Jackie Chan’s star has dimmed somewhat in the U.S., but to action movie aficionados and appreciators of physical comedy, Chan is one of the all time greats. He has the effortless charisma of James Dean, but goofier; the screen presence of John Wayne, but without the imposing alpha-male staunchness; and the comedic physical prowess of Buster Keaton, but with added doses of zaniness.
An action movie neophyte who’s never seen a classic Chan film can be forgiven for assuming Chan’s career has been exclusively comprised of Chris Tucker movies. Chan’s best movies have only hit the United States in butchered hack-jobs courtesy of U.S. distributors, with aspect ratios altered and dialogue changed.
From his breakout hit Drunken Master in 1978 to his box office smash Rush Hour series, Chan had a 20-year stretch of unparalleled durability, putting his body through the ringer again and again — spraining joints, breaking bones, cracking his skull, losing teeth, and almost dying (more than once.) His career can be broken roughly into 5 phases:
1. The early movies, more concerned with classic martial arts and intimate fighting than his later films, riffed on the macho popularity of Bruce Lee (who helped get Chan his first important role in Fist of Fury, and who accidentally cracked Chan in the head during filming.) 2. Jack began incorporating more humor into his work in the late-’70s through the mid-’80s, starting with Drunken Master, and 3. gradually began to craft his films into bigger, more awe-inspiring affairs inspired by western blockbusters — like Project A and the brilliant Police Story series, and especially Super Cop. 4. He returned to more comedic martial arts movies with 1994′s The Legend of Drunken Master (aka Drunken Master 2) and the Rush Hour series, before turning to 5. more American kid-friendly material in the early aughts. He’s tried his hand at some darker roles since, but overall he’s been mostly restricted to Chinese movies for the last five years or so.
Jackie Chan’s newest adventure doesn’t involve searching for stolen Chinese artifacts, saving kidnapped children, or dangling from the back of a speeding Chinese ambulance in heavy traffic. It involves programming a film festival.