Is there a global superstar more beloved than Jackie Chan? From his beginnings as a bit player and stuntman in the Chinese martial arts film industry of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Chan rose to become literally the most popular actor in the world.
Best known for his long-running string of action-packed comedies that combine slapstick humour with incredible stuntwork and fight choreography, Chan was a huge star in Asia for decades but only managed to attract a small but fervently loyal audience in the West, until the one-two punch of the crossover hit Rumble in the Bronx and the American blockbuster Rush Hour propelled him to global acclaim.
These days he’s a household name the world over, but among real Chan aficionados it’s widely agreed that his best work came before he crossed over to the mainstream – back when, with the help of the crack Jackie Chan Stunt Team, he performed some of the most ridiculously impressive and dangerous stunts ever recorded on film. Here, then, are some of the best.
Police Story (1984)
Jackie is Hong Kong cop Inspector Chan Ka-Kui (or Kevin Chan depending on how dodgy your dub is) in this non-stop actioner that sees our plucky hero go to extraordinary lengths to take down crime lord Chu Tao (Chor Yuen), culminating in this extraordinary running beat ‘em up through a busy shopping centre.
The huge number of glass panes shattered in the making of the film earned it the nickname “Glass Story” among the cast and crew, but glass wasn’t the only thing that was broken – Jackie was too. In the climactic stunt to the shopping centre sequence, which sees him sliding down an elaborate multi-storey light fixture, our guy managed to sustain second degree burns to his hands, and dislocated his pelvis upon landing.
Project A (1983)
Jackie was hugely influenced by silent comedians such as Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, and he pays tribute to them both in this 19th century-set caper, which sees him and fellow martial arts legend Sammo Hung take on a band of evil pirates in Hong Kong harbor. As you do.
The film’s standout stunt sees Jackie hanging off a clock tower a la Harold Lloyd, but in true Jackie style he takes it further. While Lloyd only hung from the clock face in the 1923 comedy Safety Last!, Jackie actually falls, plunging through two canopies to thud painfully to the ground. Apparently, it took him over a week to build up enough courage to do the stunt, proving that even Jackie is only human.
Police Story 4: First Strike (1996)
The old rubric of who would win in a fight between Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan has one answer: it depends on the location. In the ring, Chan’s in trouble, but in a construction site, or shopping centre, or a Bunnings, Jackie has the edge. Much of the appeal of Chan’s elaborate fight sequences lies in seeing how he employs whatever’s handy – tools, furniture, vehicles and more – to take on his adversaries.
As a prime example, check out this clip from Police Story 4, which starts out relatively low key, then builds and builds until hey! Jackie is beating guys up with a stepladder. And he makes it look so easy, too.
Who Am I? (1998)
Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of elaborate choreography, jumping, dodging, parrying, and playing around with props and sets to impress. Sometimes all you have to do is take Jackie Chan and fling him down the side of a skyscraper. Which is exactly what they did in Who Am I?, which sees our hero play an amnesiac special forces operative caught up in globe-trotting intrigue.
It looks a little unimpressive to filmmakers raised on a diet of Tom Cruise’s sublimated suicidal tendencies, right up until the moment Jackie flips upside down, at which point you realise you’re seeing something truly unique. Nobody else can do stuff like this because nobody else is crazy enough to try.
Armour of God (1986)
AKA: The One That Nearly Killed Him. In point of fact, almost all of Armour of God, which is Jackie’s answer to the Indiana Jones movies, is packed with monumentally impressive stuntwork, as you can see from the above trailer. However, its most famous stunt didn’t make the final cut. That’s because Jackie almost died doing it. Leaping nimbly from a parapet to a tree, Jackie managed to snap his target branch and plummet to the ground, fracturing his skull and driving a piece of it into his brain.
He’s fine now, of course, but what’s funny is that it was a relatively straight forward stunt that went awry. Really, you’d expect something like the scene where he literally parachutes onto the gasbag of a hot air balloon to be the one to end in disaster, but no – that one went off without a hitch. Some people are just lucky.
There is an incredible collection of Jackie Chan movies streaming at SBS On Demand. Click on this link to see them all or just start with Police Story: