Well, maybe ‘famous‘ isn’t the right word but before he was an ‘A-Lister’ in Hong Kong Jackie Chan was the number one stunts guy in Kung Fu films.
Jackie has an extensive number of films under his belt, so why not explore the earlier works?
Jackie played a fair few small roles and did a lot of stunts in movies before taking the lead in some of the films listed further down. He had a minuscule part in Come Drink with Me at the age of 16 and even the highly regarded A Touch of Zen (among other films), before doing stunts in Bruce Lee’s films Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon.
Jackie is a big Bruce Lee fan and did a lot of uncredited work in films during those years of his fame – in movies like Hapkido (including one lead role in ‘Little Tiger of Canton’ – see below).
But it was after the death of Bruce Lee that Jackie was being given the opportunity to take on bigger roles. Although it was mainly because the big wigs wanted him to become the next Bruce Lee, they putt him in films like ‘The New Fist of Fury‘, a sequel to the original Bruce Lee’s film.
Jackie badly wanted to be number one, but was told he couldn’t hold a lead, especially considering his eyes were described as ‘too thin’ – so he even got eye surgery to improve their appearance!
Of course he eventually broke through into the Kung Fu comedy scene with Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master and became the legendary actor everyone knows today. But the films before are like his ‘stumbling blocks’ to stardom, so I thought I’d check them out! Here are some of those early and most notable films and what to expect from them.
Little Tiger of Canton
Also known as Master with Cracked Fingers – which contains added footage
Little Tiger of Canton is a film shot in 1971 but released in 1973. It was the first film shot with Jackie Chan as the lead at the tender age of 17!
Jackie plays a young teenager who constantly gets into fights and wins due to his martial arts skill. His uncle, who is his guardian, is furious over all the fights he gets into and constantly punishes him for it. But things with a local gang keep getting worse and he is forced to fight before things go too far.
The movie starts with Jackie showing off his moves – some awesome and impressive acrobatic stuff. His fights are a little sloppy but energetic and acrobatic, showing off his tremendous fitness and ability.
Despite Jackie Chan’s presence in this movie, it is pretty cheap and nasty. The quality of the version I saw was really bad. But if you’re curious to see Jackie as a kid doing his thing, this movie may be worth watching.
Master with Cracked fingers? It’s essentially the same film reedited at a later date with some new footage. It’s a pretty nasty rehash and it does alter the story a bit. You can also get it from Amazon.
Fist of Anger
Also known as ‘In Eagle’s Shadow Fist’
Jackie isn’t in the lead in this film but plays more of a side kick / supporting role to another character in the lead.
The film is set during the Japanese Occupation of China during World War 2. Jackie Chan’s character is a member of a group of rebels who decide to try and fight back to drive the Japanese out of their town.
It’s pretty bland sort of film but has a little bit of action. Jackie’s character even gets killed toward the end of the film. Not exactly ‘must see’ material, so I’d skim past this one unless you are really completist.
Rumble in Hong Kong
Also known as Policewoman
Jackie plays the smaller role (with some weird facial hair) next to a Police woman in this film, a movie which was a major box office flop!
It’s another reasonably cheap and boring movie but does show us a very young looking Jackie Chan (he looks like he’s only 15! – though he is older) in a truly uneventful piece of film.
There are a fair few fights but the focus isn’t on Jackie and they’re pretty standard and unexciting.
Don’t fall for this one, it’s pretty ordinary. Jackie himself has said that the only good thing to come from this film is was his offscreen friendship with Chun Cheung Lam.
New Fist of Fury
Yep, the sequel to Bruce Lee’s top film Fist of Fury starring our man Jackie!
Jackie plays Ah Lung (aka Dragon) in this film, a young trouble maker who gets bullied and beaten up in Taiwan. He has an encounter with some of the original students from Chen Zhen’s school and is eventually taught martial arts to fight back against some oppressive Japanese bad guys.
This movie is an early work and didn’t do too well but it’s not half bad to watch – it’s just not fantastic. The action is somewhat ‘halfway’ between the old fashioned wavy styled martial arts style fights to the technical, high intensity fighting Bruce Lee brought to cinema.
This film is very ‘on the fence’ as it’s “not bad but not great” in most aspects. I thought it was worth checking out for some early Chan though. Check out my full review here! Or get a copy for yourself.
Shaolin Wooden Men
This film has a different role for Jackie, he plays a mute Shaolin trainee whose parents were murdered some 10 years before.
He cops a bit of crap from those around him but eventually meets a prisoner who teaches him Kung Fu whilst he also studies under a monk. Eventually Chan’s character the ‘dumb boy’, as they all call him, takes on the Shaolin Wooden Men, which a test which involves fighting your through a hall whilst a bunch of wooden dummies swing strikes and make the whole experience quite painful and difficult.
This film has a very standard feel but it does have a few nice unique aspects to it. Jackie makes for a believable mute and you can’t help but feel for his character. He is ultimately driven by revenge and of course certain twists reveal his father’s killer. Naturally, he must use his kung fu to defeat him!
Most of the action is pretty basic, wild swinging movements and outdated techniques mixed with Jackie’s acrobatic movements (dull in comparison to his later films) make up most of the action. The final fight, however, isn’t too bad and worth the watch.
It’s not one of Jackie’s best but if you’re a Chan fan, check it out! Don’t forget to keep an eye out for young Yuen Biao!
Hand of Death
Some good old fashioned John Woo action!
Woo has an eye for talent! In this film he utilizes the abilities of not just Jackie Chan, who plays a supporting role as one of the team of ‘good guys’, but also Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao and James Tien as villains.
This is one of the higher quality films on this list with this team coming together to fight an oppressive man and his minions in a film which follows the typical Kung Fu motive/formula.
The action is quite nice with the main character Yun Fei, played by Doran Tan, offers some nice moves and martial arts skill to the audience. Of course Jackie gets into the swing of things but his movements aren’t anything new, they aren’t even very ‘Jackie Chan’!
Overall though it’s a decent film with a young Jackie doing a good job supporting our main hero. This one is worth a watch!
Up for a bit of Jimmy Wang Yu vs a bit of Jackie Chan? The good and honest Jimmy Wang Yu takes on the evil Jackie Chan character…
This movie moves incredibly slow as we follow the main character, named after Killer Metoers (that’s Wang Yu) as he goes about his business as a bit of a local legend, while we see very little of our man Jackie – despite being the main villain.
It’s a pretty boring wuxia film and blends in with the lesser known releases they were pumping out back in those days. It is interesting to see Jackie in an old Wuxia style costume, crazy hair and sideburns to go with it. It’s not a look I’ve seen Jackie sport before.
Usually you can expect some decent action in the final fight between these two guys, but unfortunately it sucks big time. Expect none of Jackie’s nice stunt work, just bland, boring crap.
To Kill with Intrigue
Jackie returns with Lo Wei to create another Wuxia film.
Jackie’s character Chen Lung grows into a dark hatred filled man plotting for revenge, which is another characteristic very different from the mainstream Jackie we all love. His father is killed by a gang called ‘The Killer Bee’s’ and he trusts a friend to look after his girl while he defends his family.
His friend, however, forgets the ‘Bro’s before Hoes’ mantra and takes the girl for himself!
This pisses Chen Lung off to no end. He nearly dies, swallows burning coal, burns his face and even drinks what he believes is poison and goes out to get his revenge and take back his girl. I don’t know how keen she’d be though because he isn’t exactly a looker by the end of the film, he even speaks like he’s about to die by the end of this film and is looking pretty messed up.
One funny thing about this film is that the girl’s name had to be changed for the Japanese release. Ching Ching is Japanese slang for ‘penis’, so they couldn’t have any of that in the film otherwise Jackie would be going mad trying to get revenge and rescue his beloved ‘penis’ – not quite the same charm.
It’s a decent quality film but like most of these early films, pretty damn boring. Most of the action is saved for the end and isn’t too bad. I’d still be inclined to skip this one though unless you’re a die hard Chan fan.
Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin
Ok, so this was released after Snake in the Eagle’s shadow, but it’s a very similar kind of movie to others on this list, and I do believe that it was filmed before Eagle’s Shadow.
Jackie plays a guy who gets into fights every 5 minutes of the movie. The reason being that he has a book that has the teachings of the Snake and Crane arts of Shaolin contained in it. Of course it’s the style of Kung Fu that every man and his dog wants so they will give Jackie’s character a good bashing to get it – except that he’s a little too skilled and using his martial arts quite well in defense.
The quality of this film is pretty decent and it’s actually alright to watch. There’s some really funny/bad dubbing and it’s quite possibly the role in which Jackie Chan has the longest hair – a pony tail that’s the half the length of his body. It’s another old skool wuxia style film and the fighting is very standard once again – but Jackie does manage a few authentc martial arts throws, techniques and some very Wing Chun-ish fighting – an art he is formerly trained in.
Overall one of the better films, worth checking out for die hard fans but otherwise nothing unique and outstanding.
Half a Loaf of Kung Fu
Another film released after Chan’s success but was shelved by Lo Wei until Jackie became a sensation. This film is the first to give Jackie some creative control and experiment with his comedic mix into the Kung Fu genre. Using some visual comedy and crazy facial expressions Jackie just begins to exercise his unique and creative style. Even the intro shows off some nice weapons work like many of the Shaw Brothers films of the time, but mixed up with sped up footage and some funny movements by Jackie.
With a lot of melodramatic movies bring released in Hong Kong at the time, Jackie decides to make fun of them with this film.
Chan is an acrobat who lands a job in a big mansion as a bodyguard. His mischievous activities manage to piss off a witch living there. He then tries his best to find a master and learn some Kung Fu, eventually facing the witch and landing himself in more mischief.
Expect some very old fashioned but comedic music and stylings including a lot more jerky, sped up footage that does add a little humor to some scenes. It makes the movie just barely watchable, especially since the action is very unoriginal and stock standard – although the final fight is a good mix of comedy and action.
As an early Chan film it is watchable but another one strictly for the die hard Chan fans.
Shelved again! Dragon Fist is back to the serious 70’s with a revenge plot that twists and turns into another revenge plot!
Jackie Chan’s character is out seeking revenge for the death of his Kung Fu master, along with the master’s widow and daughter. They catch up with the man responsible for the death but he has repented, cutting off his leg. Jackie’s character then gets caught up with a bad group whilst working to help his master’s Widow recover from illness, but he is blamed for the death of a boy and his Master’s widow is poisoned!
So Jackie and the original one legged master team up for sweet vengeance!
This ‘sweet vengeance’ plays out quite ordinarily though as the movie proves to be just another Lo Wei boring pile of dung. It’s not that bad, but not really good either.
Spiritual Kung Fu
Yep, once again a previously shelved film. This film continues with the Jackie Chan style of slapstick comedy, joining James Tien and Yuen Biao.
The beginning of the movie reminds me a little of drunken master with Jackie playing the student, trying to cheat punishment and being forced to participate in almost torturous disciplinary activities. He even encounters some ghosts (spirits! 😉 ) during the film and learns some kung fu with them.
Eventually he challenges this girl who is quite proficient in Kung Fu and even spanks her! But she runs off to get him into trouble only to discover her father is dead.
Of course it’s a kung fu movie and there are bad guys. So they must track down a Ninja who stole a precious book containing a deadly style of Kung Fu that is lost. You can probably guess the rest…
This movie is starting to show slightly more of Chan’s style of action, and he even has a good scene showing off use of the tonfa batons. Overall the quality is getting better but it can get boring. However it is one of the better movies on this list.
Ok once again, this was released after Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow but has the same feel to it as the previous films.
Chan has a lead role as Ting Chun alongside James Tien, who plays Tsang. Ting Chun & Tsang, along with a much larger group, are escorting a very ill man through dangerous territory to receive medical treatment. Naturally they are met with resistance from gangs and groups along the way and have to fight their way through. Plot explained.
It’s not unique, it’s a pretty standard wuxia style movie like a lot of Chan’s other lead roles but it does have some funny and notable points.
James Tien’s character is obsessed with skinning people, even chopping one guy’s arms off and leaving the skin of his face dangling from his chin! Meanwhile most of the fight scenes have spears and fists obnoxiousky pointed very closely to the camera as the movie was originally shown in 3D. Of course, this looks ridiculous in 2D on my TV, althought I had a good laugh when I saw it.
Another funny point is the blatant rip off of Star Wars music inserted throughout the film. It’s so obvious and laughable. The fights are so standard and ordinary that they seem to blend right in the less popular kung fu movies of the time with one exception – Star Wars music running in the background.
Despite all of this the movie is one of the better on this list. Check it out if you’re keen.
That’s the guts of it!
Oldskool Jackie isn’t exactly high quality, but some of it’s decent.
If you’re looking to capture some Jackie Chan history, Little Tiger of Canton is a good watch as his first lead role but once again – it’s for the diehard fans. Otherwise Shaolin Wooden Men would be my top pick, followed by Magnificent Bodyguards, New Fist of Fury and Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin.
Overall I enjoyed watching the old films but seeing all of these got a little old after a while. I’m glad I got to see them, a lot of them are worth watching to understand where the man came from. If you’ve seen any of these and have something to say – post a comment below!
Otherwise, thanks for reading!