Jackie Chan teams up with his female counterpart, Michelle Yeoh, for the explosive third entry in Chan’s POLICE STORY action film series, released in the U.S. simply as SUPERCOP. With stunt veteran Stanley Tong at the helm and a phenomenal team of stuntmen in support, the result is a fantastic example of Hong Kong screen action at its finest with bristling pyrotechnics, aerial and vehicular stunts and fighting action all grounded by a highly enjoyable performance by two of the screen’s greatest action icons.
In an opening sequence cut from the international print, we learn that Hong Kong police have been charged by their then-British superiors with assigning a “supercop” to take on an out-of-control drug trade all throughout South Asia where narcotics are being successfully smuggled in everything from condoms to the corpses of infants. The macabre image created by such a suggestion may have had something to do with why the scene was cut despite there thankfully being no visuals to accompany it.
The police’s target is Chaibat (Kenneth Tsang), a ruthless drug lord. Chan is ordered to team up with Yeoh, who plays a mainland Chinese inspector to get him. Their task is to bust Panther (Yuen Wah), one of Chaibat’s lieutenants, out of a prison work camp on the mainland, gain his trust and get to Chaibat himself. This begins with a visit to a mainland police camp where Chan’s fighting skills are put to the test in one of the film’s few conventional fighting sequences.
Sam Wong, a senior member of the JC Stunt Team gets into a friendly match with Chan that shows off the team’s masterful choreography. Chan had his stunt team trained to perfect pitch with his unique screen fighting skills. The result is a short but incredibly fast and dynamic exchange of practical wushu and Hong Kong-style street fighting peppered with humorous visual references to traditional kung fu. The sequence ends with Chan literally rolling out of the training facility in a giant gym wheel in a bit of slapstick comedy.
Chan has long been on the lookout for unusual apparatuses that could be incorporated into action sequences in his movies. SUPERCOP makes use of several distinctive items to enhance some of the action. The gym wheel originates from Germany and was designed for use in gymnastics training. It has become popular in recent years due to its use in performance art by Cirque du Soleil. Chan uses it solely for a gag in this film but to good effect. What the international version omits is the end where Chan falls out of a tree after wiping out in the wheel outside.
A stun baton factors in the film’s second fight. This time, Chan and Yeoh take on mainland police equipped with the electronic weapons in an effort to keep Panther from being caught before they can find Chaibat. The sequence is highlighted by some of Yeoh’s best moves of the film which include a flying scissor kick and a scorpion kick. She also shows off some traditional kung fu forms as well in what becomes a running sight gag. For his American action movie DRIVE, director Steve Wang and action director Koichi Sakamoto orchestrated an excellent fight sequence using similar stun batons.
The rest of the movie uses more conventional equipment in anything but conventional ways.The amount and variety of standout action sequences in this movie is simply amazing by any standard. Director Stanley Tong tones down Chan’s fighting moves, relative to past movies but ratchets up the gunplay, motor stunts and explosions to proportions matching a DIE HARD or James Bond movie. The best part is that they were all performed conventionally without computer effects or post-production wizardry. The only tricks include the use of stunt doubles and wires. Otherwise, what you see is what you get and in most cases stunts were performed by Chan and Yeoh even though it’s not always easy to see.
The middle of the movie is dominated by a killer action sequence that could have come out of a Rambo movie or Sammo Hung’s EASTERN CONDORS. Chan and Yeoh find themselves in the middle of a jungle battle when drug traffickers meeting together in Malaysia turn on each other. Tong orchestrates some massive explosions and wild gun battles. In a rare turn for Chan, we see the star wielding machine guns and mowing down a few baddies. Chan likes to talk about keeping violence in his movies in check but this film pushes him to uncharacteristic extremes, at least in this sequence.
The best action is saved for the end as Chan and Yeoh find their cover blown and are forced to help bust Chaibat’s wife out of prison. The implausibility of a crime lord relying on undercover cops to perform such a sensitive task is tolerable given the execution. During a street chase, Yeoh is seen dangling precariously from the roof of a van before leaping off the back onto the hood of Chan car which is in pursuit. In the outtakes, it’s clear that Yeoh missed the first take and wound up eating assault. Thankfully, she was not seriously hurt and was able to nail it a second time.
