The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Jackie Chan

Last week, we took at look at the career of Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, one of the more promising new icons. This week’s icon is of a more old-school variety, and one of the absolute greats ...
Jackie Chan
jackie chan

Like a few other of these columns, this one comes with an asterisk. While I applaud Jackie Chan for still making action movies well into his sixties, there are things about him now that bug me. For one thing, he’s never seemed too interested in a US career, and he’s phoned-in many of his American films, which steadily got worse after the early promise of SHANGHAI NOON and the first RUSH HOUR. Still, as long as his legit Chinese movies are good, who cares, right? This brings me to my second, real problem with Jackie Chan nowadays, that he’s become an arch-conservative part of the mainland Chinese establishment, going so far as to advocate the death penalty for marijuana dealing, even though his own son Jaycee got busted with the drug (and served time in jail). Perhaps this is all part of Chan trying to play nice with the authorities in order to keep making movies his way (which makes a certain amount of sense as the Chinese audience has exploded) but other actors like Donnie Yen and Chow Yun-Fat are able to work in the system without seeming like conservative hawks.

jackie chan police story

Whatever Chan’s motivations may or may not be, it can’t be denied that in his prime Jackie Chan was one of the great action stars. Coming along at a time when Hong Kong cinema was desperately looking for its next Bruce Lee, Chan did his own thing, mixing his kung-fu prowess with a Buster Keaton/Harold Lloyd-like death-defying comic style, with him famously having performed his own stunts throughout most of his career. As such, he’s pretty much broken every bone in his body at least once, and sports a literal hole in his head thanks to a stunt gone awry on ARMOUR OF GOD, which almost killed him.

jackie chan project a 2

But, there was more to Chan than just stunts. He also had a dynamite screen presence, with many calling him the Charlie Chaplin of action-cinema, with his humble, unassuming heroes – a stark contrast to the cooler-than-cool heroics of his contemporaries. Chan helped usher in a real golden age in Hong Kong cinema (that went from about 1986-to the 1997 reunification with China when many top directors/actors emigrated). He also managed to become a top box-office draw in the states, something that only his one-time rival-now friend Jet Li managed to equal. Truly, Chan’s had a storied career.

His Best Film
jackie chan drunken master 2

For pure martial arts, you can’t do better than DRUNKEN MASTER II (or, as it’s known in the US THE LEGEND OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER). Interestingly, Chan himself has never thought highly of the film, even admitting in his autobiography that he clashed with old-school Shaw Bros director Lau Kar-Leung. Whatever the case, it’s his best pure martial arts movie, with the central conceit – that his fighting prowess improves the drunker he gets – making for an extremely amusing action-comedy loaded with jaw-dropping fights.

jackie chan police story

Yet, as amazing as that movie is, Chan has never thrilled me more than in POLICE STORY. The story behind this one is interesting. When he made it, Chan was coming off his second abortive stab at the US market, having played a Dirty Harry-style cop in THE PROTECTOR (his first stab included spots in THE CANNONBALL RUN 1 & 2 – from which  he was inspired to throw outtakes in at the end of all his movies – which has become a trademark). The movie was so bad that Chan re-edited and re-shot much of the film before it’s HK release. The best thing that came out of it was that it inspired him to star in and direct his own contemporary cop movie, POLICE STORY, which became his most lucrative franchise (the latest – POLICE STORY: LOCKDOWN comes out on VOD this week). The movie is tons of fun, but the finale is truly outstanding, with a long set-piece involving Jackie fighting his way through a packed Hong Kong mall being the absolute highlight of his career and one of the all-time great feats of action film-making.

His Most Underrated Film
jackie chan new police story

There are a bunch of really solid Jackie Chan outings that remain mostly obscure in the US. One is Kirk Wong’s CRIME STORY, which is the rare serious Jackie Chan vehicle, with him playing a Chow Yun-Fat-style role in a straight actioner that features more gun-play than martial arts. Another real gem is NEW POLICE STORY, which, for me anyways, is Chan’s last great movie. It embraced his age and mortality in a fun way, pitting him against a gang of young martial artists who he can’t compete with physically or mentally, but in the end he manages to win out through straight perseverance. The work of perennially underrated Hong Kong director Benny Chan (whose most recent film – THE WHITE STORM – is a masterpiece) NEW POLICE STORY is the kind of action movie all aging action stars should aspire to.

His Most Overrated Film
jackie chan  chris tucker rush hour 3

This will probably rub a lot of you the wrong way but I never much cared for the RUSH HOUR films. Chan doesn’t have much to do in the movies other than play straight-man to motor-mouthed Chris Tucker. I’d wager RUSH HOUR 2 is the best entry, as both Tucker and Chan seem game, unlike RUSH HOUR 3 where neither of them seems to want to be there.

His Most Memorable Scene

I’d put in the mall-sequence from POLICE STORY, but it’s too long. Instead, here’s a great fight from DRAGONS FOREVER, the third and final movie Chan made with his Peking Opera School buddies Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. This and its predecessor WHEELS ON MEALS feature big fights with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, who was one of Chan’s most formidable on-screen opponents. Of the two fights, this is the more serious one and probably the only cinematic fight of Chan’s career where it really does seem like he’s totally out-matched, making his inevitable victory all the more exciting.

His Five Best Films


Up Next

Chan’s got lots of stuff in the pipeline. His (admittedly awful-looking) DRAGON BLADE did blockbuster business in China, while his next stab at the US, SKIPTRACE, is directed by the formerly great Renny Harlin and co-stars Johnny Knoxville. We’ll see. 

Source: JoBlo.com



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