Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee are two of the greatest action stars in the history of cinema, known for their unique approaches to their craft. While Lee became a cultural icon because of his discipline and advocacy of martial arts in the west, Jackie Chan carved out a space for himself by creating some of the best action comedies of all time.
Through hilarious gems such as Police Story, Jackie Chan weaved together a vision of action cinema that was not common in western culture. Bruce Lee’s signature style was to be on the offensive while Chan made millions of people laugh by combining the art of getting punched in the face with some truly remarkable stunts that people still try to rip off to this day.
In fact, the recent Tom Holland film Uncharted borrowed inspiration for its action sequences directly from Police Story. As many have pointed out (including Edgar Wright), it is impossible to copy a Jackie Chan film and retain its magic because Chan’s unique style and his approach to comedy are simply inimitable.
Although Jackie Chan is now considered to be among the most iconic stars of Asian cinema, he started out as a stunt double in many productions including Bruce Lee’s 1972 film Fist of Fury. However, they didn’t really have a proper encounter until they collaborated on Bruce Lee’s final project before his tragic demise – Enter the Dragon.
In an interview, Jackie Chan spoke about Lee’s impact on his life: “He influenced me a lot, but I knew I could never be him. He was the king of martial arts, and I just admired him. The way he talked, the way he punched, even the way he spoke was impressive. He was a really good talker! Because he was born in the US, he was more open than us.”
Jackie Chan was very much in awe of Bruce Lee while working on Enter the Dragon as well, so much so that he engaged in a fight with Lee and pretended to be extremely hurt just so he could get the attention of the star. Being the professional that he was, Lee continued to act out the scene after hitting Jackie Chan with a stick across his face.
When the director yelled cut, Lee rushed over to Chan and immediately apologised for injuring him. Even though Jackie Chan was completely fine, he started moaning in pain just so Bruce Lee would hold on to him as long as possible. As a result of that incident, they actually started talking to each other and Lee asked him about his training.
Recalling Lee’s demeanour on set, Jackie Chan was full of praise for the star and even revealed how Lee helped him out: “Bruce was great, because he got me even more money by telling the stunt coordinator it was a dangerous stunt – but it wasn’t a dangerous stunt. He was just trying to help me get paid more, and that made me so happy.”
Due to their respective influences on popular culture, there are inevitable comparisons but Jackie Chan maintains that Bruce Lee was the one who taught him to pay attention to the image that he projected. “He was under so much pressure to be a superhero, and that was not good for him,” Chan said. “That’s one thing I learned from his life – do not try and be a superhero.”