When is a Police Story movie not a Police Story movie? When it’s Police Story 2013, an in-name-only series entry that uses brand recognition to cement Jackie Chan as a box office force in mainland China following the massive success of his nationalistic action spectacular Chinese Zodiac (2012). The previous installment, New Police Story (2004), had already served as a reboot, with Chan playing a different character and the story adopting a darker tone to deliver a redemption arc that found his police inspector struggling with alcoholism due to his tactical unit being wiped out by a tech-savvy villain. However, it was still set in Hong Kong and relied on Chan’s martial arts skills to supply the excitement, particularly in the climax that made use of the city’s Convention and Exhibition Centre. New Police Story was a concentrated effort by the star to win back his home audience after a run of lackluster Hollywood vehicles that included The Tuxedo (2002) and Around the World in 80 Days (2004), while Police Story 2013 finds Chan chasing the mainland multiplex market due to its rapid expansion over the intervening decade. This entails that he is now a Beijing cop, complete with short hair, state values, and no discernible sense of humor. Chan has gone serious before with surprisingly effective results in the often-overlooked Crime Story (1993) and more recent Shinjuku Incident (2009), but his taciturn persona in Police Story 2013 is too one-note to sustain interest in what turns out to be a relatively small-scale thriller.
Instead of pursuing bad guys around a big city, Chan is here largely confined to the single location of a Beijing nightclub. Detective Zhong Wen (Chan) is first seen sleeping in the back of a taxi, looking shattered following a hard day on the job that has left him with a nasty cut on the face. He eventually wakes up and realizes that he has reached his destination of a bustling bar street, then makes his way to the fashionable Wu Bar where he has arranged to meet his estranged daughter Miao Miao (Jing Tian). She reveals to her disapproving father that she is dating the owner, Wu Jiang (Liu Ye), a slick operator who has installed a piranha tank in his establishment. This décor statement turns out to be a bad sign as Wu soon has Zhong knocked out and bound to a chair while he takes the patrons hostage, rigs the club with explosives, then phones the police to demand a hefty ransom as well as an audience with a prisoner with whom he has unspecified business. Zhong soon escapes and evades Wu’s henchmen in order to establish contact with his Lieutenant, while also trying to work out how the hostages – who are gathered at Wu Bar due to receiving invitations to an exclusive party – are connected to the scheming host. It’s a not-so-delicate blend of Die Hard (1988) and Rashomon (1950) as flashbacks are utilized to illustrate a seemingly complicated backstory that ultimately boils down to a simple revenge plot.
These flashbacks are not only employed by director Ding Sheng to provide crucial information, but to enliven the otherwise drab proceedings: despite the threat of guns and explosives, Wu Bar is like any other nightclub in that it becomes a mundane space once the music stops. With a limited number of hiding places, Zhong is soon captured again and forced to battle one of Wu’s heavies in a cage fight, a plodding showdown that is more concerned with celebrating the hero’s sheer tenacity than his physical dexterity. Glimpses of the events that have led up to this scenario – Zhong taking down car thieves and being involved in a high-speed pursuit – seem to have been spliced in from a more exciting alternative version of the film, while an explanation of how Wu received the cut on his face has presumably been included just so that Chan can perform his trademark stunt of falling from a high place as it adds nothing to the main narrative. Wu makes for a melancholic villain, swigging booze from his club’s well-stocked supply and failing to plumb the despicable depths of such previous series bad guys as the crime boss in the 1985 original or the drug lord in Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992). Hero and villain are at least well matched in terms of solemnity, with Chan’s jovial mugging in the obligatory end credits gag reel proving to be rather jarring. Police Story may now be more of a banner than a series, but one that Chan needs to take better care of if there are plans to continue its mainland incarnation.