Bruce Lee is the holy grail of martial artists, as far as movies go. Everyone says Bruce was the toughest, fastest, most dedicated martial artist in the world, could whip anyone and everyone in a real fight, and was generally the baddest of the bad in the history of the universe. His movies are kung fu (well, jeet kune do, wing chung, boxing, and jujitsu) classics, he legitimized the genre around the world, and he generally blazed a trail that everyone else behind him has followed. That said; please don’t interpret this statement the wrong way.
Jackie Chan is the greatest movie martial artist in the history of cinema.
From a sheer entertainment standpoint, I don’t think there’s a better example of a renaissance man. Thanks to his training in traditional Chinese opera, his use of martial arts, his love of silent films, his singing voice, and his unique physical gifts, Jackie Chan has blended East and West, comedy and drama, martial arts and silent films into a unique subgenre known only as the Jackie Chan movie. Really, there’s no other way to describe a Jackie Chan film than that. How would you classify such a broad combination of styles and tones? How else would you describe an actor whose movies involve comedy breaking out in the middle of an astoundingly complex fight scene?
Jackie is very underrated in terms of his kung-fu prowess thanks in no small part to the fact that the movies he’s made his name with are really funny, but his forms plural are impressive in his older, more traditional kung-fu films (Snake in Eagle’s Shadow, Drunken Master, etc). Because he’s also amusing, his amazing physical gifts are neglected. His sense of balance and acrobatic abilities never fail to draw a gasp from the audience, and his influence over such other martial artists (especially ultra-serious ones like the awesome Tony Jaa) is unmistakable.
In addition to being a Chinese pop star, Jackie is also a writer, director, producer, actor, singer, dancer, and of course, the greatest stuntman and stunt choreographer in history. His group, the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, is one of the best in the world, and there’s not a movie that Jackie makes (except for possibly his Hollywood ones) that doesn’t have at least some jaw-dropping fight choreography. Knowing the team and working with them for years at a time allows Jackie to design stunts and fights catering to each man’s particular skills, which makes for smoother, better stunt work and less injuries for a man who has broken dozens of bones in his career. The success of his team concept inspired fellow Peking Opera House students turned martial arts movie stars Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, as well as several others, to launch their own stunt teams.
The impact that Jackie Chan has had on the martial arts genre is immeasurable. Thanks to him, the world was saved from a never-ending parade of dour, grimacing, stone-faced Bruce Lee clones. His amusing but impressive martial arts movies continue to be a guilty pleasure for kung-fu fanatics, and he’s the best thing about his various Hollywood movies. Sure, they’re usually not very good, but Jackie Chan can make even the otherwise lousy The Tuxedo watchable, if only for the James Brown dancing scene.
Of course, the main reason why I love Jackie Chan is, well, his fighting skill and improvisational abilities. The entire time I watch a Jackie Chan film, I wait for the fights to break out and I wonder just how he’ll work in that folding chair, or that jump rope, or that bicycle, or even that refrigerator in his inevitably brilliant fight scene. However, he doesn’t need a set up to be impressive. Just watch this fight with kickboxing champion Benny “The Jet” Urquidez (from Grosse Point Blank, among others) from Wheels on Meals.
Amusingly enough, for those that doubt Jackie’s prowess as a fighter, during this scene Urquidez had great difficulty pulling his punches and kicks, so Jackie took a serious beating and became so frustrated that there was nearly a legitimate brawl between the two. Considering Jackie Chan’s history of charitable giving, his involvement with UNICEF, and his generosity, he had to have taken some pretty hard blows to get that mad. After all, it’s not as if he’s not got a history of being hit, or a quick temper.
Jackie’s in his mid-50s now, and most of his movies are less about the stunts and more about the comedy. He’s reaching out in his range, taking on more dramatic roles and breaking away from the Jackie Chan ‘goofy guy with a heart of gold who bumbles in and out of trouble’ role to expand his career. Certainly, at 54 and uninsurable throughout the world thanks to his history of injuries and crazy stunts, he’s earned the right to take it easy, make a few Rush Hour films with minimal high falls, and relax a little, but just because he’s taking it slightly easier in his old age doesn’t mean we don’t love him any less.