Benjamin has been reviewing films for sixteen years and has seen more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the big deal?
Jackie Chan's First Strike (also known as Police Story 4: First Strike) is an action comedy film released in 1996 and is the fourth instalment of the Police Story series with which Jackie Chan made his name. Produced in his native Hong Kong and subsequently dubbed into English, the film sees Chan reprise his role as Hong Kong cop Kevin Chan Ka-kui (known as Jackie) who this time is tracking down stolen nuclear warheads in Ukraine. The film also stars Bill Tung in his final film appearance, Jackson Lou, Wu Chen-chun and Yuriy Petrov and it was written and directed by Stanley Tong, who directed the hugely successful previous instalment Police Story 3: Supercop. The film was a massive hit in Hong Kong where it remains Chan's highest-grossing film at the time of writing. It was also released in the US after Chan's initial success with films like Rumble In The Bronx which helped establish Chan as the biggest martial-arts star of his generation.
What's it about?
Hong Kong-based cop Jackie is working alongside the CIA in their investigation to locate stolen nuclear components. Assigned to follow and observe their only lead, a mysterious Russian woman called Natasha, Jackie follows her on a flight to Ukraine where she meets up with a previously unknown individual. While Natasha is arrested, Jackie continues following the new suspect - Chinese-American scientist Jackson Tsui, whom the CIA suspect is the thief. But after a botched operation to arrest Jackson fails, Jackie finds himself in hospital in Moscow.
Now working with Colonel Gregor Yegorov of the FSB (the successor to the Soviet KGB), Jackie is escorted to Australia where Yegorov believes Jackson will attempt to contact his sister Annie, a marine biologist working at an aquarium. But as he soon discovers, Jackie realises that he is not being told the whole truth and things are more complicated than they appear. Who can he trust, who has the stolen nuclear components and can Jackie hope to survive in a vicious gang war that threatens to spiral out of control?
Kevin "Jackie" Chan Ka-Kui
Annie Wu *
"Uncle" Bill Wong
Colonel Gregor Yegorov
Greg Mellott, Elliot Tong, Stanley Tong & Nick Tramontane
Release Date (UK)
13th June, 1997
Action, Adventure, Comedy
What's to like?
What makes Chan stand out from the likes of Jet Li or Tony Jaa is the sheer effort he puts into making his films comedic as opposed to straight-faced action films. This is especially true of the earlier Police Story films and First Strike is no different, giving Chan plenty of opportunities to amuse and entertain with his unique physical style. Using a variety of props and some breath-taking stunt-work, Chan makes this movie every bit as enjoyable as Supercop or even his later Hollywood films like Rush Hour. The fight scene involving a step ladder almost borders on unbelievable as he leaps over, underneath and through the rungs to inflict a beating on the baddies.
But it isn't just the fight scenes where Chan's comic timing shines. He reminded me in certain scenes of Charlie Chaplin's iconic Tramp character, blundering his way after suspects and suffering endlessly with the cold conditions on the sky slopes of Ukraine. You feel sorry for him as he winces shuffling across a frozen lake and because you know that this was all done for real without a hint of CG, you appreciate his presence even more. Frankly, how the man has lived to his sixties is a miracle considering the punishment he has inflicted on himself - such injuries can be seen in the now-obligatory bloopers section before the end credits.
- The film was so successful in Hong Kong that it was the biggest earning film of all time until the release of Shaolin Soccer in 2001.
- Chan, Tung and stuntman Rocky Lai are the only three performers to appear in all four of the original Police Story series. When the series was rebooted in 2004 with New Police Story, Chan was the only cast member to return.
- Incidentally, Tung (who passed away in 2006) also played a character called Uncle Bill in Rumble In The Bronx, despite that film not being a part of the Police Story franchise. He was also Hong Kong's lead commentator on horse racing.
What's not to like?
Although not the fault of the film, the International version released by New Line Cinema was horrifically edited with more than twenty minutes cut from the running time. As a result, the film is almost impossible to follow coherently with several scenes detailing the plot dropped as well as a number of fight scenes - did they not realise that was what we wanted from a Jackie Chan film? What's worse is that most of the film's action is composed with wild shootouts and a frankly silly underwater fight between Chan, some goons and a comedy rubber shark. Thankfully, New Line left in the fight scene involving a step-ladder which beautifully demonstrates Chan's timeless ability to get the most out of props. That scene stands head-and-shoulders above anything else in the film.
The film also suffers from the usual disorientating effect you get watching a dubbed film (whatever you do, try and find the original version in subtitles) with dialogue clipped and not really flowing convincingly. If you happen to have seen any of Chan's earlier movies before he moved to Hollywood, First Strike feels disappointingly hollow compared to the manic action of the previous films. The film isn't much worse than the bombastic Supercop but it does feel less entertaining, although you'll still smile and enjoy Chan's wily antics. It needed to be braver and longer to become a classic but as it is, it's a mildly enjoyable experience.
Should I watch it?
First Strike suffers from being cut more times than Tiger Woods but the film still retains the series' trademark blend of goofy comedy and blistering action. It's not the easiest film to follow and the dubbing makes it feel extremely cheesy but if you can forgive the production's faults, the film is a solid reminder of Chan's extraordinary talent and his unique place in the pantheon of martial art stars.
Great For: Chan's fans, home commentaries, old-school action lovers, Mitsubishi shares
Not So Great For: shark conservation efforts, serious critics, the supporting cast who don't get much of a look-in
What else should I watch?
Although they achieved the same score, I much preferred Police Story 3: Supercop which has all the hallmarks of a Chan film but with Michelle Yeoh thrown in for extra punch. The film is an exhilarating action film with stunts that blow your mind including a train-top fight sequence involving a low-flying helicopter but still with that cheeky glint in its eye. The first two films in the Police Story saga were also directed by Chan and are highly regarded examples of Asian cinema in the Eighties, showing exactly why Chan is so fondly thought of today.
Other examples of Chan's early Hong Kong career include Project A and Armour Of God, both martial-arts comedies that Chan performed in after his first attempt at cracking Hollywood in The Cannonball Run proved ill-fated. But Chan has not turned his back on the Hong Kong film scene and continues to make movies there including the aforementioned reboot New Police Story. Among the better examples are the more dramatic Shinjuku Incident and Rob-B-Hood, an action comedy with Chan in a rare anti-hero role.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox