YESTERYEAR’S CRIME: “SUPERCOP” (CRITERION LASER DISC, 1997)
by Fred Blosser
Life moves at warp speed these days. Almost overnight, cutting-edge in arts and technology becomes old-school.
It seems like only yesterday that the Hong Kong movies of Jackie Chan and John Woo were the big new flavor in action cinema, and laser disc was the medium of choice for upscale home theater. In reality, it’s more like yesteryear, and at that, nearly two decades of yesteryears.
How many of today’s kids under 20 would you have to ask before you found one who’s seen a Jackie Chan film? How many have even heard of laser disc, let alone loaded one of those unwieldy LP-sized platters into an equally clunky player?
These nostalgic if chilling thoughts occurred to me when I browsed through an old issue of “Mystery Scene” and came across a review I’d written back in the day. The topic was Jackie Chan, and more specifically, the availability of Jackie’s Hong Kong-made, martial-arts police movies on U.S. digital home video. At the time I wrote the review in late 1998, laser disc was already in defensive posture against the rapid growth of the more affordable, more physically convenient DVD format. By the time it appeared in print in 2000, DVD had taken over the digital market. Shortly, it would supplant VHS as the dominant home-video product.
In the review, I sorted out the Chan titles then on American DVD from those that remained available domestically only on laser. Most of it is badly outdated now. However, I believe that one observation remains true: on authorized American VHS and DVD editions (and more recently, Blu-ray), you can only find Jackie’s arguably best HK police caper, “Police Story 3,” directed by Stanley Tong, in the dubbed, edited version released to U.S. theaters by Miramax’s Dimension Films in 1996 as “Supercop.”
For U.S. moviegoers, Dimension deleted some 10 minutes of the original HK version, inserted spastic opening credits, replaced the original Cantonese voice track with an English dub, and added new music tracks, including hip-hop in some scenes and “Kung Fu Fighting” over the end blooper reel. “Kung Fu Fighting” was an OK Tom Jones remake, not the vastly superior, wonderfully cheesy 1974 Carl Douglas original.
A few months after the theatrical release, “Supercop” moved to American VHS and DVD on Buena Vista Home Entertainment, and to laser disc from the prestigious Criterion Collection. Of them all, the only American edition that included the original Cantonese soundtrack as an audio option, and the only one that included the five scenes excised by Dimension, was the 1997 laser disc.
As I noted in the “Mystery Scene” review, Jackie’s character in the movie was Officer Kevin Chan of the Hong Kong Police Department (in the HK original, Chan Ka-Kui), continued over from the first two “Police Story” films. Kevin is teamed with a Mainland Chinese officer, Inspector Hannah (in the original Cantonese track, Inspector Wah), to infiltrate an international drug cartel led by kingpin Chaibat (Ken Tsang). To do so, they have to bust Chaibat’s brother, Panther (Wah Yuen), out of a Chinese labor camp. Then, accepted into the gang, they accompany the gangsters to Cambodia, where Chaibat closes a heroin deal, and after that to Malaysia. In Kuala Lampur, the kingpin intends to break his wife out of jail before the authorities can force her to reveal the code to Chaibat’s offshore bank account.
Jackie is well matched with Michelle Yeoh (then billed as Michelle Khan) playing Hannah, and Maggie Cheung as Kevin’s sweetheart May. Cheung’s character was also carried over from the two prior movies. There’s a rather simplistic but funny complication when May catches Kevin in Hannah’s company at a vacation resort in Kuala Lampur. Not knowing that her boyfriend is on an undercover assignment, she assumes he’s cheating on her. It’s the kind of contrivance that dates back at least as far as silent movies, if not to Shakespeare. But Cheung is cute, the physical comedy is well timed by Tong, and the set-up isn’t much more primitive than the twists you’d see in a 2015 chick flick.
Yeoh, a truly awesome beauty, has wonderful comedy timing of her own, great rapport with Jackie, fluid grace in the martial arts fights, and remarkable gumption in doing many of her own stunts. In one wince-inducing outtake in the blooper reel, Yeoh misses her grip as she drops onto a moving sports car, tumbling backward onto the street as car and camera speed away. All of the action in the movie has this visceral immediacy, which movies largely have lost in the past decade with CGI effects and ADHD editing.
It’s easy to guess why one scene from “Police Story 3” was removed in the editing as potentially offensive. A snickering Chinese punk helps a couple of Caucasian teeny-boppers shoot up with heroin. One of the girls dies -- offscreen -- from an overdose. Chaibat suggests that the corpse be used to smuggle a cache of smack past customs. “Waste utilization,” he cackles. Even without this callous bit, the American cut retains enough gun mayhem and blood squibs to earn an “R” rating, a rarity in the Chan movies tooled for the U.S. market, which typically earned the family friendlier PG-13.
On the Criterion laser disc, the five deleted scenes were added at the end of the disc as a supplemental chapter, not re-integrated into the “Supercop” cut. The laser disc also benefitted from appreciative back-sleeve notes by film critic Dave Kehr. A 2009 DVD reissue under the Weinstein Brothers’ Dragon Dynasty label restored the Cantonese voice track as an audio option, along with supplemental interviews, “making of” shorts, and an audio commentary by a kung fu movie expert, but the deleted scenes remained MIA. Reviews suggest that a more recent Blu-ray edition from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment lacks any supplements, not even a Cantonese voice track.
So, for a full package, the obsessive collector may want to get the 2009 DVD and the Criterion Collection laser disc (available cheap from online dealers), assuming he has one of the antique players lying around. Another option -- ordering the original “Police Story 3” on Blu-ray or DVD from import dealers. Online marketing has made it tremendously easier for U.S. collectors to obtain overseas videos than 20 years ago.