4. Miracles (aka Mr. Canton and Lady Rose) (1989)
Chan’s love of classic Hollywood cinema came full circle with this lavish Hong Kong take on old gangster clichés, based largely on Frank Capra’s 1961 comedy Pocketful of Miracles (itself a remake of Capra’s own Lady for a Day from 1931). Chan plays a country bumpkin, freshly arrived from the province, whose incredible luck results in his becoming the head of Hong Kong’s largest crime family. Hijinks involving rival gangs, musical numbers, nosy policemen, and exquisitely-staged action sequences ensue when he is forced to help a local flower vendor pose as a wealthy socialite for the benefit of her daughter, who is unaware of her mother’s situation.
3. Project A (1983)
Jackie Chan was a Hong Kong pioneer in creating martial arts films set in time periods other than Imperial China, and one of his best was 1983’s Project A; With a zany plot involving pirates and taking place at the turn-of-the-century, the film was fast, hard-hitting, and featured the centerpiece stunt of Chan falling from a four-story clock tower (an echo of Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last) through a series of awnings to the hard ground below. It was at this point that Chan began incorporating bloopers that played over the end credits, a trick he learned from cameoing in Burt Reynolds’ 1981 starrer The Cannonball Run.
2. Police Story (1985)
So many sets were destroyed and bones broken shooting Police Story that stuntmen were going from the shoot to the hospital and back again on a near-daily basis. The highlight this time was the slide down a 75-foot vertical metal pole covered in light bulbs (every one of which he shattered on his way down) that burned the skin off Chan’s hands and resulted in medical science’s first known case of a dislocated pelvis.
Police Story’s action was so impressive that it would become the standard by which all Chan’s future efforts would be judged, and sections of the movie would be recreated in Sylvester Stallone’s Tango & Cash, Brandon Lee’s Rapid Fire, and, most notably, by Michael Bay with the final vehicular chase scene in Bad Boys II. The film was followed by three sequels and two unrelated reboots (New Police Story and Police Story 2013).
1. Drunken Master II (1994)
Released in America as The Legend of Drunken Master, this represents the zenith of Chan’s pure martial arts work, with the actor returning to the role of folk hero Wong Fei Hong that had made him a star over a decade before. The choreography here is among the intricately fluid you will ever see, as Chan, following a dispute with original director Lau Kar-leung, was forced to take over action direction midway into shooting. With something to prove, Chan poured everything he had into Drunken Master II’s production, taking three months to craft the final fight scene alone. Even that had its share of problems, as his original opponent turned out to be poorly suited to Chan’s style of fighting, resulting in Chan’s own bodyguard, kickboxer Kenneth Lo, stepping in at the 11th hour as a replacement. The result is movie martial arts bliss, making Drunken Master II a flick you need to see to believe.
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