Jackie Chan is famous for his spectacular stunts. He's the man who base jumps onto hot air balloons and roller skates under speeding trucks. He's been called crazy and has spent most of his life almost dying, yet almost all of Jackie's insane stunts were necessary. For example, if the script calls for Jackie to get dragged by a helicopter ladder, the best way to film that is to drag Jackie Chan from a helicopter. If he breaks his foot jumping onto a hovercraft and you still need to film him water skiing from the back of it, it only makes sense to paint his broken foot like a shoe and tell the crew to get back to work. That's not insanity -- it's badass.
One of the reasons Jackie Chan movies are so amazing is that he replaces Hollywood magic with balls. However, like all balls, Jackie's didn't always make sense. A lot of his stunts seemed to be painful and ludicrous for no reason other than adding a line of trivia to a film's IMDb page. In fact, from a filmmaking perspective, some sequences would have looked better and more realistic if they were less dangerous. Here are six of those sequences.
#6. Electric Pole Slide from Police Story
Don't be confused by Police Story's complicated title -- this is actually a safety video about the dangers of teaching too many people kung fu. After watching all these bodies fly through fish tanks and windshields, you'll realize that Hong Kong stuntmen have a shorter life span than the breakable objects behind Jackie Chan's enemies. Police Story is the reason I think there are 380 words for broken glass in Cantonese. Racism is the reason I think there are 381 for boiled chicken feet.
One of Jackie's greatest and most painful stunts took place at the end of Police Story. After kicking China's largest gunless criminal organization to death, supercop Kevin Chan finds himself at the top of a mall watching the final villain escape four floors below. Instead of shouting down for any of the hundreds of onlookers to grab the elderly, unarmed man, Jackie leaps onto a metal pole covered in lights and explodes down it, shattering through the mall's very, very last unbroken pane of glass. Then, without a camera cut, he climbs from the ruins of a sales kiosk to hold a shard of glass against the man's neck. Because when you make an arrest in Hong Kong, the only Miranda right you give the perp is the right to shit his pants.
"Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you!?"
Why Was It Unnecessary?
Supercop Kevin Chan had to get to the bottom floor as quickly as possible. Narratively speaking, sliding down the Christmas-light-covered pole and falling through glass was the right move. However, the pole wasn't wrapped in "special" lights or pyrotechnics. They were regular bulbs being smashed open with a naked human hand, and instead of a crash mat, Jackie landed on a Sunglass Hut. Sure enough, he hit the floor way too hard, and with second-degree burns all over his palms. You can even see in the middle of his slide that he had to adjust his grip to accommodate his sudden lack of hand flesh. Why did such an experienced stunt crew approach an electrified four-story death drop with all the foresight of a drunken frat boy dare? I have no idea, but I'd sure call you a pussy if you asked them.
Jump to 4:15 to only see the stunt, but skipping this fight scene is more or less the stupidest thing you will ever do.
#5. Hot Coal Crab Walk from Drunken Master II
Like most Jackie Chan films, Drunken Master II is a schizophrenic mix of childish overacting and manly violence coming together to make a perfect movie. He sets out to protect Chinese artifacts from falling into the hands of foreign museums by using a style of kung fu that only works if you get the right amount of drunk. To be specific, that right amount of drunk is: fucking. It's by the director of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and a writer whose previous credits include the unread Post-it note "Don't forget to take your lithium."
The final fight takes place in a steel factory where Jackie faces off against Ken Lo, the man who kicks the crap out of him for about a third of each Jackie Chan movie. In this one, Jackie turns the tables on him by getting hammered on ethanol. In American movies, heroes overcome adversity through love or spirit. In China, it's perfectly reasonable for the protagonist to kill his problems with industrial grain alcohol. That's good news, USA -- it means that when the Chinese finally do invade us, that's only going to make this great nation more American.
The epic steel factory fight is filled with deadly stunts. Jackie is attacked by glowing red-hot steel poles. Giant metal barrels are dropped centimeters from his dong, which may be confusing since that means "Smith" in China. And then Jackie gets kicked onto a holy-shit-real pit of hot coals. He tries to scurry across it before his extremely flammable pants figure out that they're sitting on molten steel and he doesn't make it. By the time he gets to the other side of the 9-foot fire pit, he's more steam bun than man and can barely roll free. Luckily, safety rails are for capitalists, so he only had to make a 10-inch jump to get to non-flaming land.
Why Was It Unnecessary?
Fire is one of those special effects that's hard to fake. If a blacksmith is hammering hot metal in a movie, it's usually exactly that. If someone is burning alive, it's probably a cranky stuntman covered in gel and not CGI. But there is no reason to believe that a group of industrious 1994 filmmakers couldn't come up with a way to make pretend hot coals, or at least coals cool enough to add a small element of non-death. This stunt instantly transforms a riveting action sequence into a room-wide conversation about what's wrong with Jackie Chan's fear glands. I should also mention that when he gets out, he is kicked in the chest before he stops smoldering. I appreciate that he does these crazy things, but this scene may have looked better if Jackie wasn't suddenly and unexplainedly wearing oven mitts. Or if Ken Lo wasn't awkwardly throwing kicks several feet above Jackie's head while waiting for the immolated action star to regain lucidity. As a viewer, it would have been less jarring if he had turned to the camera and said, "Hi, I'm future skin graft recipient Jackie Chan. We'll get back to the movie, but first -- here's how you trick lava into sex!"
Please enjoy this montage of near-deaths from the set of Drunken Master II.
#4. Clock Tower Triple Fall from Project A
Project A was written and directed by Jackie himself, and like him, it's a series of impossible feats and impossible circumstances. The biggest stunt of the film is an homage to a 1923 Harold Lloyd sequence, where Harold ran from a pursuer and ended up dangling from the hands of a clock tower. It was a whimsical and iconic moment in silent film history. Jackie modernized it slightly by putting a bullet in his pursuer's head and then letting go of the clock to fall three stories on his face. If Jackie Chan had directed Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, it would have crashed into a crate of chickens and caused the evil rodeo clown's dirt bike to peel out on his crotch.
Why Was It Unnecessary?
For one thing, he did it three times. There was nothing but two flimsy, unpredictable cloth awnings between him and the ground, and the second awning wanted him dead. During his initial attempt at the stunt, the awning didn't break and bounced him head-over-heels in a neck-crunching heap. It looked more like a suicide than a stunt, so he filmed it again. This time the awning broke, but still managed to flip him onto his head anyway. Now, here is where a normal person would wake up and whisper, "That'll ... do ... fine," or maybe just "SpluRBbbb" while their bowels move into a drainage bag from their wheelchair. Instead, Jackie said the scene would be better if his character got up and delivered a line. And I guess in 1983 it was faster to climb a clock tower and throw yourself off than it was to edit two pieces of film together, so Jackie Chan did the fall a third time.
On the third drop, he landed slightly more on his torso and was able to squeak out the line. What were the precious words he risked his life for? Roughly translated, "I proved there really is such a thing as gravity!" He threw himself off a third-story clock for that garbage joke? That's like feeding yourself to a shark and hoping your remains come out as a strange fart. It's like diving in front of a watermelon truck to save Gallagher. And here's the craziest thing -- after falling three times in order to get it perfect, they used two different falls in the final cut anyway. And I don't mean edited together in some multi-angle sequence. Viewers of Project A see Jackie fall once in a continuous shot and eat total shit, then fall again and eat shit in a completely different way. It's one thing to take your audience out of a movie; it's another to make them think they went back in time 10 seconds and slightly changed history.
Here is the sequence as seen in the film, starting from Jackie Chan being tortured by a giant clock gear.
And here are the full outtakes featuring the most disastrous clock tower fall.