1993 – Hong Kong action cinema was on top of the world. Michelle Yeoh just came back from her early retirement, Jet Li was leading a wave of folk hero wuxia films, and Jackie Chan was known around the globe. Meanwhile, Japanese culture was the new hotness. The first ever video game-based movie came out that year and Dragon Ball Z just released one of its all-time best TV specials.
So, you can imagine how big of a deal it was when these two forces came together in City Hunter. Helmed by Hong Kong’s most prolific director schlockmeister Wong Jing and starring Jackie Chan, this is an official licensed adaptation of the Japanese manga of the same name, a rarity for its time.
Wong even acquired the proper Street Fighter character license just so he can put Jackie in drag. It was an incredibly ambitious movie and Jackie, allegedly, f#cking hated it to a point where he disowned the film. To Wong Jing, much of the humor in the film are accurate adaptations of the source material but to Jackie, they are low brow perverted jokes which, let’s be honest, is a totally fair assessment. As the story goes, Jackie’s negative comments pissed off Wong Jing so much, that in 1995, Wong released High Risk, an action film that mocks Jackie for being an egotistical womanizer and a fraud that uses stunts doubles all the time. And the best part, the film was not entirely wrong. Oh, sh#t!
Let’s take a look at High Risk and talk about the hidden side of Jackie Chan, shall we?
The movie begins by blowing up a bus full of children. Jet Li plays a former bomb squat officer who failed to save his wife and son in a hostage situation. After losing his family, Li leaves the force and becomes the bodyguard for Frankie, a parody of Jackie Chan. In an odd twist of fate, the same terrorist who killed Li’s family attacks an antique jewelry exhibition, which Frankie was invited to. The rest of the film is a die-hard style action flick. Jet Li is the only one who can save the day and Frankie provides all the comedic hijinks. It’s your usual Wong Jing shlock with cheesy plot, low brow humor, and surprisingly well-done action sequences and special effects. But the plot is not why you are here. You wanna know about Jackie Chan, right? So, let’s talk about Frankie.
First, how do we know he’s supposed to be Jackie Chan? The film seems to have trouble deciding if he’s Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, so it makes fun of both. But the character’s similarity to Jackie Chan is pretty blatant. And there are also slightly more subtle details such as using similar stunt team uniforms, calling him Frankie instead of Jackie, and calling his manager Charlie instead of Willie. Also, he’s played by singer Jackie Cheung. Not sure if that’s intentional.
So then, what does the film say about Jackie Chan?
Mainly, 3 things:
#1. He’s an egotistical, unprofessional actor.
In the movie, he first appears on set drunk out of his mind to a point he couldn’t do his own stunts. This accusation is largely wrong as acknowledged by Wong Jing himself. Jackie has always been a very professional and dedicated actor. That said, the accusation is not without basis.
In 2006, during Jonathan Lee’s concert, Jackie Chan climbed on stage while drunk and insisted on performing as a guest. When booed by the audience he verbally retaliated with swear words. Although, he did later apologize for his behaviour.
So, a drinking problem and an ego problem not without basis.
#2. He’s a perverted womanizer
Frankie is depicted as a pervert who gets “handsy” with women at every turn. While the depiction is rather comical, it is, again, not an empty accusation. Over the years, fans and tabloid news have noticed that in a lot of group photos. Jackie is often unusually intimate with various actresses. It’s frequent enough to be a meme. Added with Jackie’s messy private life, skirt-chasing various famous actresses over the year and even having an extra-marital affair. If anything, the parody is rather tame in comparison.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly to you and me.
#3. He’s a fraud who fakes his own stunts
And this one is…complicated
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Okay, does Jackie Chan use stunt doubles? The answer is unequivocally: yes, of course, he does. Sorry to burst your bubble. There are many reasons for Jackie to have to use doubles. Thunderbolt is filmed right after Rumble In The Bronx in which Jackie broke his ankle and had to wear a cast. So, Jackie ended up using stunt doubles for the majority of the fights. Sometimes, an action requires professional training. Sometimes, Jackie hit the limit of his body. He did this jump already and he couldn’t do it again. So, an additional jump is done by stuntman Cheung Wing-Fat. And finally, there are times when a double just gives a better performance. Supposedly, Jackie tried to do this spin kick and it never looked good on camera. So stuntman Chin Ka-lok was the one who did it.
Here is Chin Ka-lok and Cheung Wing-Fat sharing their stories on TV. Yes, on TV. Turns out, Jackie Chan using stunt doubles has never been much of a secret.
“the action hero who does all his own stunts” – many of you probably remember this line and indeed, this trailer helped popularized the myth that Jackie doesn’t use stunt doubles. However, contrary to popular belief, the myth predates this trailer. In fact, it stretches back to at least 1989.
However, the myth didn’t start out as egregious as you’d think. Nowadays, it’s not that rare to find an actor who does their stunts. But back in the 80s, it was unheard of for the Western audience. Imagine a foreign reporter asks you this question: “Do you do all of your own stunts?” And you said “actually some of them were done by doubles”. You may be saying “it’s a team effort” but everyone will only focus on the fact that you used doubles. You are the same as stars in Hollywood. Rather than acknowledge what you did, now everyone just sees what you didn’t do. It’s a huge negative point for you and the Hong Kong film industry.
Additionally, Jackie had come out multiple times explaining that he had, in fact, used doubles. He explained it in 2007 when one of his doubles explained some behind-the-scenes details, in 2003, when questioned why he used doubles in the film Tuxedo, and supposedly in 1985, during an interview with City Entertainment magazine. In short, there are two sides of Jackie at play.
The filmmaker Jackie who acknowledges the use of doubles and the publicist Jackie who maintains a myth of himself to further his career.
Finally, we also need to make a distinction between “Jackie Chan doesn’t use stunt doubles” and “Jackie Chan does all his stunts”. This famous jump from Who Am I, for example is edited from multiple takes. Some angles were Jackie, other angles were a double, because, surprise surprise, movies need multiple takes. Many of Jackie’s stunts are like this. Jackie technically did his own stunts, he’s just not the only one. Is this false advertising? Yes. But is it an egregious lie? That’s up to you to decide.
When people heard that Jackie doesn’t do all of his stunts, their impressions of Jackie immediately turn negative to a point where they think “Jackie does none of his stunts”, that everything he did must be a lie. Again, you may be saying it’s a team effort but everyone will only focus on what you didn’t do. Doesn’t help that outside of the silver screen, Jackie just isn’t very likeable. Internationally, he’s probably most infamous for his pro-authoritarian view saying, “Chinese people need to be managed”, which is such a hot take even in mainland China. Domestically, he’s also infamous for being an awful father. He was largely absent from his son’s life. He also had an extramarital affair, which resulted in a daughter. Yet, allegedly, he never took care of either woman. Some say the destitution is because his daughter is gay but Jackie was absent before she was even born. Yeah… no wonder why Wong Jing doesn’t like him, huh?
So… is Jackie Chan a piece of sh#t and you should feel bad for watching his movies?
It is here that we should talk about our tendency for worshiping, “Great Men of History”. Think Elon Musk, once the internet’s loving genius doofus who changed the landscape of the automotive industry. Now, he’s seen as a complete manchild with endless political hot takes. Steve Jobs, the man who sparked the mobile revolution died from cancer because he insisted on using alternative medicine. Isaac Newton, the man who invented calculus is a freaking alchemist. Every smart person has done countless dumb things. It seems so weird, doesn’t it?
We have this tendency to believe great men were born great, that Einstein had a different brain from normal people. But neither Jackie nor any other great heroes of history are born that way. Jackie enrolled in the Peking Opera school at the age of 7 and went through grueling training. He wasn’t born great. He was trained. But outside of his incredible cinematic ability, he is untrained, like you and I. Ignoring his career, Jackie is your typical Asian dad, who loves to exaggerate things, who has all sorts of political hot takes, who are frequently absent from children’s lives, who insist on singing at a birthday party while drunk out of his mind. He’s accomplished in film and he’s full of flaws and detestable qualities in life. Such is the complexity of humanity. Remember that clip where Wong Jing shares his opinion on Jackie even though it’s very clear that Wong did not like Jackie as a person, he nevertheless acknowledges Jackie for his dedication. Judge someone by their actions and not their actions by who you think they are.
And it is here that I want to bring up the real tragedy. How stunt doubles are still so underappreciated, even today. It’s one of those “never reveal the secret of your magic trick” situations, right? Once you know how it is done, the illusion is broken and no doubt, the illusion was broken for many of you today. But think about it this way, this jump from Rumble In The Bronx was filmed, not once, but twice! Supposedly, done by Jackie and also the director Standley Tong. An editor then picked the best portions from both takes and combine them to make the best possible spectacle. Next time, when you look at a stunt, think about it more as a team effort that multiple people have to be involved multiple times, that it is dangerous to not just one person but an entire team of people. I don’t know about you but that makes me appreciate the scale of filmmaking so much more. It makes me realize that film history, like all history, is written not by a single great man but by a collective of heroes.
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