A decade ago Hong Kong Legends established itself as a world leading company that specialised in buying the rights to and lovingly restoring classic Hong Kong films, here in the UK.
Unfortunately, when the trend for Asian cinema died down Hong Kong Legends/Premier Asia refused to compromise on quality, which meant they were forced to close their doors, leaving many classics discontinued.
Thankfully this month sees Cine Asia re-establish the Hong Kong Legends line, meaning that some of the greatest films from such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Chow Yun Fat and Jet Li will be available once more as the best package they’ve ever been given.
With this in mind I got to thinking how many young people may only know Jackie Chan from his more recent, less daring output, and as such, be missing out on the very reason for why he is considered a legend and a genius of the action genre. So here are my recommendations to correctly illustrate what makes the man great.
Drunken Master: Chinese folk hero, Wong Fei Hung, wasn’t always a noble soul, once he was a mischievous young fellow who was forced to learn the elusive art of drunken boxing, from an alcoholic hobo, to defeat a kung-fu badass and regain his family’s honour.
The second of Chan’s breakout films (after Snake In the Eagle’s Shadow), and the one to really solidify his popularity, Drunken Master was a much more old fashioned, low budget affair than the kind of films he would eventually excel at making, but the choreography at work here, even by its old-school standards, was staggering, and stood out despite a saturated market place. That Jackie Chan’s obviously awe-inspiring physicality was laced into an underdog story proved to be a winning combination and became a staple to most of his subsequent work.
Some sixteen years after the original, the sequel, Drunken Master 2, AKA Legend of the Drunken Master, was made. It is a phenomenal martial arts film and considered by many to be Chan’s greatest work, yet, strangely, it has never had a great western release.
Police Story: An elite Hong Kong cop, as part of an anti-organised crime unit, is framed for the murder of a fellow officer, and so has to go it alone to clear his name and bring in the mob boss responsible.
With Police Story, Chan really set a new benchmark for stunt work as well as fight choreography. There are too many highlights to go into detail about here, but suffice to say, almost every action sequence is a classic of the genre, and held in such high regards that certain stunts were taken wholesale for such films as Tango and Cash and Rapid Fire. A huge success at the Asian box office, Police Story spawned two equally excellent sequels and the not quite so excellent semi-sequel First Strike.
Armour of God: The Asian Hawk, an archaeologist/adventurer for hire is tasked with recovering the lost pieces of the mythical amour of God, which eventually brings him to blows with an evil cult bent on world domination.
Hot on the heals of Police Story, Jackie embarked on the film that nearly killed him. Shooting a relatively standard stunt, Chan fell from a high wall and hit his head on a rock, puncturing his skull (he now has a plastic plug in it!). This aside, Amour of God is the best example of Chan’s penchant for fights against multiple (and ever weirder) adversaries. In one scene he takes on an entire room full of mad monks, then soon after faces off against a gaggle of huge Amazonian women in stilettos. Wonderful.
Dragons Forever: An unscrupulous lawyer hired to defend a polluting chemical company has a change of heart on discovering said company is also manufacturing drugs, and vows to take them down, even if he has to go outside the law.
Jackie Chan never looks better in a fight than when he’s choreographed by his Peking Opera school brother, Sammo Hung (That would be the portly gent from the TV show Martial Law, and action director for the recent Ip Man films). The fights are harder edged and somehow more dangerous looking than the ones he puts together himself. Dragons Forever is the best of their collaborations and sees the only three-way fight between Jackie, Sammo and their other school brother, action legend Yuen Biao, but also incredible fights with the fantastically acrobatic Yuen Wah and the real-life kickboxing champion, Benny ‘The Jet’ Arquidez.
City Hunter: Ryu Saeba, also known as the City Hunter, a womanising private detective, is hired to locate a rich news mogul’s daughter. The job leads him onto a cruise-liner, which is then hijacked. So it is down to City Hunter, a gang of beautiful women and a mysterious gambler to save the day.
Based on the Japanese comic and directed by exploitation maestro, Wong Jing, City Hunter is considered by Jackie Chan to be one of his lesser works and is probably the biggest surprise on the list, but I find the humour so broad and bizarre that it’s impossible not to love. Ostensibly a retarded brother to Die Hard, the film is so off the chain that one scene has the characters literally transform into characters from Street Fighter after an incident with an arcade machine. As a side note, City Hunter is the only live action movie that I would recommend you watch with the English dub track, as whoever did the script and voice acting are full-on comedy geniuses.
I’ll be the first to admit that the stories in these, and most other Hong Kong films of the time, leave a lot to be desired, and the only defence is that it was a different culture of filmmaking than we in the west are used to, but for pure mind blowing, boundary pushing, edge of your seat, “I can’t believe he’s actually doing that!” action, look no further than classic Chan.
If you don’t believe me, click on the titles of my selections and watch the trailers, and if you like what you see, go pick up the films.