Following his reckless antics in the first Police Story (1985), crime-busting kung fu Detective Chan (Jackie Chan) is busted down to a lowly traffic cop. To add insult to injury, Chan and his girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung) are taunted by newly-released Boss Chu (Chu Yuan) and his bespectacled flunky John Koo (Cho Cha-Lee). When the latter abuses May, Chan gives him and his triad thugs a proper thrashing, but accidentally blows up a restaurant. Scolded by Uncle Bill (Bill Tung) and Superintendent Raymond Lam (Lam Gwok-Hung) for the umpteenth time, Chan finally loses his rag and quits. But his plans for a nice holiday with May go on hold when a trio of explosive experts hold the city to ransom.
With Police Story II Jackie Chan went the unusual route in ensuring the action and gags were as ebullient as ever, but the story was almost savagely cynical and ironic. It is an exercise in extended frustration, almost nothing goes to plan for Detective Chan. Every confrontation ends in disaster, every chance for romance is undone by some cruel quirk of fate, and Chan is under pressure from all sides, looking like he is ready to explode. For some this new bitter outlook wedded to the explosive action scenes created nothing less than a masterpiece, but others find its bleak undertones at odds with the light-hearted spirit of Chan’s worldview as a whole. He did a more convincing job tackling darker themes in the underrated Crime Story (1993).
Here the plot is sluggish and repetitive. How many times can Jackie get ambushed by bad guys, fight back then get chewed out by his boss? Still, there are solid themes at work that counters the accusation that Chan's films are all slapstick stunt-work with no substance. Both the crooks and the corporate big-wigs Chan is out to protect are driven by the same unfettered capitalist greed, slyly underlined in the suspenseful shopping mall bomb threat sequence where shopkeepers seem happy to risk lives just to earn a quick buck. On the other hand the lengthy surveillance sequence, introducing the colourful Special Tactical Unit inspired by Miami Vice (it was popular in Hong Kong too), while nicely detailed, grinds things to a halt. Also there are faint hints of the misogyny that later marred Operation Condor (1991) and Mr. Nice Guy (1997), although counterbalanced by a neat scene where a group of sexy but super-tough policewomen outfox a sleazy suspect, much in the spirit of The Inspector Wears Skirts (1988) on which Jackie served as producer and stunt coordinator.
On a more positive note, this entry gives Maggie Cheung more screen-time than any other in the series, and deepens the relationship between Chan and May. By this time an established star, Cheung rises to the challenge with a delightfully spry yet faceted comic performance. Note the hilarious scene where she storms into the men's shower room. May no longer seems like a stroppy little girl. She is a gutsy, if klutzy scrapper who fights for her man. Indeed, Maggie sustained a serious head injury during one hectic stunt sequence towards the finale and was replaced in the last scene by a double who keeps her back to the camera. Of course it is the action most people are concerned about and on that count Jackie delivers. Trading the spectacular stunts of the first film for frenzied fight action, his fluid camerawork adds further dynamism to the restaurant fight, the breathtaking playground showdown, and the breakneck warehouse finale culminating in one of the most spectacular explosions ever put on film. Before that, Jackie squares off against Benny Lai playing a deaf-mute kick-boxing expert. Lai's frenzied footwork is something to behold, leaving it somewhat unfortunate Jackie resorts to throwing bombs at his opponent rather than unleashing the lethal fight skills that could have made this more memorable, though he pulls something awesome out of the bag for that last split-second.