Jackie Chan: Before the Meme
When someone says the name Jackie Chan, what comes to mind? The star of the Rush Hour and Shanghai films? The star of The Spy Next Door? The newest spokesperson for V8? I hope that before any of that you conjure up the image of a renaissance man: an actor, director, singer, fighter, choreographer and comedian. The Jackie Chan that comes to my mind is the one I grew up with, the man who was a giant star and well-respected actor in Hong Kong cinema.
My first memory of Jackie Chan is from the early 90s when my father took me to a local university theater that was showing classic Jackie films. Now this wasn’t just the first time I saw Jackie but the first time I had ever seen an Asian film, well that wasn’t horribly dubbed. As an 8 year-old girl I kind of stood out in an audience filled with teenage boys and foreign film enthusiasts, but my reactions were on par with my fellow viewers. I “oohed” and “ahhed,” cheered and cried, along with the entire crowd. Jackie Chan was a maverick in the 80’s and 90’s, he was one of the most brilliant men in the film world, mainly because he seemed to have no limits. It saddens me when I see my Jackie doing silly stunts while selling me nasty tomato juice, or being forced to use wires and safety mats, this is not my Jackie.
The Jackie I loved and grew up with risked his life to get a stunt right, he pushed the limits of his team and himself, and above all else he did it with such passion and joy that you could see it in every film.
If you have never seen a non-American Jackie Chan film I would like to walk you through some of my all-time favorites from his time before America stole him away. Now, I would like to point out that I am showing you scenes from some of my favorite fights, but it isn’t just about the stunts and fights for me, these are also great films as a whole. He has created some of the funniest and most tragic films I have ever seen, and I adore him for it.
Classic Jackie Chan Starter Kit
(Chronological order because there is absolutely no way I could rank them)
1. Project A (1983) – Jackie not only starred in this but was also the director and one of the writers. This film is a mixture of humor and action, and is not all just about Jackie, there are two other amazing people he often work with Sammo Hung and Yeun Biao who are phenomenal. Honestly, how does a man the size of Sammo move that fast! This is one of my all-time favorite fights scenes, “The Bar Bash.”
2. Wheels on Meals (1984) – Okay, I know I said it wasn’t all about the fights, but this one is fantastic if only for the final fights. It is also a hilarious film, and often ignored because it honestly isn’t that strong, but definitely one of my favorites and worth a viewing if only to see Sammo Hung, Yeun Biao and Jackie Chan go up against Benny “The Jet” Urquidez.
3. Police Story (1985) – This is one of two films on this list that proves Jackie is more than a comedian and a fighter, he is an intense and painfully tragic dramatic actor. Most of Jackie’s films are comedies, because his fighting style lends itself to humor, but this fight scene in the mall is almost painful to watch.
4. Armour of God (1986) – One of Jackie’s earlier attempts at blending comedy and action, this film is his homage to Indiana Jones. This is also one of the first films that almost killed Jackie, when jumping from a tree he missed his landing and a branch got lodged behind his ear. During earlier autograph sessions in his career Jackie would actually let you see and even feel where the branch went in, which is both creepy and awesome. The fight scene I am highlighting here is strange, funny and well…yeah just watch.
5. Project A II (1987) – One of Jackie’s inspirations is early cinema and actors like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, no other movie highlights that better than this one. It is difficult for me to pick a single scene to show you here as this is one of my absolute favorites, but I shall try. This scene is a great example of how Jackie uses regular props and pieces of furniture to enhance a fight scene.
6. Police Story 2 (1988) – One of the most unfortunate things I see now concerning Jackie’s career is how he hasn’t really been given a chance to show his depth as a dramatic actor in American films. The Police Story series is Jackie taking on a hard cop drama and bringing his own style to the genre, although without the comedy we are used to it is painful and intense but still pure Jackie. This fight scene is another great example of how he uses sets in a real space, a real playground and how it would be interacted with in a real fight.
7. Miracles a.k.a. Mr. Canton and Lady Rose (1989) – This in a classic gangster film. Now I will admit that I don’t fully appreciate this film as a whole, however the one major fight scene is in my list of all time favorites. Again it is a fantastic example of how to use a set, and this is really what I think is key to Jackie’s style, the man knows how to use the entire stage, and move around. A lot of action stars now tend to keep all the fighting in one small space, or it feels like it is completely staged in a set, Jackie uses a real world set and shows off his acrobatics while moving around every inch of it.
8. Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991) – This film was actually released in theaters in the States, but I would beg you not to watch that dreadfully dubbed and edited version, the original is just better. It is okay if you need to read a little. Again, this is one of those films I could watch repeatedly because it is downright hilarious, Jackie delves back into the adventure of an Indiana Jones style story and plays with it, shapes it into his own thing. One of the funniest and strangest fight scenes I have ever seen is the Turbo Tunnel fight, also known as the “Superman fight.” I apologize in advance, the only version of the scene I could find was from the dubbed version.
9. City Hunter (1993) – I honestly am not sure I could fully explain this film, it is so strange and quirky, almost like a filmed comic book. It is a comedy, action geek fest, probably one of Jackie’s best comedies as he has completely free rein to do whatever he wants. No other scene can better exemplify the strangeness than the Street Fighter fight, which, for any video game lover, is an important scene in film history.
10. Drunken Master II a.k.a. The Legend of Drunken Master (1994) – There are very few films that I can call masterpieces, that I can honestly give a 10/10 rating to and feel okay with it, but this is definitely one of those distinguished few. I am glad that this is the last film I am showing you because it is by far Jackie Chan’s most impressive work. I have yet to see him push himself and his crew as far as he does both physically and emotionally, almost to the point where it is painful to watch. There are elements of comedy, with the Drunken Boxing fighting style, as well as a great amount of deep drama proving again that Jackie is an extremely talented renaissance man. If you don’t watch any of the other films I have listed here that is just fine, but I would beg you to sit down and watch at least this one, you will laugh, cry and cheer. My only problem is I have no clue which scene to show you! There are so many phenomenal fights and the last half hour of the film is probably the best, but it would be far too difficult to put that scene on here, so I will just have to give in and find another shorter scene and unfortunately it is dubbed yet again.
I hope that you have enjoyed watching a master a work and that it inspires you to go out and rent, youtube, netflix or what ever you need to do to watch some of these films. What I would also ask you to do, for your own sake, is to keep the film going even after the main story ends. Every one of his films ends with great blooper reals that are sometimes funnier than the films themselves.