A Millennial’s Guide to Jackie Chan Movies

He’s always fighting, always running and always saying sorry.

Jackie Chan. The man from Hong Kong who’s always trying to break his limbs running away from bad guys — but not before thrashing them with everything from ladders to shopping carts to Turkish souvenirs and Dutch clogs. This dude has nineteen lives, is the most famous Chinaman next to Mao and has made more movies than I’ve eaten rice.

But if you were born after 2000, Jackie Chan’s name may be as nebulous as Michael Jackson i.e. you know him but you don’t really know him. For example, you may not be aware that this fella popularized the drunken-boxing fad, innovated kungfu action choreography (by fighting multiple assailants simultaneously), thinks that CGI is for losers, and who almost died leaping from a cliff on to a tree — because only cowardly Oscar contenders use something as insulting as stunt doubles.

So, young people, below is a quick guide to Jackie Chan movies for the uninitiated. Give it an honest read and I guarantee it’ll minimize your spend on cinema tickets and optimize your enjoyment from seeing bodies kicked across the room. So, from Sucks to Sensational, in descending order:

Tier 4: The Utterly Forgettable

The following movies must’ve been made for no other reason than to satisfy Jackie’s desire to try out new stunts. They all resemble a 2-hour prequel for the outtakes. Don’t even bother to pretend there’s a plot, don’t worry about the cheesy acting, and since you paid for the ticket already, how about a dozen lame jokes whilst we’re at it (the kind Asian adolescents play on each other)?

Films like Chinese Zodiac, Tuxedo, Thunder Bolt, City Hunter, The Spy Next Door, Armor of God 2, Accidental Spy, Mr Nice Guy, The Medallion all smack of a circus-like atmosphere in which all the stunts and ‘cool parts’ were filmed first after which the producers got together and said, Ok now how we gonna piece all this together?

There is zero connection between the characters and the audience. As a matter of fact, I found most of the characters irritating and all I wanted to do was slap them.

Take Skip Trace, for example. Practically a motion picture version of a ‘Visit Mongolia & China’ brochure, I absolutely couldn’t give two bad kungfu kicks about Jacky character’s obsession for revenge against the criminal mastermind, about his god-daughter’s plight, about Johnny Knoxville and his conman-like behavior which is supposedly a manifestation of his lack of parental love, about anything in the movie other than the awesome river, mountain and desert scenery.

And by the way, I understand that casting Knoxville was necessary because very few actors are also professional stuntmen but, omg, I’ve seen more convincing performances from a Filet O Fish.

Save your ticket money, watch Star Trek Beyond instead. And, seriously, for movies like The Medallion, this is what you do:

1) Go to YouTube
2) Search for ‘Jackie Chan Medallion action scenes’
3) Watch it
4) Move on with your life

(The Dublin chase scene is class, by the way. The way Jackie jumps/runs/climbs over a 20-feet gate? He should be President of the United States)

Do this for all the movies in this category. Include movies like Police Story 2 (with Jacky crossing the street by leaping on two buses), 3 (chase scenes in Kuala Lumpur) and 4 (fighting among sharks in Australia).

And no not all of Jackie’s Police Stories are equal in the eyes of God (see below).

Tier 3: Trying Too Hard

As most chess fans know, Gary Kasparov’s biggest mistake was leaving the chessboard and entering politics. Likewise, as most Jackie Chan fans know, Jackie’s errors started when he tried leave his trademark action behind and attempted drama instead. Such efforts always end up looking like me trying to cook pizza — I should stick to toasting bread.

Films in this awkward category include Dragon Blade, Police Story 2015, Gorgeous, 1911 and The Myth. Some credit to the script-writers for producing above-average plots and yes there’s always some good ‘ol Jackie action scenes but — like I said — watching these movies is like watching Christiano Ronaldo play badminton. It don’t matter how well he plays. The moment you know it’s Ronny McDonnny, you can’t help thinking he looks weird and oh wouldn’t he better taking a free-kick?

The movie which is symptomatic of this category has to be Gorgeous. This is where Jackie played some love-sick dude falling for Shu Qi. Dammit! Repeat after me: Jackie Chan does NOT fall over himself in romantic situations. No! Jackie Chan is the guy who makes 20 gun-less bad guys chasing him fall on the floor, into glass structures or out warehouse windows.

If you want a love movie, go watch Deadpool or something.

Ergo, there is absolutely NOTHING about Gorgeous worth watching but the fight on the yacht, the fight with the baseball bat and motorbike, and the colorful kungfu-boxing scenes with Brad Allan in the paper factory. Period.

