Franchise Kings #7 - Jackie Chan
Creating and performing stunts that even the most experienced, daredevil stuntman would pass on, Jackie Chan has been thrilling audiences since the 1970s with his imaginative and supreme physicality. From stuntman, to actor, to director and very often all 3 at the same time, Jackie Chan is a truly gifted living legend, a creative and daring force in action cinema.
In 1978, Jackie Chan made 7 films back-to-back. In the future, some of these movies would go on to be hailed as classics and grouped together to form a series called "The Jackie Chan Collection". Included in that catalogue of films are titles such as; Shaolin Chamber Of Death (aka Shaolin Wooden Men), Magnificent Bodyguards, Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin and To Kill With Intrigue. In between the formation of the Jackie Chan Collection which started in 1976 with New Fist Of Fury and finished in 1983 with Fearless Hyena 2, Jackie would also star in Snake In The Eagles Shadow (1978) which went on to be a major success. Two films after SITES, Jackie went on to star in the movie that would not only eclipse SITES's box office, but become the film that would give him his international breakout. In Drunken Master Jackie played Wong Fei-hung, a real life person of interest, mythological figure, folk hero and one of the most depicted characters in TV and movie history. Jackie delivered on all fronts and gave us a delightful portrayal of a young Fei-hung, who was comedic, juvenile, sincere and of course physically skillful. His rendition of the character set new standards in combining straight Kung-fu, comedy/Kung-fu with dramatic acting and is still regarded as one of the best today.
The power and influence of any film's concept and deft execution, can be said to be extremely successful when the entire industry starts trying to recreate the idea over and over again. In this case, the 'drunken' element was so well loved and received, that 4 films with drunken styled themes were made and released before 1979 came to an end. In the film that started it all, Jackie played Wong Fei-hung, a good, but mischievous character who has a habit of getting into minor scrapes and scraps, but never with malice in his heart. However, when his father reaches the last straw with Wong's continuously immature behaviour, he decides to send him away to be disciplined by Sam Seed aka Beggar So - a tough Kung-fu teacher. Sam Seed has a reputation, his training regime are known to be notoriously hardcore, so much so, that he has been reported to have crippled some of his pupils. In going through just a few gruelling exercises with Wong, Wong concedes defeat and runs away. In his self-exile Wong encounters Yim Tit-fan aka Thunderfoot, a kicking specialist assassin and in managing to antagonise Thunderfoot, Wong foolishly challenges him to a fight where he ends up being badly beaten. Defeated and humiliated Wong runs back to his Sam Seed's place to ask for forgiveness and resume his training in a bid to get revenge. In the sequel Drunken Master II aka The Legend Of The Drunken Master (1994) Wong goes up against smugglers who are stealing and selling Chinese artefacts. The title: The Legend Of The Drunken Master is the name of the Dimension Films / Miramax US version which had major cuts and English language dubbing, but despite the differences it still garnered critical acclaim.
Drunken Master earned HK$6,763,793 at the Hong Kong box office, becoming the second most popular film in Hong Kong in 1978. This was the equivalent to US$1.45 million. In Japan, the film grossed ¥1.9 billion (US$17.21 million), becoming one of the year's top ten highest-grossing films. In South Korea, it was the highest-grossing film of 1979, making ₩1348 million (US$2.8 million). Earnings combined, the film grossed a total of approximately US$21.2 million in East Asia, the equivalent to US$83million. Drunken Master II broke Hong Kong's grossing record, earning HK$40,971,484 (US$5.302 million). By 1995, the film had grossed US$17.3million from five other East Asian territories and grossed CN¥10million in China and NT$39,889,970 in Taiwan, ¥726million in Japan and US$5.45million in South Korea. It actually took 6 years for Drunken Master II to hit North American theaters as The Legend of Drunken Master and when it did, the film was showcased in 1,345 screens. This re-edited, English language dubbed version made US$3,845,278 in its opening weekend and made a total of US$11,555,430 in the United States and Canada. Combined, the film's total worldwide gross revenue was approximately US$34.31million.
