A hostage action-drama so sedate it suggests a remake of “Die Hard” by Yoji Yamada, “Police Story 2013” feels as old and tired as the character played by its leading man, Jackie Chan. As a self-martyring Beijing cop up against a cold-blooded kidnapper with sister issues, Chan makes a dull departure from his former kickass shenanigans, and Ding Sheng (“Little Big Soldier,” also toplined by Chan), a mainland helmer-scribe of only moderate talent, can neither build nor sustain tension and emotional heft over the course of a faulty, circuitous plot. While this rickety star vehicle grossed well over $86 million in China, overseas prospects look less optimistic.
Although it borrows its title from “Police Story,” one of Chan’s feistiest stunt extravaganzas, and its three sequels (released between 1985 and 1996), this mainland production is a completely unrelated affair in terms of plot and spirit; nor does it have anything to do with “New Police Story” (2004), Benny Chan’s flashier update of the franchise. The new actually stems from the popular tradition of mainland TV cop dramas — gritty, socially realistic procedurals with unabashedly moralistic overtones that enjoy a steady provincial viewer base. It’s a genre that helmers like Gao Qunshu (“Old Fish,” Beijing Blues”) have skillfully transferred to the bigscreen, but Ding lacks the cinematic instincts to make the transfer work, and the plot holes become all the more noticeable under his slack pacing.
Police captain Zhong (Chan) is called to an aggressively hip underground club by daughter Miaomiao (Jing Tian), who walked out on him six months earlier. Finding her dangling from the arm of owner Wu Jiang (Liu Ye, “The Last Supper”), whose diabolical grin and tank of pet piranhas are the epitome of shady, Zhong launches the first of his many self-righteous lectures — on Miaomiao’s goth getup, her tattoos and her dodgy b.f. — but she lashes back, blaming his workaholic ways for her mother’s untimely death. They are interrupted by a suicide-bomb crisis, which turns out to be just a prelude to the real trouble: Wu has lured everyone to his hive in an elaborate kidnapping plan.
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While a typical Hong Kong movie would have orchestrated a propulsive clash by this point, the police reinforcements don’t lead to any real action, and Zhong spends an inordinate amount of time playing the master negotiator. One of the film’s most trying aspects is the fact that nearly every scene is set indoors, with quick flashes of action mostly occurring elsewhere in a different time frame, such as a cross-country car chase or an overseas fight-club match-up. On neither a narrative nor an emotion level do any of these setpieces connect smoothly with the escalating conflict in the bar.
The only full-fledged action sequence is a mano-a-mano between Zhong and Wu’s Filippino cohort, Pichon (Liu Hailong), a brutal punch-up with little in the way of refined choreography, but at least a few body parts get dislocated. Even then, the screenplay milks Zhong’s heavy bruising for maximum sentimental effect, with hostages so moved by their experience that they beg not to be released.
It takes nearly 50 minutes for the film to get to Wu’s backstory, and another half-hour before the denouement reveals how a past incident altered the lives of Wu’s sister Xiaowei (Guli Nazha) and Zhong’s wife. Much thought and planning has gone into Ding’s screenplay, slotting the actors and multiple plot strands into a neat scheme of cause and effect. However, tension gradually dissipates amid repeated shifts back to the bar, where the key figures engage in “Rashomon”-style confessions directed in a dry, stagelike manner.
Liu (who starred in Ding’s action comedies “The Underdog Knight” and “He-man”) invests his role with moral ambivalence, his brooding presence suggesting considerable emotional baggage, even though the reasons for his crimes and nihilism surface too late too sink in on a dramatic level. The film could have drawn more engaging parallels between Zhong and Wu as men fighting an unjust world while sacrificing women they love in the process; however, Chan’s demonstrative acting doesn’t gel with Liu’s subtler performing style, and the film misses its chance to be a gripping psychological two-hander. At 59, Chan not only looks tired, his self-punishing bravado yielding diminishing returns, but he has also become an altogether a sententious figure, endlessly spouting moral platitudes or nationalist rhetoric onscreen.
Jing (“From Vegas to Macau”) drops her feline sexiness after a few scenes, as Miaomiao converts to dutiful daughter so early on that there’s no room to develop a satisfying journey of understanding and reconciliation with her father. Her sole function henceforth is to worry about Zhong’s safety. The hostages form a colorful ensemble, but none of them gets the chance round out a real personality.
Tech credits are serviceable. Production design centers on the bar, converted from a metal factory whose industrial chic soon wears off, as the lighting, all glaring neons or sooty darkness, lacks variation. Lensing by Ding Yu, a regular of the director’s, is competent but stylistically indifferent. Lao Zai’s score is generic until it starts slipping in belly-dancing music into action scenes with mind-bogging results.
Version caught in HK was screened 2D but in China, it was released as a 3D conversion and on IMAX.