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From Chapter 7: The Uninsurable Jackie Chan
The most obvious result of his King of the Stunt Hill status is that no insurance company in the world will touch Chan, at least while he's doing high-degree-of-difficulty stunts. Which means that if he sustains a career-ending injury in the middle of a $20 million film, it's bye-bye to the production company's money if they can't somehow finish the film.
That's not as big a risk as it may seem to a company like Golden Harvest, which has made zillions off of Jackie. However, it would be a big deal to an American studio. The odds are, if Jackie ever does hook up with an American studio or production company, he would either have to appreciably tone down his let's-see-just-how-dangerous-l-can-make this-stunt bravado, or he'd have to guarantee financing somehow.
Ironically, although Hollywood today is known for its super-duper special effects and blue screen techniques, Chan is really a throwback to the "real" Hollywood.
For example, that was no stunt double half freezing to death on an ice floe in Broken Blossoms. Nor was Lillian Gish simply "acting" frightened as her chunk of ice floated slowly toward a waterfall — she was probably terrified. One never knew just what D.W. Griffith might think would be a swell shot. Jackie is much more the standard-bearer for Hollywood's golden age than Tinseltown's current crop of action heroes.
But for how much longer? Even Jackie realizes the day is fast approaching when he will perform his last outrageous stunt and hang up his book of over-the-top stunt tricks and concentrate on something less dangerous. Hopefully, when that happens it will be because his body is simply worn out or he decides the risks finally outweigh the benefits — rather than it being forced on him because of a stunt gone terribly wrong resulting in cataclysmic injury.
Until that time comes, though, Jackie continues to rack up injuries by the emergency roomful. Below is an accounting of the major injuries he's received during his career. The key word here is major. On the Jackie scale of physical damages things like sprains and minor cuts hardly register. The most amazing thing about the catalog of pain listed below is that Chan is able to move at all anymore, much less regularly push his body to the limit — and beyond.
CONCUSSION — Hand of Death (1975)
Even before he became well known, Chan had earned a reputation for doing overly dangerous stunts. In this case, not even the help of wires prevented injury while costarring in this John Woo film.
In the stunt, Jackie jumped off a truck onto a trampoline, and a wire was supposed to pull him back. But Chan lost his balance during the jump. When the wire yanked Jackie back, he hit his head and had no idea where he was.
Chan admits it hurt so badly he cried. But instead of taking a break, he went back and did a second take immediately — and promptly passed out when it was over. It took over a half hour for Jackie to regain consciousness, during which the then-new director Woo was convinced Jackie was critically injured and going to die.
Instead, Chan woke up, and when it was discovered he was passing blood, Woo insisted he receive immediate medical attention. All things considered, it's kind of ironic that Woo would be so upset at the sight of a little blood, isn't it?
FRONT TOOTH — Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1977)
When this film was made, Huang Cheng-li was famous far and wide for his lightning kicks — a fact Chan discovered d firsthand. During one of the fight sequences, Huang and Jackie in the face, knocking out a tooth — actually a cap — on injuring Chan's ego. Jackie claimed Huang disfigured him on purpose and actually demanded the kick-meister be fired.
Not surprisingly, Chan's overreaction was ignored and the filming went on.
BROKEN HIP — Magnificent Bodyguard (1978)
Another clue that life on the silver screen wasn't going to be a walk in the park happened when Jackie broke his hip performing a stunt while making this film. On the upside, being a very fit twenty-four-year-old, Chan healed quickly. And having learned mind over matter techniques at the Opera School meant Jackie would simply work in spite of the pain.
BROKEN NOSE — Dragon Fist (1978)
As if it wasn't bad enough that during a fight scene using weapons Chan got womped on his face so hard his nose broke to be injured in a turkey like this added to Jackie's already considerable pain.
CONCUSSION; CUT EYE — Drunken Master 1(1979)
Unable or unwilling to control those happy feet Huang Cheng-li whacked Chan in the head so hard Jackie ended up hospitalized. Again, this was too much realism even for Chan. While he was furious with Yuen Woo-ping for refusing to fire Huang, that anger pales when compared to the antipathy he felt for Huang himself.
On top of that, Jackie also managed to severely cut his eye in another scene, leaving a scar that's still visible today.
Coincidentally or not, after Jackie established himself as the man in Hong Kong action cinema, Huang CHeng-li's career evaporated like a drop of water on a hot wok. Last time anyone checked, Huang was said to be working at a golf tee manufacturing plant in his native Korea. he also put out a series of instructional tapes called the "Art of High Impact Kicking" — or how to detonate a career in one easy kick.
BROKEN FINGER — Project A (1983)
It's ironic that Jackie walked away stunned but unscathed from the stunt where he free-falls off the clock tower, but he managed to break his finger during a standard fight scene.
IMPACTED BACK; BURNS — Police Story (1985)
This unusual back injury occurred when Jackie jumped through a plate of glass to land two stories below. Chan said later that the problem started when he momentarily "thought about" the jump in the moments before he did it. That nanosecond of hesitation threw all his timing off and he landed flat on his back.
Jackie has said to reporters that this was the only time he really thought he wasn't going to survive — this from the man who has a hole in his head the size of a marble, incurred during the filming of Armour of God.
For some reason, nobody seemed to notice the distress Jackie was in. In fact, the crew kept yelling at Chan to get up because the cameras were still rolling. Well, he did — only to have blood suddenly gush from his mouth. His crew realized maybe it was time to turn the cameras off and get Jackie some help, so he was rushed to the hospital.
Doctors diagnosed an impacted back, gave Chan some fluids, and within a couple of hours he was back working on the set.
Ditto for the little mishap that occurred during the scene where Chan slides down a pole strung with Christmas lights. Instead of powering the lights with a low-voltage car battery as planned, the knuckle-headed electrical crew plugged them into a wall outlet. The juiced lights exploded with vigor, generating a searing heat. Not only did Jackie have to pull out tiny glass fragments from his hands, he also had to be treated for second-degree burns.
SKULL FRACTURE — Armour of God (1986)
Jackie had just arrived on the set, coming directly from a flight from Japan. Chan was confident enough in his abilities to shrug off the jet lag and fatigue he felt from his journey and immediately set out to film a stunt that seemed simple enough. And Jackie indeed did the stunt several times with no problem — jumping from a ledge to a tree branch, then swinging down to the ground.
Ever the perfectionist, Chan wanted to try one more time so he could add a little monkeylike twist as he landed. It was one time too many. He slipped off the branch and headfirst hit the ground below, smashing into at least two rocks, blood pouring from his ear.
In addition to a fractured skull, Chan broke his nose, shattered his jaw, lost several teeth, and had a bone chip lodge dangerously close to his brain. It's not an understatement to say doctors weren't sure he'd ever fully recover, much less return to stunt work.
The aftereffects of this injury are a virtually nonfunctioning right ear and a hole in his head.
IMPACTED ANKLE — Dragons Forever (1987)
This film featured a rematch between Chan and Benny "The Jet" Urquidez, a grudge match that left both fighters battered, although Jackie came away the worse for wear, having jammed his ankle so badly he couldn't flex it without excruciating pain. But, as usual, he was able to function despite the pain.
LACERATION — Police Story II (1988)
As if his head hadn't gone through enough already, it was the recipient of more damage during the filming of the first Police Story sequel. The stunt begins with Chan crossing the street by jumping on top of vehicles cruising back and forth on a busy street. The stunt ends with him diving through a plate glass window. And was the window made of safe spun glass? Of course not.
The impact shattered the glass pane, and despite his trying to protect his head, Chan's scalp was sliced and diced by the flying shards.
PUNCTURE WOUND — Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991)
Chan had a deep hole punched into his leg by a wire rigging during a stunt. (Kind of makes it difficult to deny Chan ever uses wires during his stunts.)
CUTS — Twin Dragons (1992)
There are injuries — like having a nose or finger broken during a spirited fight, or cracking an ankle giving an opponent a too-mighty kick — that evoke a kind of macho image. Then there are injuries like the one Jackie suffered here, which simply evoke chuckles — glass shards in the butt.
Granted, having pieces of knife-sharp glass piercing skin anywhere on your body is painful and necessitates medical attention. But it's not particularly ego boosting to need somebody to pluck glass out of your butt.
Copyright © 1997 by Jeff Rovin
Posted August 4, 2012
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