In gritty 'Crime Story,' Hong Kong filmmakers dare to take chances

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I'm so new to the pleasures of Hong Kong cinema that I perhaps haven't as yet developed a feeling for its nuances and lack, furthermore, the capacity to make fine distinctions. Still, "Crime Story," which opens today for four days at the Charles, feels very much like the best of the six or seven films the Charles has brought in this fall.

This is a terrific movie. It stars the Hong Kong superstar actor-athlete Jackie Chan, but it's been constructed much more to American tastes; the action, while brutal and thrilling and ingenious at once, doesn't become the movie but merely an expression of its moods. And that mood is really quite somber.

Instead of a stunt circus, "Crime Story" is a mock documentary exploring what has become a social problem in the prosperous New Asia, which is the kidnapping of business executives by organized crime, to be held for monstrous ransom.

In a much more subdued role, Chan plays a Hong Kong Royal Police Inspector in charge of the Serious Crimes Unit, who is ordered to guard an extremely wealthy construction magnate. What he doesn't know is that one of his colleagues -- tubby Kent Cheng -- has sold out to the Triads and is using his inside information (and a cellular phone) to mastermind the kidnapping.

The set pieces in the movie are extraordinary -- including several awesome car chases, a grisly gun battle and at least half a dozen fights in all manner of dangerous locales and, finally, a pyrotechnic extravaganza that can't have left much of downtown Hong Kong standing -- but they never lose contact with reality and become camp -- sheer, dizzying spectacle.

I am amazed at the combination of bravery and recklessness of the Chinese stuntmen, and also of star Chan. These are men who were either born without fear or have learned to put it in their pockets and forget about it.

You see people falling out of two-story buildings and landing brokenly in the pavement below (no nets, no mattresses over cardboard boxes).

You see the star and an authentic child racing great balls of fire that blossom around them as they flee an exploding tenement. You see Chan and antagonists fighting with utter determination and fearlessness in awkward perches 40 feet above the ground without nets below. Amazing stuff.

In his more flamboyant roles, the brilliant Chan has directed himself. Here, however, Kirk Wong brings a steadier, darker visual style to the picture and an insistence on narrative clarity and a sense of documentary realism, while at the same time framing the images in high, professional style and formalism.

Some have said the movie looks like it was directed by Ridley Scott. But Ridley Scott never directed a picture this good.

("Crime Story" plays in rotation with "The East Is Red," a sword-fighting movie; it was not available for review."

'Crime Story'

Starring: Jackie Chan

Released by: Golden Harvest

Director: Kirk Wong

Unrated

***

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