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Chan's Physical Antics Give 'Supercop' a Scrappy Appeal

Supercop directed by Stanley Tong starring Jackie Chan, Michelle Khan at area theaters


Although not the best of Jackie Chan, "Supercop" nonetheless offers dizzying, cartoonish action in the usual atmosphere of good-natured mediocrity. Since by many standards the film, actually the third in a series, might be considered bad, the way to approach it is by striking a deal: the movie won't ask for much, so you shouldn't ask for much. This way, the film acquires a scrappy appeal thanks to Chan's physical comedy and dare-devil feats.

The movie's plot hops around about as much as its stars: a training academy, prison camp, hotel resort, rural village, drug kingpin's estate and more. The core duo, what you're paying money to see, is Chan as the eponymous cop from Hong Kong and Michelle Khan as a stern police chief from China. Together they whirl their way through disguises and bluffs in an effort to dismantle a drug ring. The presence of the Supercop's girlfriend, played by Maggie Cheung, allows for some funny misunderstandings.

Of course, the plot exists only to engineer as many all-out fight-fests as possible, preferably with a well-choreographed crowd running as one at the sound of a gun shot. But as the confident funkiness of the opening credits indicate--where the letters jitterbug about as if anxious to get things started--Chan is sure of his audience and what they like. You can tell that from the familiar wink he gives in one of the film's first action sequences: appropriately enough a demonstration before an audience at the training camp.

And he and Khan do indeed deliver. With precise kicks and showy flips, the two ease into an exciting rhythm, a double-time of smacks and crashes that are a foley artist's dream. Sometimes the action gets too fast to track, but you get the sense that like the erratic flight of a bat the action, if slowed down, has an underlying elegance. (Indeed, to Chan's ample martial arts experience, Khan has extensive training in ballet.)

For all the film's comic-book unreality, the real appeal, as Chan fans know, lies in one edge-of-the-seat fact: he performs all his own stunts, and so does Khan. This puts the audience in the thrilling, dual position of appreciating the fantasy while still being able to wince.

When Khan leaps on to a train from a motorcycle, you know that it's Khan and, from the ending out-takes, that it took more than a few bumps and bruises to get it done.

Sliding down hill and up dale on a T-bar, dangling from a helicopter's ladder (a proudly prolonged sequence), landing on the hood of tiny sports car--you have to admire their nerve.

The movie also has a pleasantly surprising treat: a fine eye for physical comedy and comic bluff. (After all, dubbing can only have camp appeal for so long.) Here Chan wobbles on the top of a train; there Khan tries to leap into a house and bounces like a tennis ball off the window Chan has just closed. In another very funny bit, Chan, undercover with the help of an artificially effusive family, leads an escaped convict to hide in a village that he must pretend he grew up in.

Chan plays all this with an easy-going manner; as the plucky hero, he effectively gives the impression that he really is enjoying the fighting frenzy. Khan's police chief tries to be stern and businesslike, but even she lets the movie's infectious hyperactivity make her character giddy, as when, loaded with dynamite, she squirms and hops to use Chan as a human shield.

Cheung plays first the jealous girlfriend, then the knowing party, with great timing and verve. The parade of villains are appropriately naughty, in simplistic, signature ways: one has a beard, another has what seems a prerecorded Evil Laugh.

Director Stanley Tong lets the camera linger lovingly over all the stunts and bravely struggles to keep up with the dizzying fights. But with anything else, such as the scampering and giggling around a hotel pool, things quickly get incomprehensible: we learn to wait for Chan's reassuring mischievous grin or whirlwind kick.

Dubbing, non-stop fighting, physical comedy like Chan's rolling away in a hamster-wheel contraption--one realizes it's about as close to a cartoon as humans get. But the panting and hard knocks let you know it's another Jackie Chan special. The self-effacing good humor ("I'm too delicate," he complains at once point) makes it bearable, and any film that's brave enough to use the spudboys from Devo for its title song and Tom Jones for "Kung-Fu Fighting" has to get some credit. Eager-to-please and good fun, "Supercop" provides us the very simple pleasure of seeing all the right moves.

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