What can we learn from Jackie Chan?

Jackie Chan, is a Hong Kong martial artist, actor, film director, producer, stuntman, and singer. In his movies, he is known for his acrobatic fighting style, comic timing, use of improvised weapons, and innovative stunts, which he typically performs himself. He has trained in Kung Fu and Hapkido.

Jackie Chan’s name is synonymous with action comedies like the Rush Hour and Shanghai Nights series. His successful career has spanned over 56 years, he’s been in over 200 films and has innumerable injuries.

There’s almost no part of Jackie’s body that hasn’t been damaged in some way, as he’s fallen, dropped, jumped, slashed, hacked, broken, stabbed, snapped, and smashed his body in just about every single frame he’s ever shot. It’s what makes him a legend.

Famously, Jackie Chan does his own stunts. And the man has the broken bones to prove it. Jackie Chan holds the Guinness World Record for ‘The Most Stunts by a Living Actor’, which is why we’ve decided to look into the accidents Jackie has sustained during his illustrious film career so far.

Jackie Chan’s accidents on film and TV sets:

  • Supercilliary ridge (bony ridge located above the eye sockets) damaged, almost causing blindness: Drunken Master (1978)
  • Broken Nose: Young Master (1980), Project A (1983), Miracles (1989), Mr. Nice Guy (1997)
  • Knocked out tooth: Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978)
  • Lacerated lips: Police Story 4: First Strike (1996)
  • Lower chin injury: Dragon Lord (1982)
  • Dislocation of the right shoulder: City Hunter (1993)
  • Broken breastbone: Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991)
  • Broken finger bones: The Protector (1985)
  • Knee damage: City Hunter (1993)
  • Ankle (well, malleolus) injury: Who Am I? (1998)
  • Eye injury: The Medallion (2003)
  • Skull fracture, bone cave-in behind left ear, and a brain bleed from falling out of a tree: The Armour of God (1986)
  • Cheek bone dislocation: Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992)
  • Cervical spine damage from falling from a 25-meter clock tower: Project A (1983)
  • Spinal damage from falling from a pole: Police Story (1985)
  • Pelvis dislocation almost causing partial paralysis: Police Story (1985)
  • Tailbone damage causing temporary partial paralysis: The Accidental Spy (2001)
  • Thigh injury from being caught between two cars: Crime Story (1993)
  • Broken ankle: Rumble in The Bronx (1995), Thunderbolt (1996)

Source: http://www.fiz-x.com/list-jackie-chans-major-injuries/

Making movies – What can go wrong

  • Hazards are many & varied, dependant on the stunt action required and location risks, but could include traumatic impacts, cuts / piercings, burns, high g-force accelerations etc.
  • Physical injury – musculoskeletal disorders
  • Physically challenging and may require individuals overcoming a personal fear
  • When not executed to plan others close to the action are at risk of being injured
  • Where stunts are required a professional stunt artist/co-ordinator must be employed to arrange all actions/actors

Let’s consider the risk of working at height:

The purpose of The Work at Height Regulations 2005 [1] is to prevent death and injury caused by a fall from height. As an employer or person in control of work at height (for example facilities managers or building owners who may contract others to work at height) these Regulations apply to them.

What this means is that Employers and those in control of any work at height activity must make sure the work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. This generally includes using the right type of equipment for working at height, which of course will be dependent on the type of work, the existing environment and conditions, and the competency of those using the equipment. Low-risk, relatively straightforward tasks generally require less effort when it comes to planning.

But what about when this comes to planning and supervising one of the world’s greatest martial artists and their stunt scenes, where would you start…… (at the top I hear you shout!)

Employers and those in control must first assess the risks, so let’s consider the risks associated with this particular jump scene from Armour of God, (see 2 minutes into embedded video link), the position/platform from which he jumped was at a significant height.


Generally, when work is conducted at this height you would expect to see provision of some form of fall protection for numerous persons, or as a last resort Personal Protective Equipment to provide fall prevention or fall arrest for individuals, however clearly when you watch the clip there is none in place.

The destination/landing point was littered with tall well established trees and shrubs, the ground was uneven and steeply sloped, covered in leaves and I dare say contained a fair number of unknown/foreign items hidden beneath those leaves. In the workplace this would not be considered a sufficient control of such hazards and associated risks, yet this is a typical situation to arise when creating cinematic masterpieces with the likes of such great actors/artists.

With those considerations above in mind let’s think about how we would mitigate those risks, firstly the height at which the jump is made from, could it be eliminated or reduced well chances are it could, but would it create the same impact in the film and to the viewer, probably not.

Could technology not be used to create the illusion of jumps being from far greater heights than they actually are? Would this create the same impact, and what about the ‘old school’ actors who wish to carry out their own stunts, would they get the same excitement and be able to create the same atmosphere through carrying out less ‘daring’ stunts?

How about the landing point, this could have been made safer through the use suitable and sufficient fall arrest equipment, providing some form of crash mat, a practical option here could have been the use of inflatable/airbag type fall arrest equipment, which could have been easily disguised by covering with leaves and debris like that found on the ground in the area, but of course the steep gradient slope would have made that particularly tricky to install and maintain in position, as would the location of existing trees & plants, and chances are the jump would have created enough downward momentum to cause Jackie Chan to continue moving beyond the inflatable crash mat anyway.


Jackie Chan stunt   -    Jackie Chan Armour of God Tree Stunt

How about the use of dummies? Well again this may serve the purpose of imitating a real-life body well, but would you get the same impact on the viewer, probably not, as the dummy would not fall in the same way as a human, therefore losing the excitement created by seeing a real-life person performing such feats. Could technology be the answer here to create a more lifelike jump scene? Computer generated/edited shots of persons jumping from lower levels could easily be adapted to create the illusion of being from height, much like horror movies don’t have to show blood and guts to be horrific, sometimes the ability to create that illusion of something is far more effective than to physically see it happen.

With a fast-growing interest in sporting activities that are extreme and life threatening in their execution, such base jumping, free running, parkour, and an ever-increasing number of persons conducting ‘stunts’ in their own ‘back yard’ it begs the question how far are both the film producers and stunt people alike prepared to go to create such excitement for viewers, at what risk to themselves and others?

Employees too have general legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be affected by their actions, to co-operate with their employer to enable their health and safety duties and requirements to be complied with. While it is considered that generally this occurs with little dispute from the actors/actresses, in the film industry, stars such as Jackie Chan are far more likely to be willing to put themselves at risk of injury, by carrying out stunts that are generally considered to be risky and likely to cause some form of injury during its execution.

  • Jackie Chan not only conducts many of his owns stunts but expects actors & actresses to carry out their own stunts in his movies.
  • He has a permanent hole in his head from a stunt accident
  • In his action scenes, his punches and kicks actually connect with their targets. He has his actors wear special padding in their feet and body to prevent serious injury.
  • He worked with Bruce Lee as a stunt coordinator.
  • Says the most painful of all the injuries he’s sustained in his career happened on Enter the Dragon (1973), when Bruce Lee accidentally hit him in the face with a nunchuck.
  • (Unrelated but interesting – There is a Chinese Take-away in Hyde Park, Leeds of the United Kingdom named ‘Jackie Chan’s’)

Is it reasonable to ask actors or stunt people to put themselves at such risk, conducting such extreme stunts? How far does the elimination, reduction and substitution of dangerous activities go in this type of industry? And more so this type of film?

(HSE work at height a brief guide – http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg401.pdf )


Manual handling:

Manual handling relates to the movement of items either by lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling. The weight of the item is an important factor, but many other factors can create a risk of injury, for example considering the Task  (the number of times you have to pick up or carry an item, where you are picking it up from or putting it down – picking it up from the floor, putting it on a shelf above shoulder level – and any twisting, bending, stretching or other awkward posture you may adopt while doing a task, the distance you are carrying it), Individual (age, gender, personal fitness, strength, existing health & physical conditions, height, ability), Load (weight, shape, size, loose parts or solid, lifting aid fixing points etc.) and Environment (warm/cold, good/poor lighting, stepped levels/ramps, debris or materials on the route, physical obstructions, persons or vehicles to be aware of, dusts or other debris that may affect footing/ground conditions).

If we consider the above, manual handling activities and risk (likelihood & severity) of musculoskeletal injuries associated with Jackie Chan in his movies it would be relatively apparent that the risk of such injury is greatly increased.

when considering Jackie Chans ability to perform manual handling types of activities in theory there would be little he would struggle with other than perhaps lifting items well above his size & weight, but when we look into the roles he has held in the numerous movies he’s been a key role in we will observe.

HSE Manual Handling – http://www.hse.gov.uk/msd/manualhandling.htm

Despite all the injuries Jackie Chan still maintains real kung fu all his movies and still insists on doing all his own stunts at the age of 62, instead of seeking help from CGI special effects. “Everybody works with a green screen now, but the hardest thing to do is to create real action,” Chan said, “I’m not a fan of high-tech effects, I just like raw and simple things.”

Blog courtesy of Mark Burslem - Callidus Health & Safety Ltd

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