As children often do, the young version of me had an idol. A superhuman, nigh unstoppable legend that I built up in my brain as the pinnacle of everything I wanted to be when I grew up.
His name was Jackie Chan.
My introduction to this demigod of a martial artist was relatively late in his career, but pretty early in my own life. In the distant, mystical year of 2000, an impressionable 7-year-old boy named Sean joined his family for a screening of Shanghai Noon. Though it might not be the single most amazing display of Jackie Chan's abilities, this is what kicked off my boyhood obsession with all things Jackie.
I was entranced by Jackie Chan's acrobatics, combined with his seemingly improvised moves and weapons. Case in point, the man literally uses a rope and a horseshoe as a meteor hammer to utterly demolish some Old West cowboys.
Pictured: a role model
You can rest assured that upon seeing Jackie's martial arts for the first time, I was in my backyard trying to imitate them. Picture a slightly chubby first-grader swinging his mom's nice spoon at the end of a nylon rope, destroying invisible bad guys, and occasionally using his spoon-rope as a grappling hook on trees and fences, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what this looked like.
His absolute mastery over his environment is part of the reason I idolized him. In any given setting, Jackie was completely aware of his surroundings. From my childhood observations of him, I concluded that he must have an ongoing inventory in his brain of objects currently within reach, as well as their capabilities for impromptu weaponry, along with years of practice and natural skill that ensured he could bend any object or enemy to his will. Add to this his parkour-like ability to get over, around or through any obstacle put in his way, and I was utterly convinced that this man was a superhero.
Even detailing his hardcore martial arts-based destruction doesn't do this guy justice, because, on top of being able to lay you out with any item that's in the room where you're currently reading this, he also has an incredible sense of comedic timing. So not only will he assault you with a rubber spatula, he'll do it in a way that makes people laugh at his Chaplin-esque creativity and physical humor.
Eat your heart out, Gene Kelly.
Jackie Chan is different from other martial arts action heroes, in that he purposefully sets himself apart by not being like Bruce Lee. Though Lee was a superhuman beast himself, and worthy of all the praise he gets, he spawned a lot of imitators, trying to reproduce his famously stoic demeanor and no-nonsense brand of butt kicking. That can make for an awesome fight scene, but Jackie actively pushed against that in his own films, projecting an onscreen persona of a well-intentioned goofball who nonetheless can drop you like a sack of dirt. He's a hero with skill and strength, but he's not afraid to look like an idiot every once in a while and get up to some comedic hijinks.
And because he's just that awesome, Jackie does his own stunts–and as you probably know, is practically synonymous with doing your own stunts–putting life and limb on the line and getting severely injured in the process. He's broken an obscene amount of bones, but still comes back for more. Perhaps his worst injury occurred in Armour of God (1986) when he jumped from a high tree branch to another and slipped, falling onto his head on a rock and caving in part of his skull.
A lot of his stunts, especially back in the day, took place with minimal, if any, safety precautions. He's done many high-altitude stunts without a harness, nearly falling to his death off a building when filming Who Am I? in 1996, as risked paralysis and dismemberment on more than one occasion.
Partial List of Crazy Jackie Chan Stunts
- Slid down a 4-story pole covered in live Christmas tree lights–none of which were grounded–and smashing through a large pane of glass (Police Story)
- Slid down the angled side of a 21-story glass skyscraper without a safety harness (Who am I?)
- Crab-walked across a bed of coals (The Legend of Drunken Master)
- Jumping from a building to a rope-ladder hanging from a helicopter, swinging through a city (Supercop)
- Rolled sideways over a running table-saw (Mr. Nice Guy)
- Sky-dived onto the top of a hot-air balloon (Armour of God)
With the facts all laid out as they are, is it any wonder I idolized this guy?
If you idolize Jackie Chan (and me) you can support this blog and get your Jackie fix in one go! Watch some Jackie Chan movies below!