If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Jackie Chan's new film, 1911, is being touted as Jackie Chan's 100th movie! He truly has had a long prolific career including some of the greatest kung-fu films ever made. He developed a blend of action/comedy and stuntwork that has had huge ripple effects through cinema over the last 40 years. Which makes this the perfect opportunity for getting into the best Jackie Chan movies of all time.
1911 is coming out on the 100th anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising that it depicts, which established the Republic of China. This is a film that looks like it's indicative with a lot of the film choices Jackie has been making over the last few years, to transition over more to serious films and away from the action/comedy genre that is increasingly difficult in his old age (or increasingly shitty when made in America.) With all the hype about Jackie's 100th film, I'm hoping it turns out to be rather epic. I would hate to see them waste the promotional opportunity. Especially considering the next film on Jackie's slate is supposedly "Chinese Zodiac" aka Armor of God 3, which was rumored to be Jackie's 100th film for a while.
Still, calling 1911 Jackie Chan's 100th movie is definitely a misnomer. If you include every film he's appeared in (including his stunt work) he's in the 110's. If you include his work *behind* the cameras he is WELL over 100 films. Probably coming closer to 150. But if you only include films that he reasonably appeared in as an actor and as a character, and not just a cameo, it's a little less than 100.1911 will (by my count) mark his 68th role. It's still goddamned impressive, considering nearly all of those roles have someone kicking him off a building or hitting him with a pipe. He did Cannonball Run in 1981, and so sicne then he's got nearly 50 movies with credit sequences that include Jackie Chan breaking a bone, or messing up some choreography and turning it into a dance. I loved his cameo in Shephen Chow's King of Comedy... but it does not make it a Jackie Chan movie. I've also cut the Kung-Fu Panda movies from this list, because his voice is so rarely used, it really does not matter that he's in it at all. This list is of genuine Jackie Chan roles. For better or for worse.
|2010||The Karate Kid|
|2010||Little Big Soldier|
|2010||The Spy Next Door|
|2008||The Forbidden Kingdom|
|2007||Rush Hour 3|
|2004||New Police Story|
|2004||Around the World in 80 Days|
|2001||Rush Hour 2|
|2001||The Accidental Spy|
|1998||Who Am I?|
|1997||Mr. Nice Guy|
|1996||Police Story 4: First Strike|
|1995||Rumble in the Bronx|
|1994||The Legend of Drunken Master (Drunken Master 2)|
|1992||Police Story 3: Supercop|
|1990||Island of Fire (The Prisoner)|
|1989||Mr. Canton and Lady Rose|
|1988||Police Story 2|
|1987||Project A 2|
|1987||Armor of God|
|1985||Heart of Dragon|
|1985||Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars|
|1985||My Lucky Stars|
|1984||Wheels on Meals|
|1984||Cannonball Run II|
|1983||Winners and Sinners|
|1983||Fearless Hyena 2|
|1982||Fantasy Mission Force|
|1981||The Cannonball Run|
|1980||The Big Brawl|
|1980||Half a Loaf of Kung-Fu|
|1980||The Young Master|
|1979||Spiritual Kung Fu|
|1978||Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin|
|1978||Snake in the Eagle's Shadow|
|1977||To Kill With Intrigue|
|1977||36 Crazy Fists|
|1976||Shaolin Wooden Men|
|1976||Hand of Death|
|1976||New Fist of Fury|
|1973||Rumble in Hong Kong|
|1971||Master with Cracked Fingers|
There are literally so many good Jackie Chan movies, that narrowing it down is nearly impossible. Now, I've seen 48 of these films and own 20 of them. Like many Americans my age, my love affair with kung-fu movies began with Jackie Chan's "Rumble in the Bronx." It was his first film to open #1 in America, and it was pretty much the perfect film to take a 14 year old me to. While it's not on my list it holds up well today (as do the lion's share of his films.) After a great deal of rewatching Jackie Chan movies and shuffling order around, I've decided on my top ten Jackie Chan films.
