Jackie Chan at 70: A Contrarian List of his Five Best Films

“When I see American films,” Jackie Chan once said, ”okay, they do big things. They can jump 20 buildings. That’s special effect. Even walking, they think about special effect. Me, I never think special effect. I think only about what’s humanly possible.”

But for Jackie Chan, what’s “humanly” possible is quite superhuman.

Chan, who turns seventy this year, in just a few months, is one of the greatest movie stars that the world has ever known; one of the greatest kung fu fighters, an innovative and creative stuntman, an ambitious movie director and screenwriter. He is an unparalleled virtuoso, a kinetic force who blurs the lines between performer and daredevil.

When we talk about Jackie Chan’s best movies, what we often mean is: the Jackie Chan movies with the best fights, or the best stunts. So a movie like Drunken Master 2, with indisputably one of the most exhausting and remarkable fight scenes in history, will often rank near the very top. So does Who Am I? in which Chan ran down the side of a building. Story, acting, emotion … these things are mentioned in a later breath.

But Jackie Chan is too good to grade on a curve, and, while it may be a contrarian viewpoint, he’s a great actor, a visionary, a great filmmaker. His movies are more and better than just a series of brilliant stunts and fights.

So here are his five greatest movies, a list that considers martial arts choreography as one element, but not the only element, that makes one of his movies great.

5: Police Story 2

Police Story Part 2 (1988) is a sequel to a film that played the prestigious New York Film Festival, but the follow-up is superior in every way.

Much like its predecessor, Police Story Part 2 is a testament to Chan’s inimitable physical prowess and a showcase of his seemingly boundless energy, a celebration of audacity, with each meticulously choreographed stunt an ode to the visceral thrills that define Chan’s oeuvre. It is a riotous swirl of energy, like the first film, but a more human and cohesive swirl of energy.

Chan’s magnetic screen presence is as indomitable as ever, seamlessly blending slapstick humor with bone-crushing action sequences. His portrayal of an indefatigable police officer is filled with charm, and the narrative is a sturdy scaffold for Chan’s acrobatic exploits.

What elevates “Police Story Part 2” beyond its genre confines is the film’s unrelenting commitment to practical effects and real, palpable danger: from perilous leaps across rooftops to bone-jarring falls. The raw, unfiltered quality of these stunts, is a visceral reminder of cinema’s capacity to astonish, imbues the film with a tangible authenticity, making each sequence a heart-stopping spectacle that leaves the audience gasping for breath.

The villains’ sadistic twist of tormenting our hero by reading him a “Dear John” letter from his girlfriend, in the presence of said girlfriend, after both have been kidnapped, adds a human layer to the narrative, an unexpected burst cruelty and emotional vulnerability.

The quirky genius of “Police Story Part 2” extends to its memorable set pieces, such as the slow-motion bouncing ball in the airport, during a bomb scare. A cheeky spoof on action movie tropes, this sequence injects a dose of self-awareness into the film’s relentless pace, subverting expectations with a wry nod to the genre’s conventions.

Before the credits roll, wait for the film’s final line: “Watch the pretty fireworks.” While a warehouse explodes.

Police Story Part 2 is a dazzling, exuberant chapter in the enduring brilliance of Chan’s filmography, a movie maverick in his prime.

4: Mr. Canton and Lady Rose

Mr. Canton and Lady Rose (1989), another vibrant collaboration between movie star Jackie Chan and director Jackie Chan, skillfully interlaces the visual aesthetics of Hollywood’s golden age with the pulsating dynamism of Hong Kong’s genre-defining kung fu films. Chan, who not only stars but also directs, seemingly channels the cinematic exuberance of classic Hollywood musicals, although the film doesn’t fit neatly into that genre. This delightful concoction, also released under the alternate title Miracles internationally, bears witness to Chan’s masterful play with film conventions.

Chan’s homage to the golden age of Hollywood is evident in the film’s sumptuous cinematography, reminiscent of the lush and dynamic visuals that characterized classic American cinema. The opulent sets and richly detailed costumes echo the grandeur of Hollywood spectacles. Chan’s use of wide shots and elaborate tracking sequences harks back to the meticulous craftsmanship of directors like Busby Berkeley, infusing the film with a grandiosity that transcends the confines of its Hong Kong origins.

Mr. Canton and Lady Rose is not a musical, but it unabashedly flirts with its conventions. Beyond the film’s one dancehall montage, Chan’s choreography of action sequences are themselves a kind of dance, with each meticulously orchestrated movement contributing to the film’s rhythmic flow — just watch that scene in the rope factory! The narrative, centered around mistaken identities and romantic entanglements, further amplifies the film’s musical undertones, where emotions are expressed through physicality rather than song.

Chan’s role as a charismatic bumpkin who stumbles into the role of Hong Kong godfather, only to try to make the mob go straight, recalls the endearing characters from classic screwball comedies, contributing to the film’s nostalgic charm. His playful chemistry with Anita Mui recalls the dynamic partnerships of Hollywood legends.

Yet Chan doesn’t forsake his roots in Hong Kong cinema. The film seamlessly integrates elaborate kung fu sequences that blend the grace of martial arts with the finesse of traditional Hollywood choreography. This fusion of genres is a testament to Chan’s unique cinematic vision, as he effortlessly navigates between the storytelling traditions of East and West.

3: Supercop

An  exhilarating collaboration between Jackie Chan and the amazing Michelle Yeoh, Supercop not only raised the bar for Hong Kong action cinema but also firmly established the duo as an unbeatable force on the international stage; remember, neither was a household name when the film came out, and it didn’t receive a wide release in the U.S. until years after it was filmed. Directed with verve by Stanley Tong, the film featured Chan into the role of a fearless law enforcement agent determined to dismantle a nefarious drug syndicate. But Michelle Yeoh, whose on-screen charisma and martial prowess matched Chan’s, that elevated Supercop to transcendent heights.

