From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.
Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.
From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).
Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.
Let's start with an oldie but goodie:
10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)
Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.
9. Wheels on Meals
They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.
8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.
7. Who Am I?
Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.
6. Rumble in the Bronx
For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.
5. Project A
This one features Hung, Chan, and Biao, this time riffing on Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin in an action comedy set in the 1800s. You'd never guess by the generic title (demanded by the cast so as not to give too much of the movie's plot away) that the film deals with pirates, the high seas, and our trio's training to take on the bad guys. There's also the typical Hong Kong mobsters to deal with as well (apparently, such criminals are timeless). Chan's previous period pieces had not been that successful. With its inclusion of action and comedy, Project A was a huge success.
Actually, this is the third film in the long-running Police Story franchise, and it's the first not directed by Chan himself (Stanley Tong took over). Paired with Hong Kong superstar Michelle Yeoh as his character's Interpol contact, we find ourselves in a globe-trotting epic with our hero fighting fiends everywhere and anywhere he can, including one scene involving a train, a helicopter, and Chan hanging onto an attached rope ladder for dear life. The work here was so impressive that Quentin Tarantino often refers to Supercop as one of his favorite films of all time, with the greatest stunt work ever.
3. Drunken Master
Along with its equally inventive sequel, this is Chan at his very best. Like Sam Raimi's quintessential Evil Dead 2, this is one of the first Hong Kong martial arts movies to embrace comedy as part of its purpose. Also, this is one of Chan's earliest efforts, coming in 1978. Playing a young upstart who is constantly being undermined by the forces around him, he trains with the title sensei, learning the ways of Drunken Boxing and the all important Eight Drunken Immortals. The fight scenes are just electrifying, with a young Chan arguing for his future as one of Hong Kong's best.
2. Drunken Master II (Legend of the Drunken Master)
A sequel in name only -- sort of. Chan plays Wong Fei-hung, a famed martial artist, physician, acupuncturist, and revolutionary, who would later become a folk hero to many in China. This is another period piece, but with a decidedly more modern flair, and it contains some of the best action scenes and stunt work of Chan's career. As a matter of fact, the late film critic Roger Ebert loved this movie, pointing out that the final fight sequence is perhaps, one of the best of all time. On top of everything that comes before, that's some mighty praise indeed.
1. Police Story
In 1985, Chan thought he was ready to break into the American market. He teamed up with director James Glickenhaus and made the disappointing The Protector. Feeling a need to get his movie star mojo back, her took control of his next project, which ended up being the first in a franchise that has lasted 28 years. Chan himself considers this his best action film, and with good reason. The stunts are incredible, the fight scenes expertly choreographed and the storytelling lean, mean, and driven by a desire to entertain. Chan crafted the film like an old time silent (building the narrative around the various stunts), and it shows. Everything about Police Story comes together into a Hong Kong martial arts masterpiece.