The first moment in any Hong Kong action film that really brought about the realization in my mind that HK stuntmen are absolutely insane wasn’t actually in a film starring the man listed in the title of this article. Sadly, Jackie’s films are always so professionally done that when he falls face first into the concrete – despite what the end credits show us; Jackie makes these moments look inspired. No, it was in a different type of film altogether. Not even in a martial arts film at all. It was in Ringo Lam’s Full Contact starring Chow Yun-Fat. In a seedy gangster film full of nasty violence and wicked gun play, you don’t expect the type of outrageous stunts that Jackie Chan and his crew might perform – but Full Contact was packed with all kinds of surprises. So, to set the scene up, the action takes place in some random bar scene where one character decides to enforce his bravado on another character by actually front-kicking the poor guy over the banister of a second story balcony on the interior of the bar. The hopefully intoxicated stuntman takes the front-kick and flies hurling off the second story balcony and does some form of flip before falling six or eight feet and landing BACK FIRST into the railing of a stair case. Hyper-extending his entire body in the wrong direction of the way it is supposed to bend, I knew that spot had to hurt. That, along with the bloody and seedy storyline helped hurly Full Contact into cult status forever in my book – but also helped me realize that the form of stunt work that these Hong Kong teams were working in was a completely different field than our own.
Since then I went back and I have grown to appreciate the work of Jackie Chan and his stunt-team even more over time. Not that it wasn’t readily apparent that these men defy death and safety for the amusement of others, but it took that little wake up call to really stand up and take notice of every bump and every fall where these men land face first on a cement floor. Where they perform a back flip to accentuate a kick, and land knee first into a table made of glass. Jackie Chan’s work post-Police Story and pre-Rush Hour made for some of the most death-defying entertainment I have ever witnessed. Jackie’s first martial arts films helped to kick start a more realistic and faster paced form of martial arts but it wasn’t until Police Story hit the market that he took his style to new limits. Facing up to four and five attackers at one time, Jackie took on all comers at the same time. In one of the greatest fight scenes of the film, Jackie faces several attackers wielding baseball bats where Jackie fights off his foes atop two cars parked across from one another. The scene really reaches its highest point when Jackie jumps from the roof of one car into the busted window of the other vehicle and drop kicks his opponent in the driver’s seat. Jackie’s fight scenes were always ingenuitive, but when he became the king of the stunts, his fights were just stepped up to another playing field. I imagine I must simply be going over the obvious at this point, but as of late I have found myself wrapped up in his world of cinematic sacrifice and can’t help but be inspired by his work. An everyday nice guy with a demanding work ethic and amazing ability, I sincerely hope that by writing up this small article I can help draw some attention to his outlandish stunts and the dangers that come with them as well as how such things should be appreciated.
There are some that would question what Jackie and his team members do, saying that in this day and age (and granted, Jackie’s glory days are probably behind him as far as stunts go, no one wants to see him performing too risky of stunts these days) it is easier and more effective to rely on special effects to place our actors in moments of danger rather than physically creating the stunts and placing someone in danger. A similar story I encountered was while researching Evel Knievel recently, when talking about how much respect I had for the man and the crazy things that he did, my audience was fairly split. Some thought it was crazy and the man had no point going through with the risks that he did for the small achievements they felt he made, and the others who were just as inspired as I was that the man would dare to push the limits and try his best to do what had never been done. My thought is that I tend not to question why any man would want to go through with the prospect of pushing their body to the limit that they do, but I try my best to understand and more than anything – enjoy the fruits of their labor if that is what they seek. From professional wrestlers who work 300 days a year in a worked competition that few seem to truly respect, to filmmakers like Jackie Chan who lay their own life and limbs on the line simply to enhance their films.
The proof is in the pudding though, if you believe the work that Jackie Chan does, does not add an extra layer to any film featuring stunts performed by the lead actors/actresses, then I encourage you to seek out films like Supercop from his library. Originally titled Police Story III; a part of his amazing series of films, Supercop showed Jackie jumping onto a flying helicopter, fighting atop a moving train, narrowly avoiding a spinning helicopter while atop that same train and Michelle Yeoh jumping on moving cars and landing on top the same speeding train with a dirt bike. During the final thirty minutes of the film, so many stunts take place and so many points of danger are introduced that no matter how many times you might see it – you are still going to be shocked and taken back with the adrenaline rush of knowing that in one form or another these things we witness did indeed happen and they were performed by these very actors and this enables the audience to further sink into the characters as they are fleshed out. For a non-Jackie related scene that demonstrates beautifully how much a proper stunt can escalate the adrenaline factor in any given film – see Quinton Tarantino’s portion of the film Grindhouse. You’ll never question female stunt-actresses ever again.
So, although I didn’t get to cover every single Jackie Chan stunt in every film he has ever made – I hope that this article at least makes sense to those who feel the same way. Some do these crazy things for money, like those Jackass guys. Some do crazy things for fun, like the random kids who copy those Jackass guys. Then there are those who do it for art, like Jackie Chan. A nice guy and a true master of the action craft. I hope that in the future his films and what he has given to action cinema will be remembered fondly and with true passion. His work should be encouraged, because he truly is a pioneer and a craftsman unlike any other.