Jackie Chan is celebrating his 65th birthday this year. Not bad for a man known for punishing his body over and over to bring us some of the most innovative and entertaining martial arts movies of the 20th Century. Celebrate the birth of a modern master with these essential Jackie Chan movies.
'Drunken Master' (1978)
"Drunken Master" was one of the first films to truly showcase Chan's potential as a performer and comedian. Chan was hardly the first or last actor to play the role of legendary hero Wong Fei-hung, but he set his version apart by bringing a newfound level of slapstick to his numerous fight sequences.
'Project A' (1983)
Don't let the vague, generic title fool you - "Project A" is an essential Jackie Chan film. This period piece casts Chan as a Hong Kong police sergeant battling pirate raiders and teams him with frequent costar (and former schoolmate) Sammo Hung. This film stands out particularly because it pays tribute to the comedic stunts of classic Hollywood stars like Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.
'Wheels on Meals' (1984)
"Wheels on Meals" stands out for many reasons. It was filmed during the peak of Chan's athletic and fighting prowess. It features frequent partners Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao as Chan's partners. And it's one of Chan's most overtly hilarious movies, proving once again that Chan had stumbled on something grand with his decision to combine martial arts and slapstick humor.
'Police Story' (1985)
Were Police Story filmed with someone other than Jackie Chan as the lead, it might not have made as big an impact. Its plot consists mostly of '80s cop movie cliches. However, it also features some of the most ambitious and elaborate stunts of Chan's long career. The film served as a showcase for what was possible as Chan's star began to rise and he was given larger budgets and greater control.
'Armour of God II: Operation Condor' (1991)
Chan effectively crafted his own take on the "Indiana Jones" movies with this 1991 effort (which was belatedly released in the US in 1997 as simply 'Operation Condor'). Here, Chan stars as treasure hunter "Asian Condor," who races against a former Nazi to find a hidden cache of gold in the Sahara desert.
'Police Story 3: Super Cop' (1992)
The third entry in the "Police Story" series is widely regarded as one of the best, both in terms of the franchise and Chan's career as a whole. This film features some of the most mind-boggling stunts of Chan's career. It also pairs him with fellow Hong Kong superstar Michelle Yeoh, which proves to be a match made in martial arts heaven.
'Drunken Master II' (1994)
The first "Drunken Master" helped establish Chan's trademark blend of comedy and martial arts, and its sequel cemented him as one of the all-time great action stars. This film (released in the US in 2000 as "The Legend of Drunken Master") again casts Chan as folk hero Wong Fei-hung. The final, epic 20-minute fight sequence truly has to be seen to be believed.
'Rumble in the Bronx' (1995)
Chan spent much of the '90s trying to break into the US film market, and "Rumble in the Bronx" is where those efforts began to pay off. The film's plot isn't much to write home about, with Chan playing a dutiful cop who travels to America and accidentally winds up stumbling onto a criminal conspiracy. But unsurprisingly, the action and stunts are more than enough to make up for any storytelling deficiencies.
'Rush Hour' (1998)
If films like "Rumble in the Bronx" helped expose Chan to American audiences, "Rush Hour" is what truly made him a Hollywood force. Chan's first movie made specifically for Western audiences has one big advantage over his previous work. Chan's amazing martial arts skills pair well with Chris Tucker's wisecracking humor, making for a terrifically entertaining buddy cop movie.
'Who Am I?' (1998)
This 1998 film served as a memorable devitaion from the usual Jackie Chan formula, with Chan playing a special forces agent who's stricken with amnesia in South Africa and becomes known only as "Who Am I?". Despite that seemingly grim premise, this is actually one of Chan's funnier movies.
'Shanghai Noon' (2000)
Chan's second major hit in the US doesn't deviate far from the buddy cop formula established by "Rush Hour." However, Owen Wilson proves just as apt a comedic foil for Chan as Chris Tucker, and the film's unique blend of martial arts and Western tropes makes it highly entertaining.