There is something about Jackie Chan that just makes my heart sing. Trained in the Peking Opera school of theater (where performers learn martial arts in addition to traditional theater), this man is the very definition of a consummate performer; not merely an actor and a martial artist, but also a singer and an accomplished filmmaker, too. In nearly 40 years in front of the cameras, he’s managed to redefine an entire genre, make films that transcend boundaries of language and culture, become a huge star all over the world, and, most importantly, kick a lot of ass in the name of entertainment. He’s got the scars to prove it, and we have a lot of wonderful (if painful) movies for all his trouble. As far as I’m concerned, he’s one of the greatest movie stars of all time.
Jackie’s latest U.S. film, The Spy Next Door, has just opened, and word on the street is that it’s not one of his classics. Jackie’s fans have had to deal with diminishing levels of quality over the last decade or so, while many of his American fans – who only know his U.S. films – haven’t seen his earlier classics. So for all you Jackie Chan fans who may be let down by The Spy Next Door, but want to see the real thing, here are some recommendations for the best of Jackie Chan available on domestic DVD.
Drunken Master, Legend of Drunken Master (aka Drunken Master II)
1978’s Drunken Master is the film that changed everything for Jackie, taking him from just another martial arts star to something completely new, the first-ever martial arts comedy star. Placing the emphasis on laughs as much as action, Drunken Master proved that Jackie could master two genres at once, and from that moment on all of his films featured large doses of comedy mixed with action. 16 years later he made 1994’s Drunken Master II (titled Legend of the Drunken Master in the U.S.), the film that many consider to be his last great work. Jackie may be older and worse for wear, but here he performs some of the best fight scenes of his entire career, including a climatic battle against his own real-life bodyguard (!) and an earlier fight against the film’s director, the legendary Lau Kar Leung. The Legend of the Drunken Master version is cut and dubbed (by Jackie), but the fights remain untouched.
When Jackie made his triumphant return to the U.S. market with Rumble in the Bronx back in 1996, Miramax (at the behest of fan Quentin Tarantino) bought up many of Jackie’s best films for U.S. distribution, which, in the Miramax tradition, they cut, dubbed, sat on them for years and then unceremoniously dumped onto home video. (Of these four films, only one, Armour of God II: Operation Condor received any respect, getting a theatrical release with Jackie providing his own dubbing.) Although I hate to recommend cut and dubbed versions, I have to say that if you’re looking for the best of Jackie Chan then look no further, because these are easily some of his best films (he directed all of them, too). Project A is his masterpiece; a hilarious adventure film starring his old Peking Opera classmates Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, but all of them contain classic moments of comedy and action that transcend any bad dub job. Serious fans are recommended to search out the original, uncut versions of these films online on region-free import DVDs.
Miracles (aka Black Dragon)
The greatest director of Jackie Chan movies is Jackie Chan himself, and with Miracles he went all out with this lavish remake of Frank Capra’s Lady for a Day (!) that proves Jackie the director was as skilled as Jackie the martial artist. One of the most expensive Hong Kong productions of its time, it’s also a funny and charming old school comedy peppered with some remarkable fight scenes, especially the climatic battle in a rope factory that’s still a knockout over twenty years later. The U.S. DVD from Sony has inexplicably been re-titled Black Dragon, but it does contain the film’s original cut (in the original language), so it’s well worth seeking out.
POLICE STORY III: SUPERCOP
While I’d love to recommend Police Story 1 & 2, both those DVDs have gone out of print already (though you can probably still get them from Netflix), so for safety’s sake I’m just going to recommend the recently-released Supercop. This was the second of Jackie’s films to receive a belated U.S. release after the success of Rumble, but with Jackie and co-star Michelle Yeoh both dubbing themselves (along with a minimal amount of cutting), the results remain very entertaining indeed. The new DVD contains both cuts of the film, along with a fine hosts of supplements, and if you can find Police Story 1 & 2, you’ll be pleased to know they also contain original language tracks, too.