SoundTreks | Supercop
Meet the cop that can’t be stopped.
It requires no reiteration that Jackie Chan is one of the best fighters and fight choreographers in the history of cinema. His films tended to be light, funny, energetic, and amazingly action-packed. And while fans of martial arts cinema have known Jackie Chan and his incredible, incredible work going back as far as 1978, it wasn’t until 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx that most American audiences started to become familiar with him. Chan was known for doing all of his own fighting and all his own stunts, no matter how dangerous, and his directors always made a point of filming his face during the more harrowing action scenes. American audiences fell in love, and Chan became a hot commodity outside of Hong Kong.
This was a few years before Chan would star in major American productions (1998’s Rush Hour was still a glimmer in someone’s eye), so the studios’ immediate solution was to do what had been done with Rumble in the Bronx: buy a Cantonese film wholesale, recut it, dub it, and release it into theaters, often with a new title. As such, in 1996, we were “treated” to Supercop, a recut version of the 1992 film Police Story 3. This happened a lot. Operation Condor was originally Armor of God II. Jackie Chan’s First Strike was originally Police Story 4. Supercop 2 was originally Once a Cop. And so on.
Kung-fu purists hate the recut editions, of course, as they are bowdlerized, sanitized versions of perfectly accessible movies. Supercop itself is merely okay, but doesn’t have the manic fun of Rumble in the Bronx. But since this was the 1990s, Supercop’s cultural presence extended into a rocking soundtrack record. And, seeing as this is SoundTreks, we have listened to that American soundtrack record, and discovered an album that has nothing to do with Jackie Chan, but may be one of the better ’90s mixtapes you have ever heard.
Track 1. “Kung Fu Fighting” – Tom Jones and Ruby
“Kung Fu Fighting,” the disco standard from famed one-hit wonder Carl Douglas, is to this day one of the more beloved (or derided, depending on your perspective) dancefloor hits. It functions as a club track and as a novelty song. It’s undeniably silly, but I defy you to say you hate it. This song is undeniable proof that the Welsh God of Masculinity, Tom Jones, can sing just about anything and make it amazing. (Have you heard his cover of Prince’s “Kiss?”) And while he may be described as a lounge singer, Tom Jones has proved remarkably adaptable in his performances. So he feels at ease with techno (which, incidentally, we’ll hear more of on this record). And without changing his own vocals at all.
Here’s a question: Is it gauche to include “Kung Fu Fighting” in a film that features actual kung-fu? I would say yes, actually. Although I love the song, part of me winces like Wayne Campbell when he mentioned “Kung-Fu Fighting” to Cassandra in Wayne’s World.
Track 2. “What’s Love Got to Do with It” – Warren G
Not so much a cover of the famous Tina Turner track as a quotation from Warren G. There are several rap songs on the Supercop soundtrack, and they all come, you’ll find, from West Coast rappers. Keep in mind, this was during the height of the East vs. West rap rivalry, and mere months before Tupac’s death. It’s hard to hear any song by any West Coast rapper from this era without considering that rivalry, unfortunately. This song is clever, sweet, and has a gentle groove. I wonder, though, why such a place-specific song was included in a film that is set pointedly in Hong Kong. Supercop was dubbed into American English, so I think this soundtrack may have been a protracted effort to shift the Hegelian nationalism from the East to the West. And what’s more West than West Coast rap?
Did I just name-check Hegel? You bet your sweet bippy.
Track 3. “Harry the Dog” – Black Grape
Black Grape was the techno-flavored project started by Shaun Ryder from The Happy Mondays, after his drug problem got him kicked out of the band. “Harry the Dog,” perhaps a reference to the famed children’s book character, is an unreleased track of theirs only available on this soundtrack. Black Grape were a big flash in 1996, but faded quickly thereafter. Sort of like this song, actually. It starts with a boppy, infectious beat that will have you instantly swaying your head from side to side in traffic. But the beat never varies, and after about 2 minutes, you’re good. But then it goes on for two more minutes.
Track 4. “Head Like a Hole” – Devo
One of the odder covers I’ve heard (outside of Rob Zombie’s cover of “Brick House”). Post-punk electro-experimenters-slash-pop-nihilist-philosophers Devo are doing an early Nine Inch Nails hit. Devo has always been wicked and playful, and their sound is unique, even as late as the 1990s, when they became increasingly electronic (actually, I guess they always had an electronic sound; perhaps I should say “produced” instead). This song is more fun if you were already a fan of the original. Why include Devo’s cover when the original was available and might have matched the tone of the film better? Jackie Chan has always been more playful than his more serious Wu Sha contemporaries. So a playful cover is actually more appropriate.
Track 5. “Made Niggaz” – Tupac Shakur
Thanks in part to the Wu-Tang Clan (founded in 1992), there has long been a strong overlap between hardcore rap and Asian fight films. This is a big part of why we’re hearing so much rap on this record. Also, because the 1990s were a wonderful time when it came to pop musical diversity, and you could release accepted pop records with rap, metal, and Devo living side-by-side.
Although I am myself from Los Angeles, and 1996 was the year I graduated high school (so one would think I was paying attention), I know precious little about Tupac beyond his impact and importance; I don’t own any Tupac records. I don’t know who some of the guest rappers are on this song, so I can’t comment. I can say that this is a pretty great song.
I just wish that layered vocals never took off. They work so rarely.