10. Little Big Soldier
I spent a lot of time waffling over this number 10 spot. Little Big Soldier is the best movie Jackie Chan has made in nearly a decade, and yet it doesn't have the sheer adrenaline level his older films have. Jackie Chan is getting old, and he just can't keep doing the kind of stunts he attempted back in the days of Project A without dying. No more falling off clocktowers for Jackie Chan. And while that's a little disappointing, let's not pretend that Jackie Chan's death defying stunts are his only appeal. If that was the case Panna Rittikrai would be far more popular. Little Big Soldier is a great example of the other skills in Jackie Chan's repertoire and how he's progressed as a story teller since his younger days. The thing I like best about Little Big Soldier is, perhaps, that Jackie Chan isn't even really the main character, the story that unfolds is really all about the arc of Leehom Wang's character. Jackie's not the best fighter... he's not the most important character... he is just a small character who has a big effect on the story unraveling around him. It's funny, and it's sweet, and it's well executed, and even though it's not as action packed as his older films, it should not be discounted.
9. Shanghai Knights
Shanghai Knights is probably where I'm going to get the most dissenting opinions, but from where I stand, it doesn't get the respect it deserves. Owen Wilson is a great foil for Jackie Chan and the comedy works better here than in any other American made Jackie Chan movie. Although the fight sequence with Donnie Yen is a little disappointing, you still have just the pleasure of watching Donnie Yen be awesome. Brad Allan (Gorgeous) helped choreograph the fight sequences and we get the exceptional market fight (with the Singing in the Rain ode that is just fantastic.) It's really the sort of thing that reminds me of scenes Jackie did 20 years prior, crammed with odes to the things that inspired him to become a filmmaker. Shanghai Knights is funnier and has better stunts and better fights than the original. It's easily the best movie Jackie's shot in America and makes me extra mad at how terrible the Rush Hour films are. Just try not to be distracted by the terrible, often ridiculous score.
8. Who Am I
I feel dirty including a Benny Chan film on this list. He's like the shitty Chinese Michael Bay. And honestly there is TONS of things that aren't great about this movie. Anyone who's not Jackie Chan is a terrible actor. There's some awful VO dubbing throughout because apparently they didn't have sound equipment that worked on the set. And I mean Evil Dead 2 "Toolshed" bad. Also the plot is just the silliest shit ever. So to make it on this list you gotta believe that some of what Jackie Chan supplies here is flat out amazing. It includes two epic stunts (sliding down the the 21 story glass building, and the rope stunt that is so simple and so incredible that it blows me away every time.) Then every fight sequence in the film is phenomenal. The clog fight is classic Jackie Chan stuff, but the 2-on-1 roof fight is so tightly choreographed that I could watch it over and over with, just, my mouth agape. Plus it ends like ALL Jackie Chan fight sequences should end, with a guy begging Jackie not to hit him anymore. Finally, it has one of my favorite comedy "bits" of any Jackie Chan movie... where this girl thinks Jackie is a bushman trying to eat her friend, and he would explain what was going on if his mouth just wasn't numb. It's classic almost vaudevillian comedy and it's funny every time.
7. Mr. Nice Guy
I was always a little disappointed that there was never a wholly satisfying film with the three brothers. You could argue maybe for Dragons Forever, and definitely for Project A, but for me, no movie with Yuen, Sammo, AND Jackie really lived up to it's potential. Of course with the talent involved the potential was VERY high and Jackie and Sammo usually did better when they were competing with each other... and when Jackie was around Yuen always got repositioned into more of a "sidekick" role... Mr. Nice Guy is an oft overlooked film that really showcases the best of what Jackie and Sammo can do together. With Sammo behind the camera Jackie was able to interweave exhilarating fighting/stunts/and comedy all at once. The movie is quite silly though, and the fight sequences can really take you by surprise considering how incredibly hardcore they are compared to the lighter tone of the movie. This movie brings Jackie's showmanship, Sammo's heavy hands, and their shared appreciation of comedy all together at once. The fight sequence in the warehouse is not only hilarious, but cements in my mind that Jackie Chan is a man without fear. It's one thing being mentally prepared to fall off something high when you're a trained stuntman. It's entirely a different thing to have people trying to slice you in half with rotary saws.
6. Operation Condor
I was just having a conversation with one of my friends who had been watching Operation Condor and was telling me that (except for the nudity) it was almost the perfect movie to show her 5 year-old son who loves to play kung-fu. I, having watched the movie about a week before, had thought the exact same thing. Operation Condor was the sequel to Armor of God (Jackie Chan's answer to the Indiana Jones franchise.) And while the first movie made tons of mistakes, Operation Condor got almost everything perfectly right. It's a great adventure. It's a great comedy. It's a great kung-fu film. Jackie's paired up with three hot but annoying sidekicks that he has to babysit throughout his race to the buried Nazi gold. It's a ridiculous pulpy concept that Jackie plays to it's fullest. The film just has great attitude and tons of laughs-- but what's more, it's got some utterly amazing fight sequences and stunt work... probably the best chase sequence of his career, and one of the most entertaining fight sequences he ever dreamed up. The Wind Tunnel fight is possibly the most creative idea for a fight Jackie has ever had, and it is perfectly executed in a way that is at once hilarious and completely awesome.
5. Snake in Eagles Shadow
When you get into Jackie's older films... like this one where he first gets to exercise some creative muscle... they do kind of blend together. The problem becomes which of them to put on the top ten list because, honestly, all of them deserve a spot. So, while this may be cheating, I really use Snake in Eagles Shadow to represent Fearless Hyena and Drunken Master as well as itself. My justification really comes down to: Fearless Hyena has too much fighting and not enough training; Drunken Master has too much training and not enough fighting; Snake in Eagles Shadow features just the right amount of both. Also, SiES includes an underdog story, with Jackie starting off as an abused orphan that knows little kung-fu and grows to be a master, while in Fearless Hyena he's pretty much the best in town the whole time and in Drunken Master his friggen Wong Fei-Hung. While Jackie really goes on to perfect Drunken boxing in a later film, Snake-style is super fun to watch, but it's not as much fun as seeing him "invent" cat's claw. To this day I get a little giddy when he breaks out Tiger style (he did it for a second against Jet Li in Forbidden Kingdom.) "He *invented* that style in an old movie!" I say to my friends "It was awesome." To which they promptly roll their eyes. This is the final fight sequence... so "spoiler alert" although as long as I'm spoiling movies from 1978 you should also know Superman saves Lois Lane by flying around the earth so fast he turns back time.
Sometimes called "Black Dragon." Sometimes called "Mr. Canton and Lady Rose." Sometimes "Canton Godfather." Miracles is just one in a long line of Chinese remakes of American films. This time it's a remake of Frank Capra's 1961 Academy Award winning "Pocketful of Miracles." Jackie's own sensibilities shine through in this film, as it includes Bill Hung and Anita Mui and a ton of Jackie's regular crew, and some of my personal favorite fight sequences of all time. But it also is clear that Jackie decided to do this because he absolutely loved the original film, and wanted to adapt it to an audience who otherwise might not have seen it. Jackie was making movies like Police Story 2 and Operation Condor around this time. He didn't NEED to remake an American film. It ends up very funny, and very sweet, with phenomenal action sequences. Jackie spent alot of money making this film, and double duty directing it. Jackie also puts extra effort into his acting in this film as well and one of the first roles where he really starts to show some range beyond his comic mugging. He does a great job of both honoring the original and making it his own.
3. Police Story
You may or may not know this... Police Story is Jackie Chan's favorite movie. He's said so in biographies, and on Rotten Tomatoes. It's not hard to see why. It has great stunts, and great fights, and a decent crime story (especially for the time.) Jackie Chan as a Hong Kong super cop is practically as much as a pulp character-type at this point as Harrison Ford's rougish archeologist and Bruce Willis's blue-collar cop in the wrong place at the wrong time. The opening sequence driving through the shanty town was the first of it's kind, copied in nearly every other action movie thereafter. It won Jackie his only Best Film award from the HKFAA and beat out two films by Sammo Hung's stunt team to win Best Action Choreography as well. It's so influential that even if you haven't *seen* it, you'll still probably recognize half of it. It spawned 3 sequels, a spin-off, a reboot, and a thematic sequel (Crime Story isn't narratively related to Police Story, but come on.) And every single one of these is either good or great. Also I'm thinking about putting the theme song on my iPod.
