Jackie Chan as Chief Inspector Lee in “Rush Hour 2” (2001).

Kung fu hustle: Jackie Chan used to teach actors impossible stunts that only he could do on camera

Dec 09, 2019

In an unpublished interview from 1998, the Rush Hour star reveals how he hustled for jobs early in his career—even teaching actors complicated stunts so that he would end up doing them on camera.

Before Rush Hour (1998) made him a household name in America, Jackie Chan was a stuntman in Hong Kong hustling for any job he could get.

Jackie Chan, right, became one of Bruce Lee’s favorite stuntmen. Here he is performing with Lee in “Enter the Dragon” (1973).
Jackie Chan, right, became one of Bruce Lee’s favorite stuntmen. Here he is performing with Lee in “Enter the Dragon” (1973). / Photo: Alamy

During the early 1970s, he worked as a stuntman, most notably alongside Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973).

Eventually, he worked his way up to stunt coordinator and then action choreographer. His first film as a full-fledged choreographer was Police Woman in 1973.

Jackie Chan filming “Drunken Master 2” in 1993.
Jackie Chan filming “Drunken Master 2” in 1993. / Photo: South China Morning Post

In this excerpt from an unpublished 1998 interview, Chan describes how he made the most of every opportunity in his career—even teaching actors impossible stunts so that he could get in front of the camera.


How did you manage your career back in the early days?

I don’t really feel like I had much of a choice about what I was doing. I was forced to change what I was doing because of society and the nature of the movie business.

“I was just making movies to make a living, and that was tough to do.”

Jackie Chan

I’m not a genius, I’m just a normal person, and back then, I was just making movies to make a living, and that was tough to do. I knew that if I didn’t work really hard, I would not be a success.

“One of my jobs was showing actors and actresses how to fight in their scenes. [...] I knew that they would not be able to do the things that I was showing them.”

Jackie Chan

One of my jobs was showing actors and actresses how to fight in their scenes. So I would spend a lot of time showing them what to do, especially the actresses. Why? Because I knew that they would not be able to do the things that I was showing them.

Jackie Chan started his movie career as a stuntman in Hong Kong.
Jackie Chan started his movie career as a stuntman in Hong Kong. / Photo: South China Morning Post

Since they couldn’t do what I had planned, the director would always ask me to double for them in the fight scenes—and if I had to double for them, I would earn more money!

“Every time I doubled for an actress or an actor, I got HK$150 (US$20). So I would teach the actor one difficult movement each day.”

Jackie Chan

Every time I doubled for an actress or an actor, I got HK$150 (US$20). So I would teach the actor one difficult movement each day. The director would say, “Wow, that looks good,” and I would say, “Yes, but they can’t really do it properly.” So the director would tell me to do it instead, since I was the stunt coordinator.

Jackie Chan in a publicity photo for “Super Cop” (1992).
Jackie Chan in a publicity photo for “Super Cop” (1992). / Photo: AP

For the next shot, I would teach another actor a difficult thing. That way I could be a double again! Every day, I choreographed a couple of things to make more money.

What did you learn about acting and directing during this period?

Because I was doing stunts on screen as a double, I got more experience in front of the camera. I also learned a lot about camera angles when I was a stunt coordinator.

Jackie Chan at the opening of a retrospective of his work in Hong Kong in 1998.
Jackie Chan at the opening of a retrospective of his work in Hong Kong in 1998. / Photo: South China Morning Post

When I first became a stunt coordinator, I didn’t know anything about camera angles. But I used to help the cinematographer, by getting the lenses for him and so on. At that time, only the cinematographer was allowed to look through the lens, so I became the cinematographer’s “godson,” and that meant I had the chance to look through it.

I asked a lot of questions—what’s this, what’s that?—and they taught me. I became one of them, a camera assistant. I always wanted to learn, and I was learning all the time.

Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.

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