POLICE FORCE Unusual Hong Kong cop drama with kung fu stars
POLICE FORCE (1973) is a contemporary Hong Kong police drama produced by Shaw Bros. and co-directed by Chang Cheh, the studio's specialist in martial arts costume spectacles. It's a fairly straightforward and realistic venture, made long before the era of John Woo and Ringo Lam and the over-the-top action scenes that characterized their police thrillers (e.g. CITY ON FIRE, HARD-BOILED). It's all about the moral dilemma a policeman finds himself in when he has to weigh a desire for vengeance against his duty as upholder of the law. It stars Wang Chung, a frequent co-star of kung fu films, and is also notable for introducing future kung fu star Alexander Fu Sheng in a small, but important role.
When two criminals attack kung fu expert Liang Guan (Fu Sheng) and his girl, Shen Yan (Lily Li), in a robbery attempt, the encounter winds up with Liang Guan and one of the attackers dead and Liang Guan's killer (Wong Kwong Yue) fleeing the scene. The failure of the police to find the killer motivates Liang Guan's kung fu training partner, Huang Guodong (Wang Chung), to join the police force himself and work his way up to a high position so he can investigate the murder on his own. He's motivated by revenge, partly out of his own grief and partly that of Liang Guan's girl, who insists that she be there when Guodong finally arrests and kills the culprit. However, Guodong's growing sense of responsibility and pride in his office means that when the moment finally comes, the outcome will be quite different.
Wang Chung was always an exceptional performer in kung fu films, but only really got the chance to fully demonstrate his considerable acting skills and movie star appeal when he got lead roles in contemporary crime dramas such as this one and Chang Cheh's THE DELINQUENTS (1973, aka STREET GANGS OF HONG KONG). Fu Sheng makes quite an auspicious debut here, particularly in the kung fu bout seen at a tournament early in the film. Lily Li, later a kung fu diva in her own right (EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN, DAGGERS 8), has a strong dramatic role here as well. Another great surprise is frequent kung fu villain Wong Kwong Yue, who plays the lowlife killer sought by Guodong. He normally played the villain's henchman or one of the hero's sidekicks in kung fu films but rarely got to play a more multifaceted character like the thug here, who's caught between a cop who wants to kill him and a gang that finds him expendable after his police sketch shows up in the newspaper, forcing him to make a difficult choice.
There are several kung fu fights in the film, all choreographed by Tang Chia and Lau Kar Leung, but they're less performance-oriented than the fights they created for martial arts costume adventures like BLOOD BROTHERS (also 1973) and are designed more to reflect urban street-fighting methods. One good fight is staged on a housing project rooftop as Guodong confronts a street gang to try to keep them from escaping before backup arrives to arrest them. The one showy setpiece which veers away from realism, but adds some necessary excitement to the final stretch, is the big fight on the villain's yacht as it sails out of Hong Kong Harbor, as Guodong tries to singlehandedly apprehend the counterfeiting gang that Liang Guan's killer belonged to. Several regular kung fu performers are on hand, including frequent villain Fung Hak On, who plays Wang Chung's cleancut partner, and regular hero's sidekick Billy Tang, who plays another cop. Tino Wong pops up as one of the criminal gang, as does Lau Kar Wing.
This may not be one of the most thrilling cop films from that era (you'd need to see THE FRENCH CONNECTION, DIRTY HARRY or SERPICO for that), but it's certainly a compelling one and quite a change of pace for its kung fu cast and crew.
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