How Funny Fighter Jackie Chan Became The Action Comedy King
Left: Jackie Chan in 'Drunken Master' (1978). Right: Chan at the Trocadero in Paris in 1981. Sources: IMDB; URLI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
In a career that has spanned over five decades, Jackie Chan has made more than 130 films, with his greatest crossover success on the American market coming in the Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon action comedy series. U.S. audiences were first introduced to Chan in the 1981 comedy The Cannonball Run, though fans of martial arts films already knew him from his classics Snake In The Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, both released in 1978. Chan has become a beloved film star all over the world not just for his skill as a martial artist and stuntman, but also for his natural gift for comedy.
Just about everybody in the world knows about Jackie Chan. The happy faced, martial arts master became famous for his ingenious, quirky stunts, and eccentric fighting style. Not to mention, his prodigious laundry list of injuries. However, the backstory on the man with a fighting style like a circus monkey is less known. For instance, did you know his mother was an opium smuggler and his father, a spy? Or how about the fact that his boarding school in China implemented arduous training regimens that could last up to 19 hours! Amazingly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what you didn’t know about Jackie Chan.
A Very Rough Beginning
As we mentioned, Chan’s parents were involved in illicit activities. What we didn’t share is the fact that his parents fled China to Australia due to fears of the government. But a young Jackie stayed and studied at the Chinese Opera Research Institute in Hong Kong from ages 7 to 17. Despite submitting to the school’s ridiculous workload, Chan didn’t leave the school with a lot of work opportunities. In fact, Chan needed money so badly he appeared in full-frontal nudity for the 1975 Hong Kong sex comedy All in the Family.
No One Can Imitate Bruce
His earliest roles that didn’t include nudity came in the form of two Bruce Lee movies, The Chinese Connection and Enter the Dragon. However, he only played stooges whom Bruce Lee beat into oblivion. Bruce Lee liked Jackie and even joined Chan on an impromptu bowling outing a week before the legend tragically died in 1973. Eventually, a director named Lo Wei, impressed by Jackie’s stunt work offered him a feature role. Unfortunately, Lo Wei tried to model Chan’s fighting style after Bruce Lee to little success.
Let Jackie Be Jackie
Thankfully, eventually, someone let Jackie be Jackie and his screwball style of fighting came to life in his breakthrough movie, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978). By allowing Chan to do all the stunt coordination, people finally saw his genius shine through. Jackie Chan basically invented the comedic kung fu genre while still dropping jaws with his daring stunts. People really saw Chan’s awesome talent in Drunken Master (1978) where he literally beats people with a fighting style never seen in cinema.
Coming To America
Prior to 1998, Chan received both critical acclaim and box office success in Asia. His movies grossed nearly $70 million in Hong Kong and almost $500 million in Japan. However, success in North America eluded Jackie. Chan didn’t come to America sooner because he didn’t want to play villains. Sylvester Stallone offered him the antagonist role in Demolition Man but he turned it down, not wanting to become typecast.
Finally, one of his movies, Rumble in the Bronx attracted attention in the United States, gaining a cult following. The film is incredibly violent and his stunts in that movie are completely insane, even for him. During the shooting, he broke his ankle jumping from a bridge to a hovercraft. Naturally, Chan didn’t want to interrupt filming. So he developed a protective sock that looked exactly like his other shoe and continued shooting on a broken ankle.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Jackie Chan’s career is an incredibly impressive one. Yet, some of the stories about him are even more unbelievable. He has a hole in his head from filming the movie Armour of God. Apparently, according to him, it was an easy stunt, just swing from a tree. Unfortunately, first came a rock and then a surgically-inserted metal plate.
Another surprising story about Jackie arises from the fact that he thought his most successful movie ever, Rush Hour, was awful. As Jackie said, “That’s a terrible movie,” he remembered telling his manager. “They don’t allow me to do my own style [of action]. The English, I’m not good. Chris Tucker’s English, I don’t understand. Terrible movie!”
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