In one of the most heart-pumping stunts of his career, Chan performs a free jump from a multistory rooftop onto a rope ladder dangling from a helicopter in flight. Then, while secured by wires, Chan is flown around the city before landing on a moving train.
The film’s final fight sequence commences on the train as Chan takes on JC Stunt Team members including Ailen Sit and Ken Lo. It’s an incredible series of events topped by Yeoh’s final stunt where she jumps a dirt motorbike onto the top of the moving train… or does she?
Much has been said of Yeoh’s abilities and in this case, even her willingness to learn how to ride a motorcycle and perform this stunt. The problem is that the stunt was too dangerous, even for stunt professionals. A stuntman who performed a test jump broke his leg attempting the jump. Nobody seems to have admitted it publicly but I have seen credible evidence that Yeoh never actually jumped the bike onto the train, at least as we have been led to believe. The actual aerial jump, as seen in the first shot in the sequence, was performed by the film’s vehicle stunts lead Bruce Law. The next shot from the opposite side of the train is of Yeoh in a separate take landing the bike while suspended from wires. The wires actually caused Yeoh to suffer an injury when they jerked up and slammed her shin into one of the handle bars.
The use of wires in conjunction with the bike sequence was thought up by Law, who drew inspiration from a similar technique that he saw employed in a “making of” documentary on TERMINATOR 2. Even with the wires and doubling, Yeoh’s willingness to perform any part of such a challenging stunt is to be commended and her reputation as the female Jackie Chan remains intact.
A couple other brief cuts were made to the international version of SUPERCOP that has not already been mentioned. Some early dialogue between Yeoh and Chan was clipped, as was a scene at Chaibat’s home where a Caucasian girl is seen having drugs injected into her arm. This latter cut and the opening sequence both accentuated the drug element in the story in graphic ways that may have been deemed objectionable. Yet given the level of violence shown, the movie was still given an R rating upon release in the U.S. in 1996.
The other notable change to the international print, aside from the English dubbing, has been the soundtrack. The original included a song sung by Jackie Chan during the outtakes at the end. This was replaced by Tom Jones’ singing “Kung Fu Fighting.” English end credits contain a song by Devo and hip hop beats were inserted throughout the movie. The international soundtrack is professionally done and may have made the movie more accessible to audiences unfamiliar with Hong Kong cinema but it takes some of the character away from the original work. Thankfully, the original soundtrack has been restored to the Dragon Dynasty release of the film even though the original cut has not.
What really makes POLICE STORY 3: SUPERCOP a success apart from the action sequences is the onscreen pairing of Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh. In nearly every one of Chan’s other movies, the female leads are helpless and cannot fight for themselves. This has been a conscious decision on the part of Chan. Despite this, Chan’s onscreen chemistry with Yeoh, who matches Chan every step of the way, is excellent and the two reportedly got along well behind the scenes. It’s a shame they only appeared in one movie together during their prime. The two actually have a special relationship because it was Chan who helped Yeoh break into the industry by doing some commercials with her shortly after she had won Miss Malaysia.
The only shame in Yeoh’s presence here is that she greatly overshadows another fine actress, Maggie Cheung, although Chan can be blamed for that. Since the first POLICE STORY, Cheung was cast as Chan’s ditsy and trite girlfriend. She fills the same thankless role in SUPERCOP and it displays no hint of the real talent that she has shown in films such as CENTER STAGE, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and HERO.
Special mention goes to the only other franchise regular Bill Tung, portraying Chan’s superior. He’s also upstaged by Yeoh and the film’s stunt work but he turns in a terrific comedic performance while pretending to be Chan’s mother. Yuen Wah and Kenneth Tsang also provide great performances as the villains. As a longtime fan of Lo Lieh I would have liked to see the late screen legend as a lead villain opposite Chan, perhaps in a sequel, but it never happened.
POLICE STORY 3: SUPERCOP has been followed by one official sequel, FIRST STRIKE, and two unofficial sequels including PROJECT S and Benny Chan’s NEW POLICE STORY. PROJECT S is a highly underrated re-teaming of director Stanley Tong with Michelle Yeoh.
Tong and Chan have had a successful and long-running professional relationship since SUPERCOP. Their next collaboration was RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, the first Jackie Chan movie to break into the American mainstream. They followed that with POLICE STORY 4: FIRST STRIKE and THE MYTH.
Jackie Chan • Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)