"Breathtaking" is one of the most overworked words in the critical lexicon, but make no mistake--the Jackie Chan vehicle Supercop is breathtaking.
A dubbed and very slightly reedited version of a film I saw three years ago under the title Supercop (Police Story 3), this light-footed action comedy from Hong Kong follows a simple cops-and-robbers story line through a series of exuberant fights and shoot-outs, leading to a sustained chase finale as spectacular as any the genre has produced. Think of the greatest stunt sequence you ever saw in an American action film, triple its excitement, and you're somewhere in the neighborhood.
The gifted director, Stanley Tong, also helmed Rumble in the Bronx, Chan's surprisingly profitable American release of earlier this year. While Rumble, itself a delight, was pure fluff, Supercop has something resembling a plot.
Chan plays a Hong Kong detective sent by Interpol to the mainland to infiltrate a drug ring. He's partnered with a loyal Chinese security director (Michelle Khan) who just happens to be beautiful and fully able to kick some butt in her own right.
After some slightly provincial comedy that contrasts the easygoing Hong Kong guy with the fervent Maoist mainlanders, Chan and Khan succeed in penetrating the gang, posing as new henchpersons. Soon they're running toward or away from trouble in the form of flying fists, feet, bombs, bullets and helicopters. They fight their way from rural China to Thailand to the streets and railroad tracks of Kuala Lumpur, through and above which that wild-and-woolly final chase takes place.
Even stunt work this incredible would not be so enchanting without a human center, and Supercop has it. Chan, who (like his co-star Khan) is celebrated for performing his own astounding stunts, is also a funny and beguiling actor, with a shy, crinkly grin and a charming, self-deprecating comic sense. His sly manner helps us accept the exaggerated action scenes as stylized set pieces--akin to production numbers in a musical comedy.
Frequently--as in the scene where he and another man are wearily fleeing soldiers up a steep hill--Chan seems far closer to Harold Lloyd or Ray Bolger than to Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson. Despite the machismo inherent in his stunt work, Chan's persona doesn't come across macho--onscreen, he's a sweetie.
After the frenetic action of Supercop, the title Walking and Talking may sound tame, and so indeed is the mild American independent film that it fronts. Directed by Nicole Holofcener, it's about the friendship and love lives of two young New York women. One is engaged, uneasily, to a man she nonetheless loves; the other is single, unattached and is smarting at being excluded from her best pal's life.
At the opening we see the two as girls, looking at pictures in The Joy of Sex with elaborate disgust. Holofcener's point seems to have to do with the treachery of sexual adulthood--this friendship well predates their interest in boys, yet now boys come first, and friendship second. The movie seems to suggest that this is a pity.
It's the sort of tidy, well-turned small film that's easy to overrate, especially when it's energized by good acting. Here Holofcener was fortunate, landing two promising yet unsung film actresses.
Anne Heche, who blew Demi Moore off the screen with prickly intelligence and febrile sensuality in her brief role in The Juror, plays the engaged one.
The other lead role is played by Catherine Keener, a smiling brunette with a warm, soulful laugh. She played the leading lady in the film-within-the-film of Tom DeCillo's Living in Oblivion.
Both actresses are excellent, though Keener's is the juicier, better-developed role, and thus she makes the stronger impression.
Liev Schreiber is funny and inexplicably lovable as Keener's moochy, dirty-minded, commitment-phobic ex-boyfriend; Todd Field is serviceable though unmemorable as the bland fiance; and Kevin Corrigan is convincing as a video-store nerd whom Keener dates, briefly and ill-fatedly.
Holofcener, whose debut feature this is, writes speakable dialogue, and she keeps the narrative going with some ingenuity, if no particular urgency. Beyond that, the only significant reason to see Walking and Talking is for the acting of the stars. Reason enough.
--M. V. Moorhead
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Directed by Stanley Tong; with Jackie Chan, Michelle Khan, Maggie Cheung, Ken Tsang, Yuen Wah, Bill Tung, Law Lit, Josephine Koo and Philip Chan.
Walking and Talking:
Directed by Nicole Holofcener; with Anne Heche, Catherine Keener, Liev Schreiber, Todd Field, Kevin Corrigan and Lynn Cohen.