Few actors have broken the international barrier in film like Chinese superstar Jackie Chan. Starting as a stuntman and extra in dozens of martial arts flicks in the ’70s, he eventually rose to leading man status and garnered great success overseas.
Over the years, Chan has developed a persona in the martial arts genre similar to Buster Keaton‘s of the silent era. This can be seen in his performance of death-defying stunts and his affinity for expressive slapstick comedy. While audiences hold their breath watching Jackie dangle from ledges and leap through glass, he does it all with a smile. Here are just a handful of the many times Jackie made us shout at the screen, only to sigh with relief when he, once again, makes it out alive.
‘Police Story’ (1985) – Bus Chase
In this action-packed romp, Chan stars as Inspector Ka-Kui, who we meet while on an undercover mission to take down a crime lord. When Ka-kui’s cover is blown, a shootout erupts. As the villains escape on a double-decker bus, Ka-Kui goes after them on foot and, using an umbrella, links onto the back of the speeding bus and holds on for dear life.
This early set-piece sets the tone for not only the rest of the film but the rest of Jackie’s career. Watching Chan dragged along the street full-speed, nimbly running over cars as they pass, makes it crystal clear as to why he emerged as one of the top action stars of all time.
‘Rumble in The Bronx’ (1995) – Alley Jump
Known as the film that finally got Chan on the map in North America, Rumble in The Bronx follows Hong Kong cop Keung, who is visiting family in New York City. When a local biker gang starts causing trouble, Keung realizes they may be connected to a larger criminal threat.
While the film isn’t one of his best, it still delivers on the action and wild stunts we’ve come to expect from Jackie, most notably a heart-stopping 28-foot jump from one building to the next over an alley. The stunt is shown three times, and it appears increasingly impossible with each new angle. Shockingly, Jackie perfectly completed the stunt in a single take.
‘Armor of God’ (1986) – Balloon Skydive
In Chan’s take on an Indiana Jones-style adventure, he stars as a globe-trotting treasure hunter. When cultists kidnap a friend of his, he finds himself in the middle of a plot to find a sacred set of armor.
Armor of God is a fun (albeit somewhat clunky) ride that expands on its action set pieces as it progresses. The grand finale finds Jackie on a cliff-side, spotting a hot air balloon below as his only escape route. The following seconds will leave you breathless as he hurtles through the air in silence, then lands directly on the balloon, looking as surprised as we are that he made it.
‘Police Story 2’ (1988) – Bus Jump
Despite successfully shutting down illegal operations run by crime lord Chu Tao, police officer Ka-Kui is demoted to traffic duty due to his dangerous methods. However, when Chu Tao is diagnosed as terminally ill and released from prison, he pays Ka-Kui a visit, reigniting their rivalry.
Police Story 2 doubles down on the exciting action of its predecessor. Even throwaway moments are used as excuses for insane stunts, including a scene where Ka-Kui trails a lead. Rather than simply running after him, he hops on a bus roof, dodges a few signs, and dives head first through a glass window. The film’s end credits reveal that Chan accidentally dove through the wrong window, injuring himself in the process.
‘Drunken Master II’ (1994) – Coal Crawl
Folk hero Wong Fei-hung is a master of the alcohol-influenced martial arts style known as drunken boxing. While returning home, he finds himself caught in the middle of a plot involving an Imperial Seal and the greedy British consul who wants to obtain it.
Drunken Master II is probably best known for its top-notch fight choreography, but that’s not to say it does not have a few of Jackie’s trademark stunts. During a thrilling third-act fight, Wong is kicked into a bed of burning coals. This being Jackie Chan, prop coal was out of the question. He scrapes his way out of the flames, but not without first sustaining a few burns.
‘Project A’ (1983) – Clock Fall
Dragon Ma (Chan) is a marine in 19th century Hong Kong hot on the trail of an evil group of pirates. When his first attempt at stopping them fails, he enlists the help of a ragtag team of fighters, each with a different skill set.
When a chase leads to a fight atop a clock tower, it is not long before Dragon dangles from the clock’s minute hand. He eventually falls, crashing through two awnings on the way down. After two attempts at the stunt left Chan unsatisfied, he did it again, severely injuring his neck. Of course, that did not stop him from finishing the scene.
‘Police Story 4: First Strike’ (1996) – Snowboard Jump
The fourth entry in the Police Story franchise finds Ka-Kui teaming up with the CIA to track a woman suspected of working with a terrorist. Soon, a plot to obtain nuclear weapons is unveiled, and our hero must put an end to it before it’s too late.
An early chase finds Ka-Kui on a snowboard fleeing pursuers down a mountain. As he nears a ledge, a helicopter approaches. He flies off the cliff and grabs onto the helicopter’s landing skid. That may be enough for some, but not for Jackie. So after the helicopter explodes, he sent falling to an icy lake below.
‘Who Am I?’ (1998) – Building Slide
After being double-crossed and stricken with amnesia, a CIA agent wakes up in South Africa and is dubbed “Whoami” by the natives. With the help of a reporter, he slowly uncovers his past and finds the man responsible for betraying him.
In one of Chan’s biggest set pieces, Whoami finds himself fleeing from criminals atop the Willemswerf Building in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The only way down is to slide along the slanted part of the building’s roof, so that’s precisely what he does. The painfully long fall will have you holding your breath in suspense until he barely catches himself at the bottom.
‘Police Story 3: Supercop’ (1992) – Helicopter Hang
Considered by many to be one of Jackie’s best, Police Story 3: Supercop sees the return of Ka-kui, now dubbed a “supercop.” When assigned to infiltrate the operation of a drug lord in Hong Kong, he is reluctantly paired with Inspector Jessica Yang (Michelle Yeoh).
The film is notable for being one of the few to have Chan starring alongside an equal. So when Yeoh, also performing her own stunts, drives a motorcycle off a cliff and onto a moving train, Chan felt he needed another, even bigger stunt to match. This came in the form of a jump from a 6-story building to the rope ladder of a helicopter. He then continues to dangle from the ladder as the plane soars over the streets below. It just shows that Chan’s dedication and his friendly competition with Yeoh are what makes this movie a clear standout in his career.
‘Police Story’ (1985) – Pole Slide
The first adventure to follow Hong Kong cop Ka-Kui, Police Story finds him protecting an informant with connections to crime boss Chu Tao. It is not long before a rivalry emerges between Ka-Kui and Tao, igniting a war between cops and criminals on the streets of Hong Kong.
One of the first films to truly resemble the Jackie Chan we know today, Police Story was a grand announcement that he was here to stay. That proclamation is cemented in the film’s finale in a mall, where Chan leaps onto a pole wrapped in lights, then slides down, crashing through not only the lights but an entire pane of glass on the way to the floor. It’s hard to watch the stunt without dropping a jaw in utter disbelief and admiring the legendary daredevil’s commitment to his craft.
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