While Bruce Lee was a phenomenon out of Hong Kong, he never had a full chance to realize his potential in the bigger and not always better Hollywood machine. That’s why I consider Jackie Chan the biggest crossover star to emerge from Hong Kong cinema. Though Chow Yun-Fat and Jet Li had their moments of crossover fame, neither could endure with the longevity of Chan. It shouldn’t be shocking as Chan is in essence a silent movie star in the age of the blockbuster. His earliest films were told in mostly visual language, and Chan wasn’t afraid to combine big-time stunts and visual humor like the silent stars of old – there’s no greater example than in Project A, where Chan orchestrates homages to Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd in the same thrilling sequence. Though he experienced plenty of successes stateside, Chan has returned to his native Hong Kong of late. His latest Hong Kong film getting ready to make its way stateside is Police Story: Lockdown, which tragically sees the action legend trying to catch up with times by making an uglier, grimmer type of action film.
Police Story: Lockdown, or as it was originally called Police Story 2013, is another attempted reboot of the series following Police Story 2004 (hmm, I’m noticing a trend). Through the shaky camera, familial conflict, and entirely humorless façade, Lockdown is nothing more than a lousy Taken imitator. The story is pretty much incomprehensible as it’s happening, but here’s the gist of it: Zhong Wen (Chan), a rough and tumble police officer, is meeting his estranged daughter Miao (Tian Jing) at bar. At the bar, named Bar Wu, Miao informs Zhong that she is currently in a relationship with the bar’s owner Wu Jiang (Ye Liu). Suddenly, Zhong is knocked unconscious and the bar’s customers are being held hostage. With a few henchmen by his side, Wu is holding everyone, including Zhong and Miao, hostage and asking the authorities to bring a prisoner to the bar. Time passes and little makes sense as the villain’s motives are entirely unclear. The only thing that is clear is that Zhong must kick some ass or let innocents die.
There’s no way around it, this is a grim film. Not only is the film completely devoid of humor until the end credits and Chan’s signature blooper reel, the visual style of the film takes on the look of Oliver Megaton, which is like modeling your artistic style on the graffiti on the inside of port-a-potties. Writer-director Sheng Ding undermines himself at every available angle. I’d argue that there is a compelling story within Lockdown, but Ding has found the worst possible way to tell it, creating as many blanks as possible and waiting as long as possible to fill in the blanks with little satisfaction. It can be very easy to overlook the story flaws in a Jackie Chan movie when the action takes your breath away. That doesn’t happen here. The action unfolds in a frantic, bewildering manner that can’t be sure just who is fighting and if they’re actually anywhere at all. It’s really quite tragic watching Jackie Chan trade in a timeless style for something ephemeral and visually illiterate.
Police Story: Lockdown is the one thing that a Jackie Chan movie can’t be – no fun. It’s a tragic film because it features a trailblazer trying to play catch up. It takes an hour and twenty minutes of mid-level Die Hard and Taken imitation before it crams in a movie’s worth of twists. Like the frenzied editing style, it renders the whole film a mush of nonsense told with a grimly serious, scarred face. I’ll always respect and admire the cinema of Jackie Chan. I’d just rather he follows the path of Chaplin in his late career than trying to scrape by like so many aging action stars. Could you imagine Jackie Chan’s Monsieur Verdoux or Limelight? Neither can I, and that’s why I want to see it. Because I’ve seen Jackie Chan’s Taken, and it’s not good.
Police Story: Lockdown opens in select theaters and is available on VOD June 5th. For more information go here.