What was instantly noticeable about Project A (1983) was the time period that it was set in. Traditionally, Kung-fu films were either set in an ancient period circa the time of the Shaolin monks or the most modern - present time. Project A was set in the 19th century and focussed on the Hong Kong Marine Police and their fight against sea pirates. Chan played Sgt. Dragon Ma Yue Lung, a Marine police officer who is mature enough to try and stove off the hostility between the marine police and the local ones, but not wimpy enough to back out of a bar brawl when provoked. As the villainous pirates get more and more bold in their attacks, the two police corps eventually join forces to take them on, leading to an explosive showdown. Project A was the 4th film Jackie directed and you can see a great deal of cinematic homage to the stunts of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton within it, who Jackie cites as influences. On top of that, there is a great cast of actors who we would later go on to see in many future classic Hong Kong films, including actor Dick Wei as the pirate Lor Sam Pau and two of Jackie's closest friends and Peking Opera School buddies; Yuen Biao who plays captain Tzu the head officer for the local rival police force and Sammo Hung who is cast as Fei, a local smuggler. Collaborating again for the second time, Sammo is also credited as the action director and fans would go on to witness these 3 appear in many films together as one hell of a triple threat. 4 Years later a sequel - Project A Part II (1987) was released, but it didn't feature Yuen Biao or Sammo Hung, as they were both filming Eastern Condors (1987). Project A made HK$19,323,824 / US$2.7 million and Project A Part II which saw the remaining pirates from the original film try to get revenge on Dragon grossed HK$31,459,916 / US$4,052,938 at the Hong Kong box office.
Set within The Royal Hong Kong Police Force the Police Story franchise has the most entries in all of Chan's franchises numbering eight, though some are spin-offs and reboots. Set in modern days, Jackie only directed the first 2 films but with each outing still pushed to elevate the risk or complexity in the action sequences. In Police Story (1985), Kevin Chan (Jackie) is framed for murder by a gangster and must prove his innocence whilst bringing down the criminal who framed him. In Police Story 2 (1988), the gangster Kevin Chan put away from the first film is released on false pretences of bad health and seeks to make Kevin Chan's life miserable. At the same time criminal bombers start extorting businessmen for money. In Police Story 3: SuperCop (1992) Kevin now holds the rank of inspector and must team up with another Inspector from Interpol - Jessica Yang (Michelle Yeoh), a female version of himself to bust a drug smuggling operation.
The first spin-off Project S aka SuperCop 2 (1993) sees Michelle Yeoh reprising her role from SuperCop and Jackie Chan only making a cameo appearance. Crime Story (1993) is also placed under the Police Story banner and here Jackie plays Eddie Chan, a special agent assigned to protect a Chinese businessman who ends up being kidnapped. Police Story 4: First Strike (1996), sees Kevin Chan return and team up with interpol (minus Michelle Yeoh) to track down and find an illegal weapons dealer. In New Police Story (2004), Chan plays a new character Chan Kwok Wing, a high level detective disgraced by having led his former team into a trap where they were all killed. Working with a new cop who also harbours a past, they must collectively put their retrospective woes behind them and find the killer of the original team. Police Story 2013 aka Police Story: Lockdown (2013), is a second reboot, where Chan plays a Chinese mainland cop Zhong Wen, trying to rebalance his life as he newly reconnects with his estranged daughter. This effort is somewhat interrupted when his daughter's boyfriend takes them hostage in a bid to have a prisoner released. The entire Police Story franchise has grossed US$264,249,778 worldwide.
ARMOUR OF GOD
In Armour Of God (1986) Jackie plays the Asian Hawk, an Indiana Jones style adventurer, who uses state of the art technology, unique gadgets and his physical prowess to track down and collect lost artifacts. Blackmailed into finding the remaining lost pieces of the Armour Of God by a religious cult, Hawk is forcibly thrown into a worldwide adventure where he must obtain the artifacts, in order to rescue his kidnapped friend from the cult. In Armour Of God II: Operation Condor (1991), the Asian Hawk races against a neo-nazi and his mercenary henchmen to retrieve gold from a now buried, secret military base from WW2. 21 Years later, Jackie reprised the role of the Asian Hawk in Chinese Zodiac (2012) where he searches the world for 12 bronze heads, each of which represent a figure from the Chinese Zodiac. Armour Of God's box office was HK$35,469,408, Armour Of God II: Operation Condor made HK$39,048,711 ($10,405,394) and the Chinese Zodiac grossed US$171,338,930, though the latter film really did not match the former two entries in story, humour and action.
After the success of Rumble In The Bronx in 1995, Jackie proved that he could be successful with US mainstream audiences when he is allowed to do, what he does best. Earlier efforts in the form of Battle Creek Brawl (1980) and the horrendous The Protector (1985) had him either not fully delivering the Jackie Chan experience or studios trying to turn him into Dirty Harry. Rumble In The Bronx was made for $7.5million and grossed $76million which definitely got the attention of producers. In the formation of Rush Hour, Director Brett Ratner flew to South Africa himself to pitch the film to Jackie and a few days later Jackie agreed to be in the movie. Chris Tucker came on board later, but rumour has it that Martin Lawrence (Bad Boys) was considered before him and Eddie Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop) actually declined the part in earlier stages. Brett Ratner had a history with Chris Tucker, having directed him in Money Talks (1997) in which Tucker starred alongside Charlie Sheen.
Rush Hour (1998) sees Jackie play Yang Naing Lee, a Detective Inspector for the Hong Kong Police Force. Yang Naing Lee is called to Los Angeles to help a former boss; Solon Han (Tzi Ma) a Chinese consul ambassador when his daughter is kidnapped. The F.B.I. believe that Lee's arrival will look like the calling of outside help and believe that the optics will reflect negatively on the reputation of the F.B.I. so they they call in the L.A.P.D. and saddle Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) with Lee as a babysitting assignment. This assignment also serves as a payback punishment for Detective Carter who messed up a previous case for the F.B.I. they believe by placing them together, they will be kept out of their way as they conduct the 'real' investigation. However, both cops annoyed about their circumstances rebel to save the young kidnapped girl and the comedy ensues from the, cultural misunderstandings, the language barrier and pig-headed stubborness as the two men interact with each other and other people in their company. Eventually, they get past these barriers, form a friendship and go on to save the day. In Rush Hour 2 (2001) the duo this time around are in Hong Kong and it is now Carter who is the fish out of water and although on holiday, the pair still manage to get themselves embroiled in a money counterfeiting operation run by the triads. In Rush Hour 3 (2007), Ambassador Han is in trouble again with the Triads where he escapes an assassination on his life. Lee and Carter must go off to France to find a woman who knows the identities of some of the top members of the society and then take them down. The Rush Hour films are both Jackie's (and Chris') most successful films to date. Rush Hour was made for $35million and grossed $244,386,864 worldwide, the huge success led to the sequel Rush Hour 2 with a substantially bigger budget of $90million. The sequel went on to earn $347,425,832 at the box office. The last entry, which did show signs of not being as original or funny reflected this in its taking and with the franchises largest budget of $180million, it performed the worst at the box office with earnings of $258,022,233.
In witnessing the pairing mode and success of the Rush Hour concept, a fashion for having Jackie work with an American or English speaking co-star took hold for the US produced movies and through the years we have been given the likes of; The Medallion (2003) with Lee Evans, The Karate Kid (2010) with Jaden Smith and of course the Shanghai series, where, Jackie was paired with Owen Wilson. In Shanghai Noon (2000), Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu), a Chinese princess is kidnapped from her homeland and brought to the US. In response, three royal, warrior guards of the Emperor of China are sent out to retrieve her, one of them being Chon Wang (Chan) who makes his way to America's wild west. Through a colliding of events, Roy O'Bannon (Wilson) and Wang team up to take on the kidnappers and other ruffians from the west and much like Rush Hour, the fish out of water tactic is employed, to a mix of hit-and-miss success. The first outing did well enough to warrant a sequel and in Shanghai Knights (2003) Roy and Chon are back, but this time in England, taking on the man who murdered Chon's father. Shanghai Noon's budget was $55million and it made 100.5million yet Shanghai Knights' production team must have been skeptical about the sequel's reception and were wise enough to keep the budget primarily the same for the sequel, with a $5million deficit. Shanghai Knights went on to gross less than the original, making $88.3million, yet despite the declining viewers and a significant amount of time having gone by, an announcement of a third film: Shanghai Dawn has been made.
KUNG FU PANDA
In 2008, Jackie voiced one of the Furious Five Kung-fu fighting animals alongside, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross in Kung-Fu Panda. Playing a golden snub-nosed monkey, Chan reprised his role another 2 times in 2011 and 2016 for sequels, but also lent his voice to short films and video games playing the same character. In total, the Kung-Fu Panda films crossed the billion dollar mark, grossing $1,817,258,332.
THE LUCKY STARS
It is well documented that Jackie went to the Peking Opera school and many of his fellow co-stars/friends are from the same establishment. Within the school, they had a changing line-up of top students that were called the "the seven lucky fortunes". The title/concept was later adopted to name a series of films called "Lucky Stars" with recurring actors and characters. Sammo Hung was the one who developed the concept and Jackie appeared in the first three of these films; Winners & Sinners (1983), My Lucky Stars (1985) and Twinkle Twinkle My Lucky Stars (1985). Other films in the series included Pom Pom (1984), Lucky Stars Go Places (1986), Return Of The Lucky Stars (1989), Ghost Punting (1992) and How To Meet The Lucky Stars (1996). The total box office of The Lucky Stars series amounts to HK $121,890,054.
Jackie Chan's pursuit of physical excellence has led him to serious injury and on more than one occasion a dance with death. His professionalism and desire to push the boundaries of physical cinema have led him to shooting the most takes to get a trick or stunt right and that number is easily in the hundreds possibly thousands. In 2012 jackie was presented with 2 new Guinness World Records; one for holding the most amount of credits in one movie - totalling 15 and the other for performing the most stunts by a living actor. Still willing to perform and direct, Jackie continues to wow audiences and if he ever decides to retire from being on screen, it would be interesting to see what action sequences he could come up with with just concentrating on one thing.
TDD, RC & IK talk: