Total Recall

Jackie Chan's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Karate Kid star.

by | June 11, 2010 | Comments

Jackie ChanAn international star in the truest sense, Jackie Chan has appeared in more than 100 films over the last 30-plus years — and even in today’s hyper-hyphenated Hollywood, Chan has amassed a dizzying array of credits, serving as an actor, director, choreographer, screenwriter, and stuntman. And that doesn’t take into account his career as a pop singer or his voice work as himself (in TV’s The Jackie Chan Adventures) or “Master Monkey” (in Kung Fu Panda and its upcoming sequel). Yes, Jackie Chan has had an amazing career — and as his co-starring role in this week’s Karate Kid remake proves, it isn’t over yet. In honor of his latest release, we decided to take a look back at Jackie’s previous live-action adventures and celebrate the critical highlights, Total Recall style!


10. Operation Condor 2: The Armour of the Gods

Okay, try to follow along: Though it’s titled Operation Condor 2, this actually isn’t a sequel — in fact, it was released in Hong Kong five years before Armour of God II: Operation Condor. But because Armour of God II enjoyed some success during its U.S. theatrical run, Miramax decided to release the previous installment — and decided to call it Operation Condor 2: The Armour of the Gods. Confused yet? Don’t worry; Condor 2‘s plot isn’t anywhere near as complicated as the story behind the scenes. In fact, it’s a pretty straightforward adventure about a faded pop star (Chan) who decides to fence a stolen sword, only to discover it’s part of a suit of armor that’s being demanded as ransom by the evil cult that kidnapped the woman who…well, okay, so maybe it isn’t that straightforward. But the important thing is that it gave Chan plenty of opportunities to battle his way out of ridiculous situations — and he rose to the occasion with trademark flair, moving Chris Hicks of the Deseret News to call it “An excellent example of Chan at his comic/kick-’em-up best, blending elements of both James Bond and Indiana Jones, along with the requisite zany fights and stunts.”


9. Drunken Master

A lot of movies have been made about the legend of Qing Dynasty revolutionary Wong Fei-hung, but few have enjoyed the level of success — or been as influential — as 1978’s Drunken Master, which stars Chan as a younger, more impetuous version of the cultural icon. Actually, as Drunken Master begins, Wong is a bit of a troublemaker in his village — so much so that his father sends him to the equivalent of reform school to train under Beggar So, known for his particularly brutal methods. After attempting to shirk his training, Wong eventually changes his ways, learning enough of So’s techniques to become the new master of his secret “drunken boxing” style (and whoop plenty of bad guy tail along the way). The uninitiated shouldn’t expect Hollywood levels of glitz — or even smooth editing — but if you can see your way past its low-budget quirks, you may find yourself agreeing with Nitrate’s Dan Lybarger, who wrote, “Chan’s breakthrough film is crudely made, but his own charm and athleticism make this worth a look.”


8. Shanghai Noon

Westerns and kung fu movies have enjoyed a close relationship for years, and that rich shared tradition is given a tongue-in-cheek salute with Shanghai Noon, an action-comedy that transcends its goofier elements (Lucy Liu plays the female lead, a character named Princess Pei-Pei) and delivers a well-rounded blend of humor, adventure, and — of course — jaw-dropping stunts. Chan stars here as Chon Wang (say it out loud with a drawl), a Chinese imperial guard who is sent to Nevada to rescue the princess, kidnapped by agents of the villainous Lo Fong (Roger Yuan). Of course, no sooner has he arrived in Nevada than he gets tangled up with Roy O’Bannon (Owen Wilson), a rather inept outlaw who starts out hijacking Wang’s train and ends up becoming an invaluable ally in his quest. For some fans, Shanghai seemed at first like just another Americanized buddy project for Chan, who had already done this sort of thing with Chris Tucker in Rush Hour. Chan and Wilson proved a duo worth watching, though; on their way to a $99 million gross (and a less enthusiastically received sequel, 2003’s Shanghai Knights), they earned praise from critics like the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, who wrote, “Shanghai Noon is, in classic western tradition, a celebration of male bonding, unabashedly juvenile, boyishly risqué and disarmingly sweet.”


7. Rumble in the Bronx

Jackie Chan got his big break in the States with Rumble in the Bronx, the 1995 Hong Kong hit that arrived in American theaters the following year with the prophetic tagline “No Fear. No Stuntman. No Equal.” Rumble topped the box office over its opening weekend, giving Chan a measure of vindication after years of struggling to find the proper introduction to U.S. audiences unfamiliar with the frenetic blend of action and comedy that had already made him an international star. Though he’d made minor appearances on Stateside screens (such as in Cannonball Run) and had starred in the underperforming The Protector and The Big Brawl, Chan wanted to make sure his first major American starring vehicle was the right one; he famously turned down Wesley Snipes’ role in Demolition Man because he didn’t want Hollywood to typecast him as a villain. His patience served him well — though critics were quick to point out Rumble‘s paper-thin plot, this story of a Hong Kong cop (Chan) who comes to New York for a wedding and ends up taking down a crime syndicate (and reforming some minor-league hoods in the process) proved a fine distillation of his strengths as a leading man. As Luke Y. Thompson wrote for New Times, “Chan’s U.S. breakthrough may not be his best, but it’s up there.”


6. Project A

The first on-screen union of “The Three Brothers” — a.k.a. Jackie Chan and his friends Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao — 1983’s Project A took audiences back to the early 1900s and old Hong Kong, where an upstanding officer in the Marine Police (Chan) gets mixed up with a double-dealing con man (Hung) in his battle to fight corruption on the force and take down a pirate crew. Notable for including Chan’s brilliant recreation of the Harold Lloyd clock tower stunt from Safety Last!, Project A offers a glimpse of Chan in his youthful, skull-cracking prime; in the words of Filmcritic’s Christopher Null, “Shot before he had broken every bone in his body twice, the spry Chan had such agility and quickness it’s truly frightening to watch.”


5. The Legend of Drunken Master

More than 15 years after 1978’s Drunken Master made him a star, Chan returned to the role of Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung for this sequel. Originally titled Drunken Master II and belatedly released in America as The Legend of Drunken Master, this set of adventures finds Wong inadvertently embroiled in a battle over Chinese relics that are being smuggled out of the country by British ambassadors. Naturally, he needs to call upon his unparalleled skills as a master of the Zui Quan, or “drunken fist,” fighting method, culminating in an epic 20-minute fighting sequence that left Roger Ebert stunned. As Kenneth Turan succinctly put it for the Los Angeles Times, “This is one of the films that made Jackie Chan Jackie Chan.”


4. Police Story

Stung by the failure of The Protector, Chan refocused his efforts on the East Asian film market, directing and co-writing this fast-paced action-comedy hit, which went on to win Best Film at the 1986 Hong Kong Film Awards. The story, naturally, focuses on a police officer (Chan) whose unwavering determination to bring down a notorious gangster (Yuen Chor) results in some pretty epic property destruction (not to mention a not-inconsiderable amount of damage to Chan’s body), concluding with a no-holds-barred showdown in a shopping mall. The beginning of a hugely successful franchise that has spawned multiple sequels, a spinoff, and a reboot, Police Story earned the admiration of critics such as the Montreal Film Journal’s Kevin L. Laforest, who wrote, “Chan is jumping everywhere, breaking through windows and using whatever he finds as a weapon. So, this ain’t his best film, but you can’t deny that he’s an amazing performer, and the picture remains great entertainment.”


3. Police Story 2

Three years after Police Story arrived in theaters, Chan followed it with the first of several sequels. As Police Story 2 opens, our hero has been assigned highway patrol duty as punishment for the havoc wreaked during his arrest of crime boss Chu Tao at the end of the first movie. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, Chu is granted an early release from prison; predictably, he uses his newfound freedom as a way of tormenting Inspector Chan — who’s also having a rough time at home, where his girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung) wants him to stop pursuing dangerous cases. Of course, May is eventually kidnapped by Chu, and it isn’t giving anything away to say Chan eventually saves the day, but unlike most sequels that repeat their predecessors, Police Story 2 delivers where it really counts. Raising the death-defying action stakes, Chan earned the admiration of fans and critics like the Austin Chronicle’s Marc Savlov, who wrote, “This second Ka-Kui adventure rests comfortably in-between the others, overflowing with Chan’s patented stuntwork and comic high jinks, and as such, it’s a fine introduction to the Jackie Chan phenomenon.”


2. Crime Story

Unlike most of Jackie Chan’s movies, Crime Story is mostly devoid of comedy — which makes sense, given that it dramatizes the real-life 1990 kidnapping of Chinese businessman Teddy Wang, a billionaire whose vast wealth made him an irresistible target for extortionists. Unfortunately, the police officers pursuing Wang’s abductors didn’t have the benefit of Crime Story‘s screenwriters, or a cop with the amazing action powers of Jackie Chan; Wang was never found after his second kidnapping, and was declared legally dead in 1999. Though Crime Story is a decidedly serious entry in Chan’s filmography, he still manages to defeat the bad guys and come to the rescue in the end — and earn some of the best reviews of his career in the process. Variety’s Derek Elley, for one, applauded it as “a career swerve” for Chan, and “a dark-edged cop thriller in which the star’s stunts play second fiddle to plot and mood.”


1. Supercop

Jackie Chan took his Police Story franchise to mainland China for the third installment, Police Story 3: Super Cop (later released in America as the more succinctly titled Supercop, in the wake of Rumble in the Bronx‘s success). This entry teams Police Inspector Chan with Interpol agent Jessica Yang (Michelle Yeoh) on a mission to take down the notorious drug lord Chaibat (Kenneth Tsang), and finds Chan infiltrating a prison gang to gain the trust of Chaibat’s trusted lieutenant Panther (Yuen Wah). Due to the franchise’s wild popularity, Supercop was able to add a number of locations to its story’s twists and turns; the action moves from Hong Kong to China and back again, then to Kuala Lumpur, finally culminating in a typically amazing chase scene involving high-speed trains and an exploding helicopter. It is, in the words of’s John Hartl, “An astonishingly fluid and funny movie that makes most American action pictures seem lethargic.”

In case you were wondering, here are Chan’s top ten movies according RT users’ scores:

1. The Legend of Drunken Master — 87%
2. Drunken Master — 87%
3. Police Story — 86%
4. Rush Hour — 84%
5. Project A — 81%
6. Shanghai Noon — 78%
7. Police Story 2 — 75%
8. Rumble in the Bronx — 74%
9. The Forbidden Kingdom — 73%
10. Who Am I? — 72%

Take a look through Chan’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for The Karate Kid.

Finally, here’s a fanmade video of Jackie’s self-proclaimed favorite stunts, based on a list from his book: