Jackie Chan’s 101st movie, Chinese Zodiac, comes out in about a year. It promises to be a return to form for the 57 year old actor, whose career as a stunt performer and action star is four decades long. As a big Jackie Chan fan since middle school, I’m extremely excited about this. A third Armour of God movie has been rumored for years, and it seems like a potential throwback to the work he did in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s been a while since Chan has been able to match himself or surpass himself, and it’s good to know he’s trying to do just that.
Since Chinese Zodiac is slated for a 12-12-2012 release, I figured a list of Jackie Chan’s 12 best fight scenes was in order. It was a little difficult paring it down to just a dozen, and I’ll probably get flak for not including the wind tunnel throwdown from Operation Condor or the Street Fighter segment from City Hunter. While I enjoy both of those scenes a lot, they just didn’t make the cut. Same goes for bits in the Project A movies.
Hit the jump and we’ll go chronologically through 12 great Jackie Chan fights, each one with video goodness.
Drunken Master (1978) – The Final Fight Against Hwang Jang Lee
The success of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow in early 1978 (Jackie Chan’s breakthrough film) led to the making of Drunken Master, a bona fide masterpiece. The film reteamed Jackie with director Yuen Woo-ping as well as actors Hwang Jang Lee and Simon Yuen (father of Yuen Woo-ping). The final fight of Drunken Master is something of a rematch between Chan and Lee. (During the Eagle’s Shadow fight, Lee kicked one of Chan’s teeth out.) Both actors get to shine, which is the key to any well-made fight scene: Lee again displays his kicking skills while Chan showcases his genius through the eight different sub-styles of drunken boxing.
Fearless Hyena (1979) – The Three-on-One Sword-Spear Fight
Chan’s first time in the director’s chair, Fearless Hyena is one of his overlooked classics. I still have my cheap-o VHS copy somewhere. It’s similar in tone and style to Drunken Master — there are abusive training sequences that turn a goofball into a hero, for instance, and “emotional kung-fu” owes a lot to the eight immortals of drunken boxing. While the last battle is good, it’s the penultimate fight that really stands out. Chan takes on three people armed with weapons that are part spear and part sword, showcasing some remarkable acrobatics. The last fight of the film is in the clip as well for a taste of emo-fu.
Wheels on Meals (1984) – The Final Fight Against Benny “The Jet” Urquidez
The Wheels on Meals fight is regarded as one of the best martial arts fights on film, and for good reason. Part of that has to do with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, a kickboxing champ with a devastating jumping spinning back kick that gave him his nickname. (He’d also make John Cusack look dangerous in Grosse Point Blank.) Chan and Urquidez are so similar in size and speed, and together they had a knack for timing and rhythm. I remember reading accounts that they actually hit each other at full strength a couple times during the fight, and even planned to take out their aggression in a charity kickboxing match after filming. (The match never took place, which was probably best for Jackie.)
As an unexpected bonus, after the Wheels on Meals fight above is their rematch in Dragons Forever (1988). The film was the last collaboration between Jackie, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao, all of whom trained together in the same Peking Opera School as children. The Chan/Urquidez fight in this one is good, though I always preferred the first match-up a bit more for some reason. Perhaps it’s because their bout in Dragons Forever was overshadowed by Biao’s earlier fight sequence in the film; it was some of his best work, up there with Prodigal Son, Righting Wrongs, and The Iceman Cometh (nothing to do with Eugene O’Neill; Donnie Yen is remaking this in 3D).
Police Story (1985) – The Mall Finale aka Broken Glass Story
Chan’s early forays into Hollywood were frustrating. After the Cannonball Run flicks and The Big Brawl (quaint in its own way but not too memorable) came The Protector, a gritty cop movie that didn’t suit Chan’s style. As a response, he went back to Hong Kong and made Police Story, which is one of his best movies. A shanty town gets demolished real good, goons hurtle out of a double-decker bus, and, most memorably, an entire shopping mall becomes a playground for mayhem. Some nicknamed the film “Glass Story” or “Broken Glass Story” because of film’s finale. (Chan would also reshoot action sequences and add his own scenes to The Protector for a Hong Kong-ized cut of the film.)
Armour of God (1987) – The Fight Against the Amazon Women
Armour of God was Chan’s take on Indiana Jones. In the series, he played the pulpily named protagonist Asian Hawk, which could also be a taxonomy. While filming Armour of God, Chan almost died, leaving him with a permanent hole in his head. It’s discussed here in this clip from The Incredibly Strange Film Show starting about 1:10. (I remember hearing or reading somewhere that this hole in the head occasionally caused problems with Chan’s equilibrium when filming boat scenes.) Now this particular pick was a toughie. I didn’t want to choose two fights from the same movie, and I enjoyed both the fight against the four Amazons as well as the fight against the room full of monks. I sided with the Amazons just because the sequence plays out so well and ends cleverly.
Police Story II (1988) – The Playground Fight
The sequel to Police Story includes a factory getting blowed up real good, the severe injury of Maggie Cheung, and, most memorably, an entire playground that becomes a playground for mayhem. It’s such an ideal setting for Chan to create fight sequences. It’s a time intensive process of riffing and rehearsal to construct a Chan fight scene, which explains why his fights in Hollywood productions are rarely as long or as intricate. (Shanghai Knights is one of the exceptions since director David Dobkin allotted extra shooting time just for Chan to choreograph scenes.) As with many of Chan’s fights against groups of people, there’s a systematic approach — he evades and then takes out one or two baddies to help even the odds, repeat.
Miracles aka Mr. Canton and Lady Rose (1989) – The Rope Factory Fight
One of my favorite Jackie Chan movies, Miracles is an odd but lovable duck of a film. Directed by Chan and one his own personal favorites, it’s an elegantly shot period martial arts/gangster movie that’s also a take on Frank Capra’s Lady for a Day and Pocketful of Miracles. Amid the action, Cantonese comedy, and sentimentalism, there’s also a full-blown music number by the late great Anita Mui. Picking my favorite fight out of this one was a bit difficult since the restaurant fight (0:38) and street fight (2:43) have great visual gags in them, but the fight in the rope factory (5:22) is the major set piece of the film, and there’s a massive environment for Chan and his crew to play in. We’ll go with that since it exemplifies the fun silent film/cartoon aspect to the fights in the movie.
Drunken Master II (1994) – The Final Fight Against Ken Lo
This is my favorite Jackie Chan movie, and I prefer the Hong Kong cut of the movie to the American version Legend of the Drunken Master. (Apart from shaving the run time a tad, the American version changed the music and made all of the sound effects anemic by comparison.) Chan was around 40 years old when he made the film, but he was still at the height of his powers. The final fight against Ken Lo — who in addition to acting in other films was also a professional fighting champ and one of Chan’s bodyguards — is really just the capper to an entire suite of end fights. Chan topped himself for the rest of his career.
The other fights in the film are also masterpieces of choreography and worth noting. The introductory fight against Lau Kar Leung (who was the director until Chan took over toward the end) is reminiscent of Leung’s work with Shaw Brothers Studios. The fight in the square is also great, setting up a few moves that play a big part of the finale. And of course there’s the axe gang fight, which just gets bananas once the bamboo comes into play.
Rumble in the Bronx (1995) – The Warehouse Fight
For many people my age, Rumble in the Bronx was the first real exposure they ever got to Jackie Chan. (For me it was on MTV when Quentin Tarantino presented Chan with a lifetime achievement award.) The warehouse fight demonstrated his skills at prop fighting and action design he’d developed over the years.
Rumble in the Bronx was the movie where age started catching up to the superstar. During a relatively simple jump onto a hovercraft, Chan broke his ankle. There was going to be one more fight scene in Rumble in the Bronx, but that was scrapped due to the injury. Chan’s ankle wouldn’t heal for a while, which affected the filming of his next movie, Thunderbolt. The fight in the pachinko parlor/casino is pretty incredible, but he had to use a double for many shots so he wouldn’t re-injure himself. It’s still a well-designed and choreographed sequence by Chan regardless.
Police Story IV: First Strike (1996) – The Ladder Fight
First Strike would be the last of the original Police Story series, and it features one of the most remarkable bits of prop fighting in Chan’s career. There are nice flourishes with lion dancer heads and with staffs, but it all builds toward the use of an eight-foot aluminium stepladder, which is the thing that most people remember about the movie. The uncut version of the underwater aquarium fight is a pure joy — think of the underwater bar fight in the spoof Top Secret! played a little bit straighter — but that was unfortunately chopped up when released in the United States and remains unavailable domestically. In 2004, New Police Story was released as a series reboot with a noticeably darker tone. Chan chose not to release it in the U.S. theatrically so it wouldn’t get tampered with by studios.
Who Am I? (1998) – The Rotterdam Rooftop Fight
I first saw this impressive fight against Kwan Yung and Ron Smoorenburg on cable at a friend’s place. He wasn’t much of a Jackie Chan fan, but he couldn’t deny how well put together this scene was. Smoorenburg actually had to be doubled by various members of Chan’s stunt team because he couldn’t quite get the choreography down. (Note his drastic height change in some shots.) Now Rush Hour came out the same year as Who Am I, and while I still think the first Rush Hour is okay, my big gripe with that whole series is that they’ve never given Jackie enough time to craft a sequence even half as good as this one. If you add up all the fights in Rush Hour, they’re probably about as long as this one fight in Who Am I.
Gorgeous (1999) – The Final Fight Against Brad Allan
One of the members of Jackie Chan’s stunt team who doubled for Ron Smoorenburg was Brad Allan. Trained by Jackie himself, the Aussie performer may be the best person to go toe-to-toe with Chan since Benny Urquidez. Chan and Allan actually fight twice in the movie. The first one starts at 3:23, and the second comes right after at 8:10. You get a sense of the two reading each other’s rhythm and knowing each other’s timing — they both know how to look good and how to make the other person look good. Allan has since worked as a fight choreographer and stunt coordinator on numerous non-Chan movies, including Hellboy II, Kick-Ass, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Going through these 12 great fight scenes basically brings us through 21 years of Jackie Chan’s career. There have been some good fights since then, of course. New Police Story was a strong return to form, and the best movie he’s done in the 00s. The marketplace scene in The Accidental Spy has some solid comedic prop fighting. The glue trap scene and some early fights in The Myth are well orchestrated even though that film falls short overall. I’ll even give Shanghai Knights some love since the fights have that classic Chan feel, and the sword fight at the end would have been a spectacular close in a more serious movie. (If only the Shanghai series were done with the same flair and tone as Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes.)
The main reason the list ends at 1999, though, is that these are the fights that have defined him as an action star. Maybe Chinese Zodiac will mark a new, late-period hurrah from Chan; maybe the best is yet to come. I hope so — I really want him to make me amend this list in the future.