Crime Story was originally developed by director Kirk Wong and writer Teddy Chan as a vehicle for Jet Li, but when Li pulled out at the eleventh hour, the project was taken up by Jackie Chan. At that time Chan was under pressure from studio Golden Harvest for a more prolific output, so as well as directing his own films took to working with other directors. Crime Story was shot back-to-back with Wong Jing's entertaining City Hunter, and marked a dramatic departure for Chan, being a gritty police thriller that traded the usual exuberant martial arts and comedic prat-falling for realistic violence and a stab at proper, expressive acting.
Chan plays Inspector Eddie Chan, a stressed-out Hong Kong cop assigned to protect ruthless billionaire property developer Wong (Law Hang Kang), who is convinced gangsters are seeking to kidnap him for a second time. Eddie isn't so sure, but when Wong is indeed taken by Triads and held for a massive ransom, our beleaguered cop becomes obsessed with trying to rescue him. Unfortunately, Chan's partner Detective Hung (the terrific Kent Cheng) is in cahoots with the gangsters and is equally determined to stop Eddie from succeeding.
It's quite weird at first to see Chan playing a role you'd normally expect to see played by someone like Chow Yun-Fat or Andy Lau – you keep expecting him to fall over or perform some madcap stunt. But no, this is a serious, largely humour-free thriller, and it's probably the only Jackie picture from another director in which the presence of the star doesn't overshadow the work of the film-maker. It's based on a real-life kidnapping case and Wong attempts to show police procedure in a greater, more accurate depth than most HK films of its ilk. Corruption is everywhere, and despite his high moral code, even Eddie is prepared to bend the rules if that's what it takes.
We see nothing else of Eddie's life except as a policeman – he is utterly dedicated, refusing to take a break when advised to by a police psychiatrist, caring more about his fellow officers than himself, and unwilling to even smile when he finally breaks the case. Jackie proves to be an able dramatic actor – he doesn't quite have the 'tortured soul' thing down as well as Chow Yun-Fat, but he still convinces. It's a shame that he never took another role like this one – perhaps fearing a loss of his traditional fan base, Chan quickly returned to what he knew best. The abuse of power and the fine legal line many police walk is a recurring theme in Kirk Wong's films, and Crime Story formed the first part of an unofficial trilogy, followed in 1994 by Organized Crime & Triad Bureau and Rock n' Roll Cop.
Wong keeps the pace up and directs some cracking action sequences. There's a high-speed road chase, a variety of bloody shoot-outs and a spectacular, explosive final showdown in an apartment complex. Chan took over from Wong towards the end of the shoot after the pair clashed and as a result there are a couple of martial arts sequences included, but these are to the star's usual high standard. Crime Story is also beautifully shot by cinematographer Arthur Wong, especially during the night-time scenes, and the camerawork is often dizzying. Perhaps this would all seem less interesting without Jackie Chan in the lead role – the plotting is often predictable and the other characters tend to be stock good guys and bad guys – but Crime Story is nevertheless an entertaining, unusual entry into the star's filmography.