There is something fulfilling about watching 80’s and 90’s action movies in today’s CGI’ed out world, and seeing real bodies and real explosions instead of clean, polished computer animation. Supercop is a particularly good example, since analog stunts and cinematic tricks have always been the main draw of watching a Jackie Chan movie. Chan essentially invented this kind of action comedy out of desperation, as he couldn’t find work as a traditional action star. After his start as a stuntman in Bruce Lee films, producers hoped to make him the next Lee, but it wasn’t until Chan fused his action films with slapstick comedy that he truly struck box office gold. The physical feats he and his team perform still demonstrate impressive prowess, but in every one of these films he plays a well-meaning buffoon—the polar opposite of Lee’s hard no-nonsense exterior.
Director: Stanley Tong
Producers: Jackie Chan, Willie Chan, Leonard Ho, Edward Tang
Writers: Edward Tang, Fibe Ma, Lee Wai Yee
Cinematographer: Ardy Lam
Editors: Kar Fei Cheung, Peter Cheung
Music: Mac Chew, Jenny Chinn, Chung-cheng Li
Cast: Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, Kenneth Tsang, Wah Yuen
Country: Hong Kong
US Theatrical Release: October 8, 1993
US Distributor: Miramax/Park Circus
While not particularly unique in the Jackie Chan canon, Supercop is a prime example of what makes these films so lovable. The film follows Kevin Chan (Jackie Chan) as a Hong Kong “supercop” sent in to infiltrate a drug smuggling ring on the Mainland. Leaving his girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung) in Hong Kong, Kevin meets up with the military police force’s Interpol Director (Michelle Yeoh) and the two end up undercover together, posing as brother and sister and trying to stop a major heist from the inside.
Chan has always done his own stunts and Yeoh (an action star in her own right) matches him at every turn, leading to some impressive action scenes between the pair. Their onscreen platonic chemistry makes up this film’s emotional core, but its central storyline makes little impact on the truly enjoyable moments. Exploding buildings (blown with real black powder), gun-heavy action sequences, and a few exhibits of kung fu prowess could make any plot enjoyable—the plot here just seems not to matter. It’s like watching Buster Keaton; form and slapstick reign supreme. A lot of the film is aesthetically stunning as well; an early tracking shot through a room of Shanghai military policeman going through martial arts exercises—all clad in what look like basketball jerseys and camo-print pants—is gorgeous, and the film’s climactic chase scene, which goes from car to helicopter to train, is on par with anything Hollywood was churning out.
Verisimilitude and believability too are left behind in favor of gags and punches, most notably a scene where an older male officer impersonates the phony siblings’ mother in unconvincing drag. But again, it doesn’t matter because of the film’s tenure—this is a goofy comedy as well as a stunt-powered kung fu movie, so such moments don’t kick out the enjoyment the way they would in a plot-heavy, high concept action thriller.
Supercop is funny too, with much of its humor coming from Chan’s dopey persona and affect, but some due to a genuinely good script. The film’s most memorable scene is not one of its action sequences at all but is instead a moment of comedic suspense. While undercover with his “sister” Kevin ends up at a Malaysian resort where May is working as a tour guide. Eager not to blow his cover or his relationship, Kevin has to keep himself hidden in plain sight while May looks for what appears to be her boyfriend having an affair. Chan’s rambunctious silliness makes this scene funny, but the setup is genuinely suspenseful and Maggie Cheung is perfect as the unexpected foil to the undercover cops’ perfect plan. The scene plays out like something out of an early Hitchcock movie.
If for nothing else, this film is worth seeing for its soundtrack, an intense amalgamation of early 90s American pop music and Mortal Kombat-esque electronic backbeats. Devo, No Doubt, and Tupac all make the cut, along with a weird remix of “Stayin Alive” and a Tom Jones-performed version of “Kung Fu Fighting” made specifically for this film’s credits—the lyrics are slightly altered with bizarre insertions like “funky Jackie-Chan/on a mission from Hong Kong.” The soundtrack is like a time capsule dug up to remind us what sounded “cool” in 1993. The whole film is similar, a nice slice of now-retro cool that has aged well.