Jackie Chan does his own stunts. Jackie Chan has been in 150+ films. If we assume that each film has around 15 stunts and that Chan does each one 1-4 times, and also acknowledge that he is an insane superhuman hell-bent on performing the most death-defying tasks human eyes have ever beheld, it’s safe to assume he has put his life in God’s hands well over 1,000 times. Sometimes, these stunts go off without a hitch; other times, he comes within an inch of killing himself. This list is about the latter.
He Was Almost Burned Alive
In 1978, Drunken Master was released, quickly out-grossing any film Bruce Lee had ever made, and thereby catapulting Jackie Chan as the premier stunt martial artist in the industry. He enamored moviegoers with his poise, his swagger, and his flawless technique (see image below).
Fans were clamoring for a sequel, which was swiftly delivered to them 16 years later in the form of The Legend of Drunken Master.
A lot of movie making techniques had changed in the meantime, and director Chia-Liang Liu intended to use quick cuts and wire work to help film the climactic final fight. This would help him get the shots he needed, without ever putting the actors in danger. Well, Chan was having none of that.
During the filming of the original, the actor Jang-Lee had kicked Jackie so hard he broke his brow bone, causing him to nearly lose an eye, but Chan would be damned if he didn’t escalate the pain he had to endure for the sequel. He fought so hard against Chia-Liang that the director left the project unfinished. In his absence, Jackie was free to hurt himself however he pleased.
Jackie spent 4 months filming the final fight, most of which was spent letting the other actors kick the $@#^ out of him. For the finale, hot coals were set down for Jackie to be kicked onto. Rather then roll sideways to safety, Chan directed his character to crabwalk backwards over the coals. The coals ripped through his thin closing and burned into the length of his body. Most actors would have gone to the hospital, but Jackie… didn’t really like the first take, so he did it again.
He Almost Fell to His Death
By 1983, Chan had become the undisputed king of slapstick martial arts comedy. He had become an expert in finding new ways to use the scenario of the set to delight, as seen in this bar table sequence from Project A.
He had also become an expert in finding new ways to accomplish his true passion, attempting to severely injure himself live on tape, as seen in this sequence from Project A.
In the clip, Chan falls six stories onto dirt; there are no cuts, there is no padding. There ARE three awnings meant to slow him down on the way, but they don’t appear to hinder Chan from hurting himself in any way.
On the first take, the awnings twist him around, causing Jackie to land on his neck. Chan, who by the way most likely only has one life and would cease to exist if he died, insisted on doing the stunt TWO more times. After the third attempt, Jackie again landed on his neck and did severe damage to his spine, arguably one of the more important parts of the body.
He Got Knocked off a Train….by a Helicopter
According to Quentin Tarantino, Police Story 3: Supercop has “probably the greatest stunts ever filmed in any movie ever.” And from what I’ve heard, the guy’s seen a lot of movies, so I’ll take his word for it.
When the criminals try and get away in their helicopter, Chan runs and jumps onto its rope ladder from a six-story roof. From there, it waves Chan wildly around until it finally dumps him on top of a pile of cactuses (I am not making this up) being transported by a train.
During the stunt, Chan is supposed to swing from a pipe and narrowly miss the chopper. But the pipe he was holding onto failed to rotate completely and the helicopter ends up striking Chan in the back. Chan had his rib fractured, his shoulder broken, and his cheekbone dislocated in the process. Worse, he was forced to half-consciously cling to the overhang while he waited for the crew to safely lower him
He Ran Full Speed Down a Skyscraper
Artists often draw inspiration from the world around them. When Van Gogh saw a starry night, he might have thought, “Hey, I could paint this and it would be really pretty”. When someone handed Lin-Manuel Miranda a ten-dollar bill he thought, “Hey, I should write a rap musical about this guy.” And when Jackie Chan saw the Willemswerf building in Rotterdam, Holland he probably thought, “Hey, I could really hurt myself sliding down that thing.”
I mean, look at this building.
Jackie Chan CHOSE to slide down that with no harness or padding. Do you understand the sadistic desire of that? Do you believe me that this man is on a mission to destroy himself? Here look at it from this angle.
To be frank, this probably one of the most dangerous stunts ever attempted on film. There are really only two ways it could end: success or death. The only thing separating Chan from the latter is a thin, raised stop at the end of the façade. Not only does Jackie slide down the 24-story building unassisted, he took it upon himself get up halfway through, run a few steps, and then jump face forward.
I can’t even go face forward down a water slide into water, and Chan did it on a glass slide into concrete?!
To be fair, this stunt was reportedly so daunting that it took Jackie two weeks to summon the courage to film it.
He Slid Down a Pole in a Way No One Else Would Ever Even Conceive
Near the end of filming Police Story, Jackie Chan and producer Raymond Chow probably sat down to discuss filming the big finale. I imagine the conversation went a little something like this-
Jackie: I want to jump over a rail, slide down a pole covered in Christmas lights, and smash through a glass roof onto a marble floor with no padding.
Jackie: Okay, the glass can be fake.
Raymond: No. I already let you jump off the over the second story railing and land on your back with no padding. Under no circumstances am I putting my star into any more dangerous situations. Do I make myself clear?
*Jackie’s assistant walks up to the door holding a huge box of Christmas lights. Jackie gives her the “not now” look*
What you are seeing is the first attempt; there was no second take. Due to the Christmas lights heating the pole, Jackie suffered serious burns on both hands on the way down. He sustained a dislocated pelvis and injured spine that could have been potentially paralyzing.