"Knowing it was directed Shaw Bros. great, Chang Cheh, I was expecting Police Force to be good, but not this good. Hell, Police Force is damn good."
- Mighty Peking Man
Police Force (1973)
Director: Chang Cheh, Tsai Yang-Ming
Producer: Runme Shaw
Cast: Wong Chung (Wang Chung), Lily Li Li-Li, Wong Hap (Wang Hsia), Alexander Fu Sheng, Got Dik Wa, Wong Kwong Yue, Tino Wong Cheung, Fung Hak On, Bruce Tong, Lau Kar Wing, Yen Shi-Kwan, Hsu Hsia, Yuen Shun-Yi, Brandy Yuen (Jan Yeung), Fung Ngai, Wong Chi Keung
Running Time: 101 min.
Plot: Legendary director Chang Cheh brings heroic bloodshed to the streets of contemporary Hong Kong in "Police Force", featuring the debut of Aledander Fu Sheng. Fight scenes choreographed by the celebrated Lau Kar Leung rock and roll with eye-popping delight.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOE909'S REVIEW: Police Force is a nicely-done early 1970s action vehicle that sports not just kung-fu shenanigans, but also lots of shootouts that prefigure the Heroic Bloodshed of the 1980s. The only problem is, Police Force takes quite a while to get going. Chang Cheh apparently had the resources of the Hong Kong police force at his disposal; unfortunately he used them to sometimes ill effect.
Many old school movies fill up the running time with pointless fights or having the main character go through several forms to show off his skill. Police Force instead fills up a good portion of the first hour with boring, unending parade drills. That's right, parade drills. Lots of static shots of HK police marching around, presenting arms, and the like. It doesn't make for riveting cinema.
Thankfully, about an hour into the movie the story kicks up a notch. The film concerns Wang Chung's character, who joins the police when his buddy Fu Sheng is murdered. The murder itself is strange. It's supposed to be just a random mugging that goes awry, but for some reason Chang Cheh has the murderer appear earlier in the movie, watching Fu Sheng and Wang Chung compete in a karate tournament. This makes it seem that the murderer has targeted Fu Sheng, or that it's a conspiracy of some sort.
Anyway, Wang Chung joins the police force so he can find the murderer and get revenge. This seems to be an elaborate plan; any other sane guy would just dress up like a bat and stalk the streets at night, doling out his own form of justice. Regardless, Wang Chung basically flies through training. Most Shaw Brothers movies have that fun factor whereby time passes swiftly. Police Force reigns supreme in that category, however; five years pass in just a few minutes of screen time.
Training and duty have subverted Wang's original intent; now he no longer seeks to kill Fu Sheng's murderer. The blood lust that instilled his early career on the force has dissipated. This really provokes the ire of Fu Sheng's girlfriend, who continuously harasses Wang Chung to get with it, find the killer, and do him in. Wang happens to be working on a case in which an unidentified body holds the key to solving; it turns out that Fu Sheng's murderer is involved in the case.
Instead of turning the movie into another revenge vehicle, Chang Cheh takes several twists and turns, all of them unexpected and pleasing. The ordinary Chang hero would avenge his brother's death, while bleeding onto his white outfit from multiple horrendous wounds, but Wang Chung is a staid policeman through and through. The crux of his development comes in a great scene in which he finally comes upon Fu Sheng's murderer, while Sheng's ex watches on. And this doesn't even come at the film's climax.
The finale features a one-man raid on a criminal boss' yacht, as Wang Chung (awkwardly) drops onto it from a helicopter and kills countless men before reloading his pistol. I should mention that the production values on this movie are very high. The end sequence is more like something you'd expect from a 1980s action movie, rather than an early 1970s "chop sockey." I'm really surprised this movie wasn't picked up for distribution in the West.
There are of course occasional missteps in the plot, but that's to be expected. Also, I couldn't help but get sidetracked by the music. Lots of old school movies are infamous for stealing music cues, but Police Force takes the cake. A large portion of the music is taken from Marvin Gaye's soundtrack to the movie Trouble Man, the main theme in particular. The music editor even proves himself to be an early DJ, by mixing the opening breakbeat from "Trouble Man" into an acid guitar riff by some unknown group.
To sum up, this movie holds a lot of surprises for viewers who figure if they've seen one Chang Cheh movie, they've seen them all. I do wish some of the parade drill stuff had been tightened up, but once you get past that, you're rewarded with a nice police procedural/drama/action flick. And on another unfortunate side note, since this movie was made in the early 1970s, you don't get much of that funky garb the decade would become known for. In other words, not much "bell bottom fury."
JOE909'S RATING: 8/10
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: When a Karate stud (Alexander Fu Sheng) gets murdered, his best friend, Guodung (played by Wang Chung, no relation to the 1980s music group), decides to join the police force to avenge his death. Motivated and dedicated, Guodung makes a vow to himself and to his deceased friend's girlfriend, Shen Yan (Lily Li Li-Li), to catch and kill the murderer. 5 years pass, Guodung, now a senior inspector, discovers deadly new clues that lead to his friend's killer. The closer he gets, the more his superiors warn him that he'll be a disgrace to the force if he goes on with a personal vendetta. At the same time, Shen Yan, who is still obsessed with finding the killer, reminds Guodung the reason he joined the force to begin with. Guodung finds himself in the middle of pleasing either the force or Shen Yan; he also realizes the consequences that follow no matter which option he chooses.
Knowing it was directed by Shaw Bros. great, Chang Cheh, I was expecting Police Force to be good, but not this good. Hell, Police Force is damn good. It never lags and is paced just perfectly. Thanks to the time it was made, it has the colorful 1970's written all over it. Don't let the bad polyester clothing and the mini-Datsuns fool you into thinking it's a typical modern-day chopsocky flick ("Slaughter in San Francisco" and "Rumble in Hong Kong" come to mind -- how dare I compare this to that shit, but you get my point.). One thing's for sure, director Chang Cheh is truly the equivalent of Sam Peckinpah and is obviously the forerunner to John Woo and Ringo Lam.
Police Force marks the first appearance by a young Alexander Fu Sheng. However, he is not the star. He has a small, but crucial role that even Fu Sheng purists should see. Fu Sheng or not, Police Force is a more-than-worthy addition to your Celestial Shaw Bros. DVD collection. Pick it up and Wang Chung tonight.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 9/10