Track 6. “Caged in a Rage” – Dimebag Darrell
Dimebag Darrell was Pantera. He was famously murdered on stage in Ohio in 2004. Pantera is one of the better 1990s metal bands, which may not be saying much. The 1990s were a time when hair metal was pretty much gone, really crappy thrash metal was running fast, and the rest of the genre was shifting slowly toward nu metal and rap metal and the other annoying atrocities of the early 2000s. Pantera, meanwhile, was actually tough and listenable.
I personally have to be a in a mood to listen to something this hard, but it cannot be denied that this song has heaps of awesome mood. It’s like a baseball bat. A loud smash of a song. Pure aggression and dark energy, but with a weirdly relatable American bedrock; this is not as arty as, say, something like the death-flavored Rammstein.
Track 7. “On a Rope” – Rocket from the Crypt
Remember what I was saying about how metal was sauntering vaguely toward nu metal in 1996? Rocket from the Crypt might represent the exact middle point between the hardcore toughness of Pantera and the obnoxious fratboy horrors of Limp Bizkit. To look at them – with their greasy hair and bowling shirts – one would think Rocket from the Crypt was a ska band like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, or would sound like the silly, fun high school pop of Bowling for Soup. But they’re more a metal band. I don’t quite dig them, but I accept them as a legitimate artifact from the ’90s. They broke up in 2005, and have since reformed.
Track 8. “Stayin’ Alive” – Siobhan Lynch
There is an unwritten cultural rule when it comes to nostalgia: It will be the most powerful in 20-year waves. That means songs that were big hits from 1975 to 1978 were prime nostalgia material in 1996. It also explains why garbage films like Space Jam are remembered fondly by Millennials. It may also explain why there were several notable covers and uses of The Bee Gees’ 1977 song “Stayin’ Alive.” There was that song by Wyclef. It was in Virtuosity. And now we have this ultra-sexy techno version by Siobhan Lynch. “Stayin’ Alive” was mocked a lot during a decade of anti-disco sentiment, but it must be admitted that it’s an awesome dance track, has sexy lyrics, and can liven up any party.
Siobhan Lynch never had any solo records as far as I can tell, but was a well-respected vocalist on many arch art-rock tracks. I dig the heck out of her here.
Track 9. “I’ll Do It” – Tha Dogg Pound and Kausion
Tha Dogg Pound, a group of protégés selected by Snoop Dogg, might have been specifically selected for sex rooms, orgies, and strip clubs. Their music sounds like prime make-out material. Not too intrusive, but with a sexy mood. I know little about Tha Dogg Pound, however, so I will not comment further.
Track 10. “Great Life” – Goatboy
This track sounds like it’s a remix, but it isn’t. It’s just an indie guitar track with a techno backup. It’s like college rock, maybe even Christian rock, but with programming instead of drums. This will be the first of a few tracks on this record by then-unknown (and largely still unknown in America) tracks by international pop hopefuls. Goatboy is a Welsh collective that only lasted from 1999 until 2003. This may be their best-known song in America. If you like them, good luck finding them. You’ll need to dig.
Track 11. “Open the Gate” – No Doubt
I think No Doubt had some sort of contract that guaranteed they would appear on the soundtrack to every third film in the 1990s.
Track 12. “Pubstar” – Pur
Pur is meh. They’re competent musicians whose sound marks the time. They could have easily been big, and only fate stood in their way. Put them next to, I dunno, Helium.
Oh wait. You tell me that Pur was founded in 1975? And that they’re still performing to this day with almost the exact same lineup? And that they’ve put out 21 albums? And that they have gold and platinum records in their native Germany? I apologize, Pur. I threw you in a pile without looking closer. Pur, I’d say, warrants exploration. I’d be eager to know if this track is indicative of their sound.
So instead of a random pop-ish tune chosen from a list, we actually have a resourceful music supervisor who trekked into international waters. This track isn’t hugely notable, but it adds more texture to the overall album than you’d realize.
Track 13. “Scorched Youth Policy” – Polara
I believe the genre Polara belongs to could be called “drone rock,” as they came out of that time when droning backup guitars were a defining pop sound. Although this sound is a marked aural signature of the 1990s, the band has been working until the present. They are a local band from Minneapolis, and seem to have remained a local band. Which, like Pur, adds a weird extra texture to this record. We have superstars hobnobbing with up-and-comers and almost-was-es. Polara seems to have made several albums, having released their last LP in 2008.
Track 14. “Supercop” – Devo
An original song for the film, yes, but why Devo? Well, like I said above, Devo is a playful band, and they’re willing to do theme songs to movies. Jackie Chan movies often had a sense of humor to them, and were even periodically cartoonish, so a vaguely cartoonish theme tune falls in line. Given the texture and uncanny track progression of this soundtrack, it’s hardly jarring to have Devo finish the set.
Which is Better: The Soundtrack or the Movie?
The soundtrack is better, but this is comparing apples to oranges. The record was an entity that was slapped onto Police Story 3 after the fact, of course, and was an attempt to make the film more accessible to American audiences. I’m not sure the film needed it, as most Jackie Chan films are universally understandable, even if they are steeped in the cultural idiosyncrasies of Hong Kong. In a way, the soundtrack was a cynical money-grab by the studio who were attempting to bolster the cash flow of a film they only had mid-range faith in (recall: this was a time when soundtrack records could make hefty scratch).
But I don’t sense any cynicism from this album. All I see is a really, really awesome and diverse collection of hot and obscure pop tunes from someone who was paying attention. The film is just fine. It’s really fun. The soundtrack serves as a dance album, a time capsule, a timeless collection, and a savvy view as to how to make a good mixtape.
Top Image: Dimension Films
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at@WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.