Jackie taking on Brad Allen in ‘Gorgeous’ (1999)

Special mention must be made of Shinjuku Incident, the only movie I know where Jackie plays a dude who cannot MMA his way outta trouble. My verdict? If you want an actor to play a character who can’t fight, get Chow Yuen Fatt or Nicky Cheung or even Nicholas Tse, all of whom Jackie can’t hold a candle to when it comes to doing Drama Minggu Ini. In the same vein, I find it sad (for Jackie) that my favorite parts of Dragon Blade were every time Adrien Brody and John Cusack made an appearance.

Having said that, Jackie does occasionally come through as a ‘serious’ actor. Movies like Karate Kid and Little Big Soldier have fewer than four minutes of ‘JC-type’ kungfu-ish action combined, but the viewer may leave the cinema thinking more about the story than about why nobody flew off a bridge.

Tier 2: Vintage Jackie

Then there are movies like Armor of God, Project A II, Who Am I?, Forbidden Kingdom, Dragons Forever, Wheels on Meals, Rumble in the Bronx, The Miracle, the entire Rush Hour series and the Shanghai (Noon and Knights) instalments. These films (especially the American made ones) have above-average directing, granting them a better sense of coherency and — critically — without sacrificing the creative action which brands Jackie’s movies. Actors like Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson also help inject some comedy not confined to the juvenile crapola you find in Chinese Zodiac or The Spy Next Door.

As mentioned, to be ‘vintage Jackie’ the action scenes must be respectable and — in the case of Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever (where Jackie fought with Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez) — they are damn near perfect. If I was kidnapped and told I can watch only ten minutes of film before getting my head blown off, I’d ask my abductor to play the scenes with Jackie trading seriously hard punches with Benny in the drug factory and the castle — and I’d die happy.

Jackie with Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez in ‘Dragons Forever’ (1988) — one of only two times these two sqared up. The other time was in ‘Wheels on Meals’ (1984)

And who can ever forget about Rumble in the Bronx where Jackie first lectures a hundred gangsters after which he completely thrashes up their place, fighting with fridges, pinball machines and TVs’? Who the hell needs education and social activism when one Chinese tourist can transform street thugs into squealing/moaning toddlers by kicking them to seventh hell?

A quick rule of thumb: Almost all Jackie’s movies from the mid-90s’ and earlier are worth watching in full.

The Jackie Chan of the 90s’ could drive his car off a cliff with his only concern being that the camera makes it beyond a doubt that it’s his ass inside. This Jackie will spit in the face of anything even resembling a safety prop and would not run too fast away from an explosion because only retarded 2-year olds are afraid of entire buildings going up in flames. If such cool stuff isn’t worth 2 hours of your leisure time and a popcorn, you need therapy.

The younger Jackie Chan had balls the size of Everest and the action scenes were fast, furious and fun. The older Jackie Chan? He just wants to win Golden Horse awards, tap into bigger movie markets and talk about the younger Jackie Chan.

Films like The Miracle, Twin Dragons and Project A II also showcase some of Jackie’s best experimental work e.g. fighting with durians, with red chillis, with handcuffs, with plates, with rope machines, with car testing machines, and even with karaoke equipment. Sequences like these are precisely why Steven Spielberg declared that if he ever directed a film with Jackie, he would defer the action scenes to the big-nosed fella from Hong Kong. That’s even better than curing cancer.

Tier 1: This Is What It’s All About!

Finally, four movies you have to watch RIGHT NOW before a meteor hits earth and every video-playing device is annihilated. From great to super-great, in descending order again:

#4 — Police Story

This movie changed my perception of why malls exist. Nowadays, each time I step into Suria KLCC, I imagine myself chasing bad guys from Kinokuniya to Nando’s, smashing up shit on the way and ensuring that bodies somersault-crash into everything from the Starbucks coffee machines to the Petrosains dinosaurs. The climax has Jackie sliding down a pole covered with a million light-bulbs because, again, any other option are for people with insecure sexual identity issues.

It’s also the first movie where Jackie unleashed hell with cars, hung on to a bus with an umbrella, drop-kicked someone through a windshield and answered twenty phone calls at a time whilst eating instant noodles.

Forget corporate team-building; just play this movie for your staff during training and say Discuss.

#3 — New Police Story

Made almost 20 years after the original (with three sub-great police stories in between), this is one of the better 21st century Jackie movies around. The fight sequences with then newcomer Andy On weren’t the most creative, but they get full marks for intensity (engaged as they were for the sake of Jackie’s friends). The last time Jackie was that ‘serious’ was in Crime Story which, in my always right opinion, was ruined by the terrible ending.

This movie also has one of the best HK chase scenes ever filmed, starting from the top of a building, and ending with a crashing bus. And, for once, the story (not harmed with Nichoals Tse pulling the strings) jerked half a tear from me. In the same vein, check out Rob-B-Hood, also directed by Benny Chan — cute plot, good acting and you get to see Jackie rearranging baddies’ heads with drums and keyboards.

#2 — Drunken Master II

When’s the last time you saw a guy dive into real life actual burning hot coals just to make an action scene look, uh, cooler? If you want to see it again, simply rent or download this movie, fast-forward to the scene where Jackie takes on half a dozen gun-less goons, beat them the heck up (whilst trying to avoid being buried in coal), then take his chances with two baddies — one who can punch like a kangaroo, the other who can kick like a horse — and, because pain is his friend, allows himself to get pushed into a smokin’ pit of coals. And, just to prove he’s not one of those pussies who runs away from 500-degree heat, Jackie has to crawl along the fiery hell-box and, as a finale, get kicked down a flight of stairs again.

“Kids, when you grow up, I want you to be JUST LIKE THAT!!”

Jackie falling onto burning coals in ‘Legend of the Drunken Master’ (1994)

This movie saw Jackie return to ‘traditional’ martial arts movie-making after about two decades of playing policemen, treasure-hunters and innocent by-standers who happen to be natural experts at MMA. As such, the sword- and fist-fights possess the veneer of ‘art’ and there’s an effort to pretend that these moves approximate cool shit you can learn in some Chinese kungfu school with a grand-sounding name on a plaque.

Oh, and it’s also a loose ‘sequel’ to the original Drunken Master (released in 1977) which shot Jackie to HongkyWood stardom.

Whatever the style — modern or trad — the action scenes are among Jackie’s finest: Sword vs spear fight under a train, bamboo vs axe battle in a coffee-shop, the much-promoted drunken-style action scenes (with Jackie bashing people up whilst trying to down a bottle of oriental Johnnie Walker) and, to top it up, the coal-crawling and fire-blowing scenes in which Jackie drinks industrial-grade fuel as a way of a) overcoming pain and b) clobbering the rotten moonlights out of the bad guy.

Avengers, sit down and take notes.

#1 — Project A

This is it. This is totally it. The only movie you need to salvage from a burning video-shop.

Three major action sequences (in a bar, a club and a pirate cove), a bicycle chase, a death-inviting fall from a clock tower and a dim sum parlor fight structured like Chinese opera. This one has it all — more action than what you get in a hundred Marvel movies. If Jackie could’ve added an extra hour we would probably see him fighting off thirty Roman soldiers with a feather-duster whilst chasing a tuk-tuk carrying a bomb.

I watched this twice in the cinema and another 200 times between puberty and my first kid. Heck, I’m watching it right now plus I want it to be looped at my funeral.

If you’re a film theory lecturer and you haven’t adopted this film as the gold-standard case-study of all time, what are you doing? Quit your job, give back your academic certificates and go teach Maths instead.

As with Dragons Forever, this one has Jackie teaming up with his pals Samo Hung and Yuen Biao. The final scene, in fact, is a glorious 3-versus-1 gala where the trio battle the pirate king who, believe it or not, holds his own pretty damn well. Only Jackie’s action-choreography crew can pull off a stylish hand-to-leg-to-hand action scene in which swords, barrels, carpets and explosives combine in a way which makes you want to jump into the screen and kick ass yourself. The part where Samo charges at the pirate and delivers a flying kick at him in OMFG stylish slow-mo? Halle-frickin’-luyah, baby.

Jason Bourne can kiss my ass.

Jackie Chan, Samo Hung and Yuen Biao in ‘Project A’ (1983)

And have I mentioned the clock-tower? So there we have Jackie fighting off bad guys whilst, incidentally, being hand-cuffed. He climbs a flag-pole, leaps into a clock tower (because heroes like him can’t simply wait for the police to come), beats off yet another bad guy (one with a gun this time — honest), then runs out the top of the tower only get into another mishap which has him holding on for dear life at the end of the long-hand of the clock. What happens next? Oh, nothing much. Jackie simply lets go and falls through about a dozen awnings before crashing through the ground and having his spine smashed like a watermelon.

All so that Jackie can deliver the 2-second line to Yuen Biao: “Guess what? Gravity really exists!”

The famous clock-tower scene in Project A (1983)

If you don’t think this deserves a Nobel Prize for Great Testicles, go watch Twilight instead.

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.

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