As an Interpol agent, Yeoh effortlessly navigated the treacherous terrain of dangerous stunts and intense combat sequences, shattering gender norms, standing toe-to-toe with Chan in a display of skill and tenacity. The chemistry between the two performers crackles with electricity, which echoes the dynamic partnerships of Hollywood’s action golden age.

In Supercop, Yeoh is not merely a sidekick; she is an equal, a co-pilot in the gravity-defying ballet of action that unfolds on screen. Chan dangles from a helicopter; Yeoh rides a motorcycle off an embankment onto a speeding train. This dynamic duo’s performances add a layer of depth to the film, transcending the conventional boundaries of the genre and positioning Supercop as a timeless classic that not only paid homage to the greats but also forged a new path in the action cinema landscape.

2. Project A Part 2

An amazing historical spectacle. Project A Part 2 (1987) is a hilarious roller-coaster ride through the tumultuous streets of turn-of-the 20th century Hong Kong, but when you look past the action and the farce, you will be struck by its subtle yet unmistakable historical message, one that takes a critical stance on revolutionary values, and the profound moral questions that arise when one seeks to violently overthrow a government.

Chan once again dazzles as the only beacon of honesty and lawfulness in a city riddled with corruption. But it’s the unflinching moral integrity of his character that propels him into the crosshairs of not just the corrupt police force and criminal gangs, but also the Nationalist revolutionaries aiming to dethrone the dynastic rule and the shadowy specter of the Chinese government itself.

It’s in the riotous setting of a cramped, single house where the film’s message hits home with a punchline that reverberates long after the credits roll. The absurdity of this farcical scene is not just hilarious; it’s symbolic of the tumultuous times in which the story is set, where all these opposing factions are hiding, cramped into close quarters, much like the political chaos that engulfed China in the late 19th century. And please try to see this on the big screen, where the farce of this absurd scene is far funnier.

The brilliance of Project A Part 2 lies in its deft handling of Chan’s character. He’s not an invincible superhero but a flawed, earnest soul who wrestles with the moral quandaries of his time. While the film doesn’t explicitly answer the question of moral responsibility for revolutionary disappointments, it skillfully underscores the ethical dilemmas one faces when advocating or participating in violent upheaval. When he tells a group of young revolutionaries that he won’t join them, because that will make him morally responsible for whatever comes after the Revolution, Chan’s hapless police officer is looking ahead with dread at the tumult to come.

In 1987, Chan’s physical prowess and comedic timing were as extraordinary as ever, so action enthusiasts and comedy lovers alike are in for a treat. But beneath the spectacular stunts and uproarious antics, there lies a historical message that makes Project A Part 2 more than just another action-packed spectacle. It forces us to ponder the consequences of revolutionary fervor, to question whether we’re morally responsible for what comes next, and whether, in the chaos of political upheaval, even the most righteous of intentions can become ensnared in the web of corruption.

Action films are often marred by shallowness; Project A Part 2 is a testament to the power of movies to provoke thought and discussion, if you’re open to it. Chan’s heroics are the icing on the cake, but the cake itself is a profound exploration of history, morality and the perils of revolutionary zeal. A must-see for anyone who appreciates cinema with both depth and dexterity.

1: Little Big Soldier

Little Big Soldier (2010) deftly weaves together historical epic, buddy comedy and road movie tropes with unexpected nuances reminiscent of European arthouse cinema. Chan also wrote and produced this film, which introduces us to a lowly soldier surviving a brutal battle by feigning death, only to capture a wounded enemy general (Leehom Wang) and embark on a journey fraught with dangers and revelations. The film is not a typical Jackie Chan vehicle, although it has its share of action and humor. It is more of a personal project, reflecting Chan’s interest in Chinese history and culture, a film that he worked on for decades.

In an admittedly unsubtle nod to cinematic predecessors challenging historical myths, the film borrows its title from the Hollywood classic Little Big Man. Where the predecessor challenged the myths of the American West, Chan’s film sought similarly to challenge the myths of the Chinese past, as well as the myths of Chinese nationalism.

Set during the Warring States period of China, a time of chaos and violence that gave birth to many philosophical and political ideas, Chan’s film, like Little Big Man, questions the notions of loyalty, honor and patriotism that are often taken for granted in historical films. Channeling the disillusioned chess-playing knight from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Chan’s protagonist question loyalty, honor and patriotism, so often taken for granted in historical narratives. In the convergence of Little Big Soldier and The Seventh Seal, disparate narratives find common ground, exploring existential themes and the human condition amid the crucible of conflict. Notably, and surprisingly, The Seventh Seal is the funniest film of the three.

Like its Western counterparts, Chan’s film shows that war is not glorious, but brutal and senseless. And in a jarring and breathtaking final twist, he shows that people cannot define themselves by their nationality, but by their individuality.

Yet, it refrains from preachiness, weaving an engaging narrative with lively characters and witty dialogue. The chemistry between Chan and Wang is palpable, as they navigate their mismatched journey with bickering and bonding. Directed with finesse by Ding Sheng, the film paints a vivid portrait of ancient China, a land of natural landscapes and vibrant costumes.

Little Big Soldier stands as an entertaining and enlightening celebration of the human spirit in adversity, one that challenges viewers to ponder their values, particularly in the context of jingoistic nationalism.

It’s Chan’s magnum opus, his very best film, and one of the best films of the century so far.

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Content by Oblivioni.

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