In the last film of Jackie Chan’s early filmmaking days in Hong Kong, Chan meticulously practices the art he perfected through trial and error over the course of many films. For many of his early films, the ending credits displayed the pain and suffering the cast and crew suffered in the creation of Chan’s special brand of martial arts films. In the classic “blooper” reel, the audience was treated to the stunts that went awry and the fight scenes in which strikes landed accidentally. Chan’s penchant for improvisation coupled with careful choreography helped to build his reputation as a master filmmaker even as his style proved to be mayhem for production management.
Chan can sometimes baffle set designers and set dressers with the style of fight scenes he stages. He famously likes to use anything the audience sees in the scene. During the famous “chopsticks” fight scene, two characters fight for the meaty morsels with chopstick skills. The dishes on the table barely move throughout the scene while the two combatants toss bits of food around, stealing the chunks from each other in cunning crescendo of culinary martial arts. Chan has an eye for continuity, however, as both dishes maintain a consistent look throughout the action. You won’t find a bowl of rice that goes from half-full to empty to full again, depending on the camera angle here.
Maybe the forgiving aspect of Chan’s style is that chaos and speed reign. If an audience member is taking time to notice a bowl or a set piece that is out of place from shot to shot, they must have a quick eye. In one scene, Chan’s character challenges his master to a duel of balancing various pottery vases and vessels. The pots and even cups and saucers seem to appear out of thin air, and that seems to be the point. Chan presents a fantasy sequence where we delight in the skills in the action rather than the reality of the objects in the scene.
Chan’s stunning fight scenes and stunt work also further the plot and director’s purpose in the film. Often the sequences settle a score between opposing forces, but much more frequently the scenes help to set a tone or make the audience laugh. In one famous scene from the film, Chan’s character engages in “emotional kung fu,” in which the practitioner of the art uses happiness, sadness, and any other display of emotion to expose his adversary’s weakness.
In the end, fans of Chan are always satisfied because, just like his characters, who are practiced and faithful to the martial arts, Chan is faithful to his own style of motion picture arts. The story and the continuity serve a greater purpose in his films. That may be the reason there is nothing like a classic Jackie Chan film.
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