The incomparable Jackie Chan has been thrilling audiences for over four decades with his singular combination of insane martial arts skills and great comedic timing. The other quality that sets Chan apart from his peers is that he does his own stunts, no matter how dangerous, cheating death virtually every time he makes a movie.Here are a few scenes that posed grave danger to the life and limbs of one of the greatest action stars of all time.
Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow was one of Chan’s first lead roles back in 1978, introducing his distinct comic touch and distinguishing him from the great Bruce Lee. The movie also featured rising star Hwang Jang-Lee, the “king of the leg fighters,” whose powerful kicks have become legends. Jang-Lee and Chan’s onscreen chemistry was so good that Jang-Lee was cast as the villain in Chan’s follow-up, Drunken Master. While shooting Snake, Jang-Lee had accidentally kicked out one of Chan’s teeth, but Chan had apparently failed to learn his lesson. He suffered one of his first major on-set injuries when one of Lee’s thundering kicks connected with his brow bone, breaking it and nearly causing him to lose an eye. In a 2014 interview, Hwang Jang-Lee was asked to rank his top five kung-fu fighters — and he didn’t hesitate to rank Jackie Chan #1.
In 1983’s Project A, Hong Kong police team up with the Coast Guard to fight pirates at the turn of the 20th century, and it’s pure slapstick comedy by way of blinding martial arts and insane stunt work. One of the most dangerous things Chan ever did appears in the finished movie, and it may have been the first scene to give audiences the notion that Chan may be superhuman. In the scene, Chan’s character Ma dangles from the face of a 60-foot clock tower — but things don’t go well. After losing his grip and falling six stories through a couple of awnings, Chan lands directly on his head. Chan injured his spine during the stunt, but the camera doesn’t cut away. Instead, extras drag him to his feet, and he continues the scene.
The Police Story series has been particularly hazardous to Chan, starting with the 1985 original. At the climax of a prolonged brawl inside a shopping mall, Chan jumps from a railing onto a pole covered in Christmas lights. The glass was fake, so Chan at least wasn’t sliced to ribbons. But the lights had heated up the pole, causing him to sustain serious burns on his hands. The hard landing also dislocated Chan’s pelvis and injured two vertebrae. At least the stunt looked great in the finished film, because there was no way they were getting a second take.
Armour of God
It was a completely routine shot that resulted in Chan’s closest brush with mortality. While shooting the 1986 film Armour of God in Yugoslavia, Chan had to jump from the wall of a castle to a nearby tree branch, a maneuver that he’d normally be able to pull off in his sleep. Instead, he came crashing down onto the rocks below, cracking his skull and sending a piece of it into his brain, resulting in doctors having to put a metal plate in his head. It seems like the kind of thing that might put an action star out of commission for good, but the near-fatal injury simply became the highlight of Armour of God’s outtake reel — and over the next two decades, Chan would continue to risk it all for the enjoyment of his millions of fans.
Armour of God II: Operation Condor
The second film in the Armour of God series, released in 1991, sees Chan in Indiana Jones mode, chasing after hidden treasure and dealing with secret cults and hidden Nazi bases. It’s packed to the brim with crazy fight sequences and stunts, but it was another reasonably simple task that nearly took Chan out. Clever editing hides Chan’s terrible tumble during filming. In the extended scene, Chan actually loses his grip on the chain and plummets to the ground. Even though he had dislocated his sternum, he gives a thumbs up. It could have been worse — if he had landed differently, he might have finished the job he started on Project A and dislocated his head.
Police Story 3: Supercop
It’s safe to say that most leading men have never had their face rearranged by a helicopter, but Jackie Chan is not most leading men. An incredibly perilous sequence in 1992’s Police Story 3: Supercop has Chan leap onto a rope ladder dangling from a chopper, while the pilot attempts to shake him off. That wasn’t even the dangerous part. When the helicopter later lands on a moving train, all Chan has to do to avoid it as he dangles from a rotating railway apparatus. A miss revealed in the outtakes resulted in a fractured rib, broken shoulder, and dislocated cheekbone. Chan had to hang on with his good shoulder while half-conscious, waiting for the crew to cut him down. It’s easy to see how much worse it could have been.
The Legend of Drunken Master
It took 16 years for Drunken Master to receive a sequel, 1994’s The Legend of Drunken Master. Its climactic fight sequence is legendary, but it was almost very different. Chan disagreed with the director’s vision for the final scene, and the conflict led to him quitting the uncompleted production. Chan himself took over directing duties… and decided to repeatedly risk lighting Movie Scenes That Nearly Killed Jackie Chan himself on fire. What makes the sequence even more amazing is that the take in the finished film is the second one. Chan felt that the first take didn’t have the proper rhythm, so he shot it again, because he’s apparently invincible.
Who Am I?
1998’s Who Am I, places Chan in the middle of international intrigue, working with a CIA agent to solve a mystery surrounding missing scientists while dodging hitmen in scenic locales — and of course, performing one of the most insane stunts ever put to film. Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, is home to Willemswerf, one of the world’s more unique skyscrapers. It features a sloping glass facade that runs down one entire side of the 24-story building. In the climactic scene of the film, Chan slides down the entire length of the facade. Chan accomplished this stunt by literally just sliding down the entire length of the facade, unassisted, with no harnesses or other special equipment, exactly as seen in the film. The slide takes nearly 45 seconds to complete before Chan comes to a bone-jarring halt, catching himself from flying over the edge. It took him two weeks to work up the courage to attempt what may be the most dangerous stunt ever put to film.
New Police Story
Since the old Police Story series obviously wanted him dead, Chan could have been forgiven if he’d wanted to skip the 2004 reboot New Police Story. But in characteristic fashion, he threw himself into the film’s kinetic action scenes with gusto. In one particularly terrifying scene, Chan pursues a gang member who distracts him from the chase by gunning down the driver of a loaded double-decker bus. Chan leaps onto the roof of the out-of-control bus, which proceeds to cause massive property damage while the hazards come at him fast and furious. It’s easy to spot about a hundred things that could have gone wrong during the filming of this sequence, any one of which could have resulted in Chan literally losing his head. But if it weren’t crazy dangerous to shoot, it wouldn’t really be a Jackie Chan movie.
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