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Jackie Chan's American Supercop Is A Clumsy, Breathless Delight

Illustration for article titled Jackie Chan's American Supercop Is A Clumsy, Breathless Delight

The Jackie Chan movies that showed up in American multiplexes in the mid-’90s weren’t necessarily the best Jackie Chan movies. They were dubbed and hamfistedly edited, with shitty new music shoehorned in and little in the way of context. But if you happened to be a teenager who didn’t know too much about Hong Kong cinema at the time, they were fucking amazing. If you cared enough, you’d probably read interviews where people like Quentin Tarantino enthused about the guy, and maybe you’d caught The Big Brawl, Chan’s not-great initial attempt at a Hollywood breakthrough, on cable. But the vision of this human cartoon character onscreen, doing impossible things with impossible grace, was still a revelation. All the movies from that initial wave—Rumble in the Bronx and Supercop and First Strike and Operation: Condor—all hold up. And they also evoke a weird nostalgia, in some of us, for an era when it wasn’t quite so easy to learn about movies being made elsewhere in the world.


Of those movies, 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx was the first, and maybe the best. The fight scenes were incredible, of course, but the funhouse-mirror image of American culture made it even better. The Bronx was obviously Vancouver, the criminals dressed like human versions of Bebop and Rocksteady, and Chan spent more time mugging than he did kicking. Watching it in the theater was a serious Holy shit, this is real? event.

Supercop, a Hong Kong hit in 1992 that didn’t hit the U.S. until ‘96, wasn’t quite the same pure and delirious jolt of fun, but it did show what Chan could do with a relatively straight-up action movie: absurd, amazing things. The result is still fundamentally silly as fuck, since it’s still a Jackie Chan vehicle. But it has more holy shit moments than any movie has a right to have.

The best of those moments doesn’t even belong to Chan himself, but costar Michelle Yeoh, who had her own minor American breakthrough soon after, becoming a Pierce Brosnan-era Bond Girl a year after this hit American theaters. Near the end of this movie, she rides a motorcycle up a hill and jumps it onto the roof of a moving train. It’s fucking incredible, and she really did that shit! The bike bounced and skidded and then fell off the side, while Yeoh crashed and rolled and somehow stayed on the roof. During the amazing closing-credits outtake reel, you can see that the stunt took a few tries to land; it’s amazing that she’s still alive now. Seriously, look at this.

Yeoh wasn’t like Chan; she wasn’t trained from early childhood as a martial artist. Instead, she was a Malaysian ballet dancer and beauty queen who’d drifted into acting after the pair did a TV commercial together. And before Supercop, she’d taken five years off, marrying and then divorcing a film executive. She was 30 when she made this, and she’s a bad motherfucker throughout, playing the Chinese partner to Chan’s Hong Kong cop, an icy and rigid enforcer who reluctantly goes into character when she has to go undercover. Her fight scenes are as convincing as Chan’s, she’s beautiful in ways that movie actresses aren’t usually beautiful, and she pretty much steals the whole thing with that stunt.

The rest of Supercop is a fun, nonsensical thing focused on Chan, the bumbling superhero cop who never admits that he’s in over his head, going on a dangerous mission to China to take down a drug lord. For reasons that never quite make sense, he has to go undercover in a prison to help a kingpin’s brother break out, and that means he spends as much time fighting cops as he does criminals. The comedic bits are broad as ever, but some of them, like the one where a Chinese police chief has to pretend to be his mother, are genuinely funny and infinitely superior to the elevator-fart jokes that are way too common in Chan’s other movies. The movie has an antic, goofy tone, but it will suddenly break into a bloodbath of a gunfight, or an insane stunt sequence where we see some poor hapless stuntman dangling from an elevator rope ladder over a city. (Chan usually did all his own stunts, but I think he had some help for some of the more bugshit scenes in this one.)

The movie had a whole context in Hong Kong that wasn’t there in the American version: At home, Supercop came out in’92 as the third installment in Chan’s star-making Police Story series. Characters like his girlfriend, played by Maggie Cheung, would’ve been familiar to the audience over there. But when Mirimax distributed the U.S. version, they presented it as a total standalone, which had its drawbacks: Chan dubbed his own lines in English, but most of the other dubbing is pretty clumsy, and the way the Mirimax version throws incongruous and random ‘90s rap into certain scenes is just awesomely tone-deaf. (The ‘90s dance remix of “Kung Fu Fighting” that plays over the end credits is even worse.)


That’s the version on Netflix, unfortunately, and it probably counts as a crime that we don’t get to see the real subtitled original without all these dumbshit adjustments. But if you’re a person of a certain age, the dumbshit adjustments are part of the nostalgic charm of the whole thing. Chan would lose some of his magic when he came to America full-time and started making just-okay movies like Rush Hour. But once upon a time, we got to see this guy in relatively undiluted form in the same movie theaters that were showing, like, Bio-Dome or Mars Attacks. We were lucky.

Tom Breihan is the senior editor at Stereogum; he’s written for Pitchfork, the Village Voice, GQ, Grantland, and the Classical. He lives in Charlottesville, Va. He is tall, and on Twitter.


Netflix Instant doesn’t have to feel like a depleted Blockbuster in 1990, where you spend half an hour browsing hopeless straight-to-video thrillers before saying “fuck it” and loading up another Archer. Streaming services can be an absolute treasure trove, particularly if you like action movies, and especially if you like foreign action movies. Every week in this space, we’ll highlight a new one.

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