Chan’s Trademark Fight Choreography Saves “The 36 Crazy Fists”
by John Francis

1. Jackie Chan PosterMartial arts superstar Jackie Chan made (or produced, directed and choreographed fight scenes) literally hundreds of films in his native Hong Kong and other Asian countries before trying to make his mark in America.

It took Chan several years and many attempts to break into Hollywood with his films. His first Hollywood film was “The Big Brawl” in 1980 and then a minor role in 1981’s “The Cannonball Run.” The former was a flop, the latter a hit that didn’t have anything to do with Chan, but its big American stars such as Burt Reynolds, Deam Martin, Roger Moore, Dom DeLuise, and Farrah Fawcett.

It wasn’t until 1995’s “Rumble in the Bronx,” which starred Chan and featured his trademark dazzling fight choreography mixed with his winsome, almost-slapstick humor. The film attained a cult status, especially when it was released on VHS.

What “Rumble” did was introduce audiences to this extremely charismatic figure, his incredible fight and action sequences, many of which he did himself (he did start out as a stuntman, after all), and a certain formula that Chan was able to ride throughout his successful career. The formula goes like this: star power from Chan, great action sequences, and so-so plots, character development and direction.

2. Jackie Chan's 36 Crazy FistsRoger Ebert summed up Chan’s unique appeal in his review of “Rumble” for the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Any attempt to defend this movie on rational grounds is futile. Don’t tell me about the plot and the dialogue. Don’t dwell on the acting. The whole point is Jackie Chan — and, like Astaire and Rogers, he does what he does better than anybody. There is a physical confidence, a grace, an elegance to the way he moves. There is humor to the choreography of the fights (which are never too gruesome). He’s having fun. If we allow ourselves to get in the right frame of mind, so are we.”

That mixture was fully evident in Chan’s biggest box-office successes, the three (so far, talks are under way for a fourth) “Rush Hour” action comedies with comedian Chris Tucker. The first in 1998 made $130 million at the American box office alone. “Rush Hour 2” in 2001 was an even bigger hit, grossing $347 million worldwide. The third was also a big hit, grossing $255 million in the U.S.

3. jackie_chanHe also teamed with another Hollywood star, Owen Wilson, for the comedy-action Westerns “Shanghai Noon” in 2000, and its sequel “Shanghai Knights” in 2003. Chan was a bonafide Hollywood star who could sell a movie on his own or paired with an American star.

But what Chan’s success also brought was his hundreds of action films he made in Hong Kong, India and Thailand. Many of them were throwaways, barely worth the film they were made on. And these films hit video store shelves in waves, many of them taking advantage of Chan’s star power, even if he was barely in the film, only directed the film or choreographed the fight scenes. The VHS boxes prominently featured his name and image.

One of those films is 1977’s “The 36 Crazy Fists,” which features Chan’s image prominently on the box/poster and his name in large letters at the top, even though Chan has a cameo role at best. He also served as fight choreographer.

IMDB’s synopsis goes like this: “A young man decides to learn Kung Fu to avenge the death of his father, a peaceful shopkeeper who was murdered by Manchurian gangsters for not paying protection money. At first he is rejected by his teachers because he is weak, but through persistence, and some help from other students and a mysterious drunk, he learns the skills he needs to avenge his father.”

Reviewers weren’t so kind to “Fists,” especially given Chan’s blink-it-and-you-miss-it appearance. But not all reviews were unkind. David Lee Andrews of www.comicbookandmoviereviews.com, who gave it a B-, said it was “so-so,” but liked it overall.

“Now underneath the surface of ‘36 Crazy Fists’ is a very cleverly constructed film that’s taken some of the characters from Jackie Chan’s early kung-fu flicks, and then amalgamated them all together into one fairly cohesive storyline. Moreover, it’s funny in places; Jovial in others. And by and large the kung-fu on show isn’t that bad either. However — as you might have guessed — where this film falls flat on its ass, is in every other department thereafter. It isn’t a bad movie. Granted, it isn’t the best one either.”

“The 36 Crazy Fists” doesn’t nearly rise to the level of Chan’s best, such as the “Drunken Master,” “Police Story” or even the “Rush Hour” series, but it can be a pleasant diversion if you don’t mind Chan’s absence.

Watch “The 36 Crazy Fists” on MovieZoot.com here.