution presentation. Director Stanley Tong. Producers Willie Chan, Edward Tang. Executive producers Leonard Ho, Jackie Chan. Screenplay Tang, Fibe Ma, Lee Wai Yee. Cinematographer Ardy Lam. Editors Cheung Yiu Chung, Cheung Kar Fei. Costumes Hung Wei Chuk. Music Joel McNeely. Production designer Wong Yue Man. Art director But Yiu Kwong. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.