Jackie Chan is likely best known among western audiences for his English-language Hollywood films. Since the mid-1990s, he’s alternated between making films in Hong Kong and Hollywood, and perhaps inevitably, it’s those films in English that have become more well-known in America. He’s continuing to make films for both audiences to this very day (including an interesting-sounding action film with John Cena that may never get released).
Many of his pre-Hollywood films are classics in the eyes of hardcore action movie fans (regardless of the language they speak) but they remain a little underrated among western audiences. More casual Jackie Chan fans may only have seen a handful – if any – and so it’s worth highlighting some of the best, so that as many pairs of eyeballs can see them as possible. For any fans of his Hong Kong movies, this might not be for you, as you would have likely seen these already. For anyone else, here are the eight highest-rated Jackie Chan films made before he transitioned to Hollywood, ranked by their IMDb rating (and not including films where Jackie Chan was only a stunt double or extra, like Bruce Lee’sEnter The Dragon).
‘Wheels on Meals’ (1984) – 7.1/10
Wheels on Meals is a light and often silly Jackie Chan film where he shares the screen with two other well-known Hong Kong action stars – Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. The focus isn’t as much on Jackie Chan as some of his other films from this period, with the plot centering on its three stars all falling for a young woman who they help and then rescue during an action-heavy climax.
The action works a lot better than much of the comedy, which means Wheels on Meals can be a little rough going before the final half-hour or so, which is where it’s saved its best action scenes for. But as is almost always the case with Jackie Chan, his action sequences really deliver, with the most memorable scene here probably being a simple but hugely entertaining one-on-one brawl with an opponent that’s every bit Chan’s equal.
‘Police Story 2’ (1988) – 7.1/10
Like many sequels, Police Story 2 might not quite live up to the first, but it’s close. The plot again sees Jackie Chan playing a nearly superhuman cop who has to stop a group of bombers who are trying to extort building owners for millions whilst also dealing with the villains from the first movie who want revenge after being thwarted before.
the Police Story movies don’t tend to be the most comedic of Chan’s early movies, but this might work to their favor. They’re not dark or serious, but they tend to have a little more grit to them, which in a way makes the comedy more effective, thanks to the contrasting tones. Even if it’s a good movie rather than a great one, Police Story 2 is certainly still worth watching for anyone who gets a kick out of seeing Jackie Chan play a heroic and rebellious police officer.
‘Armour of God II: Operation Condor’ (1991) – 7.2/10
while Police Story 2 is considered a slight step down from the first Police Storythe inverse seems to be true with another popular Jackie Chan film series: the Amour of God movies. They give Chan a chance to engage in Indiana Jones-style adventures, with Operation Condor feeling particularly similar, given it involves Chan setting out on a quest to find hidden Nazi gold in the Sahara desert.
It was the most expensive film ever made in Hong Kong at the time of its release, which you can see from much of what happens on screen. It has a particularly large scope and more different locations than many comparable Jackie Chan films, and the action towards the end gets especially elaborate, with crazy sets and an action scene that involves a giant propeller blowing Chan and his foes all over the place.
‘Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow’ (1978) – 7.3/10
This was one of the first films to establish Jackie Chan as an action star in his own right. before Snake in the Eagle’s Shadowhe’d appeared in various action films as an extra or a stunt person, but this movie saw him taking center stage, and giving audiences their first taste of his unique blend of action and comedy.
The plot centers on an old man training Jackie Chan’s character – a young man overlooked by others at the kung fu school he works at – in a unique style of kung fu, which Chan later uses to help the old man when he’s in trouble. It’s smaller scale and a little rougher than many of his other Hong Kong films, but it has charm and still holds up. It’s also worth noting the director, Woo-Ping Yuenwould also go on to have success in Hollywood like Jackie Chan, being a martial arts advisor/stunt coordinator for American films like Kill Billand The Matrix.
‘Project A’ (1983) – 7.3/10
It’s understandable why Jackie Chan is most celebrated for his work in front of the camera, but for a good chunk of his films, he did fantastic work behind the camera too, directing himself in many of his best works.
Project A wasn’t quite the first movie he directed, but it might’ve been the first great movie he both directed and starred in. It has a unique setting and feel to it, being set in the late 19th century and involving Chan’s character battling pirates for Hong Kong’s Coast Guard. It’s over-the-top in all the best ways, and the famous clock tower stunt, in particular, is one for the ages.
‘Drunken Master’ (1978) – 7.4/10
A solid upgrade to Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, Drunken Master was released the same year and has a similar tone and feel while being the superior movie overall. It might help that this time, Jackie Chan is trained in the ways of drunken kung fu rather than regular kung fu.
Drunken kung fu involves fighting in a loose, stumbling, drunken style which makes fighting less predictable and more challenging for the opponent. This naturally gives Jackie Chan a perfect excuse to show off his physical comedy skills whilst also fighting, especially when the training involves actually getting drunk to learn the unique moves of drunken martial arts.
‘Police Story’ (1985) – 7.5/10
Police Story is considered an action classic, and it’s important enough for the genre that both it and its first sequel are contained within the Criterion Collection. He plays a cop framed for the murder of another officer of the law, so needs to clear his name by tracking down (and taking out) the criminals who framed him.
The movie is excellently paced, and contains several action scenes that would rank among Jackie Chan’s best of all time. There’s a hugely destructive car chase in the film’s opening, an amazing chase sequence involving Jackie Chan hanging onto a bus for dear life, and a huge, elaborate, and surprisingly brutal finale that takes place in a shopping mall. without a doubt, Police Story is deservedly considered one of Chan’s very best movies of all time.
‘The Legend of Drunken Master’ (1994) – 7.5/10
The Legend of Drunken Master is the only Jackie Chan movie that can go toe to toe with the first Police Story. While that one is his best film with a contemporary setting, the sequel to Drunken Master would have to be his best film with a period setting, taking place in the early 20th century.
As a result, the variety of action might not rival Police Story (no car chases or shootouts), but the stunts and intense hand-to-hand fights more than make up for it. As his last Hong Kong movie before 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx started to gain him a prominent following in America, The Legend of Drunken Master feels like something of a swansong to the old-school martial art films that made him popular in the late 1970s. For that kind of action movie, it’s hard to imagine things being any better or more exciting than they are here.
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