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« Auditions: "La La Land" | Main | What did you see this weekend? »
Sunday
May052019

Chan's the Man

By Salim Garami

What's good?

This past Tuesday saw the home video Criterion Collection release of a 4K restoration for Police Story and Police Story 2, two of movies that made a household name out of Hong Kong international superstar Jackie Chan. Chan is ostensibly a man who needs no introduction in the world of action cinema, but put it this way: the bodily injury and risk, the way this man twists and flips his body and face for our entertainment, the rigorous and grueling discipline that he pushes despite looking so rubbery and clownish... it all makes Tom Cruise's high-altitude climbs and dives look like square cowardice.

The Hong-Kong-based actor-director is a more painful descendent of the school of physical comedy that Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton opened up, utilizing his background in the Peking Chinese Opera to make things as small as answering multiple phone calls look like athletic feats...

In order to illustrate his excellence and to celebrate this canonization and recognition through the Blu-Ray set release, I've opted to provide two mini-lists here: his top five fights in this post and his top five solo stunts in a post later tomorrow...

 

PART 1 - The Five Fights

5. Playground Fight - Police Story 2 (1988)

In addition to being a great showcase of the matching agility and calisthenics of Chan's famous Stunt Team (including Jackie's personal bodyguard Ken Lo, who we will discuss again soon), it is also the best possible showcase of one of Jackie's greatest skills as an action star: his usage of the environment around him, something that brings out a lot of his playfulness. And in this particular context, that playfulness seems very appropriate. The moment where he climbs up the pole and drops down on a fella feels like a cute touch. Plus that sound design just makes me wince, the hard metal hitting against each other and knowing that pain is what Kevin's up against.

4. Factory Brawl - Dragons Forever (1988)

Prior to being known as a solo star, Chan rose in martial arts comedy notoriety with the Lucky Stars series of films, particularly having a connection with his fellow Peking schoolmates Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. He continued to co-star with the trilogy in films outside of the Lucky Stars franchise, with Dragons Forever being the last movie with all three of them together (though Chan would still co-star with them individually as pairings). This fight is so epic in scale with so many moving pieces and individual match-ups as to function as a grand finale to their team work and chemistry, their non-stop tumbling, their flexibility (and my, do I love that slippery cigar muncher and how he just slithers around). It's so large that the video I linked here frankly is only one major half of the fight (the other - an intense final match-up against Chan and Benny "The Jet" Urquidez - being available through this link).

3. Wong Fei-Hung vs. John and Henry - Drunken Master II (1994)

My favorite Jackie Chan picture of all the ones I've seen and this fight is a large part of why. Directed by the late Lau Kar-leung, a man whose 36th Chamber of the Shaolin already lifted up one martial arts legend by the name of Gordon Liu, it is a fight perfectly shot and cut to have all three of the combatants looking as prime in their physicality as they possibily can. It's also just a super intense moment that takes the most out of Chan's usual fight structure - put him on the bottom, bring his back against the wall, watch him fight his way out - that's amplified by the raging fires and hot reds surrounding them, escalated by the real-life stunt of Chan getting kicked into live hot coals that he has to crabwalk backwards out of (and then taking a kick to the chest before he can cool down), and crashing through the roof by the moment this lunatic version of the legendary Wong Fei-hung drinks brain-damaging industrial grain alcohol. Fei-hung proving to be the role that best allowed Chan to play around with the extend to which he could make his moves most elastic, drinking that alcohol is the turning point in which Chan gets to take that stuff to 11, performing wheelbarrows and Three Stooges gags and bouncing around. And one final note, the guy in the suit that isn't flamebroiled like a steak? That's Ken Lo again. Chan's own stuntman gives his speed a run for its money.

2. Mess at the Mall - Police Story (1985)

Sheer amusement at the concept of watching something as mundane as a shopping mall get turned into a pile of glass. It's particularly the amount of levels in this mall that get me giddy, the way that Kevin is kicking people and getting kicked by people over rails and between escalators as though it's just a video game for us to watch. And one of the absolute coolest things I've ever seen Chan do is climbing up the front of a motorcycle quick enough to kick a fool in the face. It is tied off by a stunt that I will absolutely return to in the next list, so I'll stop here and just let y'all know that it is definitely the fight scene that told me how much I really love watching people beat the heck out of each other as fast as they can.

1. Jackie vs. Benny - Wheels on Meals (1984)

Obviously, the fight between them in Dragons Forever is nothing to scoff about and has arguably more weight behind it, but this fight with the both of them in their prime is the real deal. Like, these guys are Jimmy Johns fast, the swift way in which they swing at each other and duck like their heads will come off otherwise. It is also infectiously cheeky about its awareness of the characters' rapidity: the candles getting blown out just by one kick or the moment Tommy tries to tease his opponent and getting hit in the nose for his troubles. It's just simple match between two crazy good fighters and one that will leave a smile for the show they give.

What are your favorite Jackie Chan fights? What do you like about his action style? Are there any other Jackie Chan films you feel deserve a spot in the Criterion Collection? Any other martial artists you dig? Let us know in the comments.

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Reader Comments (7)

Ironically, Police Story 3 (Supercop) is one of my favorites (the train stunts!). But Rumble in the Bronx is probably the top for me.

May 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCash

Thanks for putting these together — these are fun!

Man, sections of metal pipes must have been lying around everywhere in the ‘80s, huh?

Also, what’s up with all the bad guy bosses wearing glasses in #5 through #2? (And nobody else, just them.) Is that a trope?

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

I'm no fan of his but there's something I have to add...he's acknowledged for picking unknowns or bit actors to cast them in his movies. A generous spirit.

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJans

The mall fight in Police Story I think is a masterpiece in stunt work, direction, action, photography, and editing. I feel like it's something action films lack as it knows when to slow things down and get a sense of the geography. Plus, the editing has something that I would describe as... poetic.

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I saw a few "Drunken Master" films and love the zaniness in all of them, particularly Drunken Master 8 which has this hilarious segment of Wong Fei-Hung training athletically but saddled by his wobbly legs. Still like a martial arts ballet. I'm sure it's on Youtube.

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

I like that mall scene from 'Police Story' the best out of all of his. I don't know enough about martial arts stars, even though I really enjoy their movies when I see them.

When I think of Jackie Chan I always think of that amazing video where he was honored in China the same year he got the honorary Oscar, and all these people from his stunt team showed up to honor him and obviously loved and revered him. He seems like he's the best person.

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Cash - I was actually very very close to having the fight in the gang's hideout from Rumble in the Bronx as number 5. It is definitely a fight so apparently full of just random stuff for Jackie to use and it was my first solo Chan movie (my first movie I ever saw with Chan in it was Winners and Sinners) so it has sentimental value to me. Consider that fight an honorable mention here.

James from Ames - Don't ever ask Jackie if he'd hit a man with glasses (I love the slipperiness of the one from Dragons Forever though, him sliding under the railing of the stairs is one of my favorite moments of the fight).

Owl - Wobbly! That's the word I was looking for using with Drunken Master II! In any case, Wong Fei-hung sure looked like a fun role to play for any martial artist!

May 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSTinG

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