As the drugs trade runs rampant across Asia, the Chinese authorities ask the Hong Kong Police to send them a “supercop.” Ever eager kung fu cop Detective Chan (Jackie Chan) volunteers for the special mission. After a little white lie to long-suffering girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung, who somehow grows lovelier with each entry), Chan hops over to Guangzhou in Mainland China where his easygoing ways clash with straightlaced, superskilled Inspector Yao (Michelle Yeoh) of Interpol. Yao enlists Chan in a scheme to spring snarling triad Panther (Yuen Wah) from a prison labour camp, so he can lead them to psychotic drug lord and videogame enthusiast Khun Chaibat (Kenneth Tsang). Disguised as a mainland hick, Chan does the job and wins Panther’s trust, but Yao has to pose as his pigtailed kid sister when Chaibat ropes the undercover cops into a Cambodian drug auction-turned-warzone, then later a scheme to spring his wife (Josephine Koo) out of a Malaysian jail. Worse yet, in Kuala Lumpur Chan runs into May who is working there as a tour guide and innocently jeopardizes his cover...
Known simply as Supercop in the United States and Police Story III: Supercop across the rest of the world, the third entry got the series back on track. It was the first Hong Kong movie shot with synchronous sound which, alongside the earthy cinematography, imparts a naturalistic feel in spite of the increasingly outrageous stunts and knockabout comedy. Also the undercover cop plot makes this the most suspenseful film in the series, notably the restaurant fight where Jackie struggles to stop the Chinese police from blowing his operation and keep Panther from killing cops, and the Cambodian shootout with Yao unwittingly strapped into an explosives-lined kevlar vest! The film offers a rare chance to watch Jackie go wild with automatic weapons and packs in more explosions, frenetic fist fights, and crazed stunts into its running time than the entire, execrable Rush Hour series.
By this point, parent studio Golden Harvest were concerned Jackie’s perfectionist ways were hindering his work rate, so he agreed to defer directing duties to ex-stuntman Stanley Tong. Tong cultivated a glossy but straightforward style more palatable to mainstream western tastes, but while his later movies grew tacky and slipshod, his directorial debut remains an undisputed triumph, although fantasy extravaganza The Myth (2005) proved an unexpected return to form. Police Story III sees Jackie perform some of his most hair-raising stunts, notably dangling from a helicopter-borne rope ladder while he swings over buildings in Kuala Lumpur, but for the first time a co-star managed to match him, kick for kick, stunt for stunt. That co-star was none other than future Bond girl and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) goddess Michelle Yeoh, making her comeback to Hong Kong cinema after an absence of six years.
Michelle Yeoh began her career under the name Michelle Khan, as the definitive kung fu policewoman in crowd-pleasing classics like In the Line of Duty (1985) (which spawned six sequels!) and Royal Warriors (1986). She retired from movie-making after marrying tycoon turned film producer Dickson Poon, but the marriage turned sour. Upon their divorce, Dickson vowed Michelle would never work in movies again, but this baited his old business rival Jackie Chan. Chan cast the newly rechristened Miss Yeoh in Police Story III and thereafter her star burned even brighter. Michelle’s blistering fight work and jaw-dropping motorbike leap onto a speeding train are all the more remarkable when one considers that, contrary to popular belief, she had no martial arts training whatsoever. In fact, she was originally a ballet dancer. Top that, Darcey Bussell!
Pre-1997 tension between Hong Kong and Mainland China is the overriding theme, but while Chan and Yeoh share great comedic chemistry in time honoured buddy movie fashion, the expected grudging respect never quite develops between the two. Nevertheless, Tong upholds the Police Story series’ knack for social satire, with Chan still being manipulated by fatherly police chief Uncle Bill (Bill Tung) and some sharp digs at the state of life in rural China. Maggie Cheung has too little to do as usual, but she does so quite watchably and does play a crucial role in the plot late in the game. Hong Kong film fans should look out for Ken Lo as a Miami Vice styled, bazooka toting sleazebag and Shaw Brothers legend Lo Lieh as an oily Cambodian general. Stanley Tong continued the series with the spin-off movie Project S (1993) with Michelle reprising her character plus a cameo from Jackie Chan in drag (!) and the fourth film, First Strike (1996).