2. Legend of the Drunken Master (Drunken Master 2)
Drunken Master 2 gives me chills watching it. It's that good. When I want to introduce someone to kung-fu that isn't really a fan of the genre this is the film I use. Every time. The farcical comedy is endearing in the first half of the film, and it builds to a ridiculously hardcore conclusion. This film proves once again that Drunken Boxing is the perfect martial art for Jackie Chan. I'm convinced that Drunken Boxing wouldn't be nearly as popular if it wasn't for Jackie Chan. I've seen every other martial artist give it a shot from Donnie Yen to Gordon Liu to Tony Jaa... everyone but Bruce Lee has tried their hand at it, and no one has been able to make it seem like anything but a gimmick. Except Jackie Chan. It's as physically impressive as it is hilarious. It's fluid and spontaneous and utterly believable that he could easily beat a superior martial artist, as long as he's totally shit-faced. I have Jackie's fight with the purse snatchers on my ipod... because sometimes I just want to watch it again. For mainstream audiences Drunken Master 2 is going to be the best Jackie Chan movie they'll see. Between the hilarious comedy, the jaw-dropping fight sequences, the cringe-worthy stunts, and heartfelt character progression Drunken Master 2 is nothing short of a masterpiece.
1. Young Master
Young Master isn't only my number one Jackie Chan movie of all time. It's my number one kung-fu movie of all time. This film was made in the old days of kung-fu which means it abandons long plot sequences for long fight sequences. The film opens up with a nearly ten minute long lion dance that should be boring but is absolutely riveting. The main villain is Hapkido Grandmaster Hwang Ing-Sik who is SO much better at fighting than Jackie Chan in real life that the only way Jackie can win in the end is through the sheer suspension of disbelief of absolutely everyone involved. It includes a bench fight against Yuen Biao, which is the number one thing I EVER wanted to see in a kung-fu movie. Jackie Chan/Yuen Biao bench fight. That's at the top of the list. Only slightly above zombie Bruce Lee with nunchucks vs Jet Li with three-section-staff. And mostly, it is the first time Jackie really gets to flex his comedy muscle. Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Fearless Hyena and Drunken Master all included comic moments to be sure, but this was the first movie that Jackie started intentionally adding comedy as part of the plot. This is really the foci of kung-fu comedy (that wasn't unintelligible broad Cantonese stuff.)
This blog is already hip deep into tl;dr territory, so I'm just going to give a quick rundown of the 5 worst Jackie Chan films I've seen (keep in mind I haven't seen "Spy Next Door" and I really think that'd be on this list.)
5. Twin Dragons: Jackie Chan and Jackie Chan in the worst movie I can legitimately blame him for. The rest of these films, I can point a finger at someone else but this one... Jackie should've made it better.
4. Island of Fire (aka The Prisoner): Kung-fu remake of Cool Hand Luke, but it's all over the place and instead of reimaging the original, it just lifts a couple scenes and shoves them into a confusing mess of a film.
3. Rush Hour 2: Worst of the Rush Hour films, and maybe Jackie's worst American film. Chris Tucker dialed the annoying up to 11, and also apparently knows some kung-fu through osmosis.
2. The Medallion: There are a couple funny moments in this film, but it doesn't forgive it for being fucking terrible. Jackie Chan is invincible and yet, there isn't any action in it?!
1. Rumble in Hong Kong: In addition to being the worst movie on the list, Rumble in Hong Kong holds the distinction of being the only movie in which Jackie Chan ever played the villain. He was just a random gang-leader with a giant mole on his face. But ultimately it's the fact that this movie is boring and makes no sense that puts it at number worst.
Finally is the best worst thing Jackie Chan has ever done. I could watch this over and over forever on a loop.
Out of the East
A dream comes out from the sky
Setting me free
Through the clouds I will fly
The mountain must yield to me
Thunder will roar
The sound wakes the universe
Dragon will soar
That's right. Dragon. Will. Soar. Unintentional comedy for the win.