The most amazing thing about Jackie Chan's movies is Jackie himself. He is a better special effect than a thousand digital dinosaurs and, if his films are often less than challenging on an emotional level, he can always be counted on to provide at least a dozen eye-popping moments of physical insanity. Jackie Chan: My Stunts is an excellent peek behind the curtain of his stunt techniques and, amazingly, the more one learns about Chan's work the more one realizes how real the action is. The secret to falling face first through a second-story plate glass window onto a cement road is, apparently, just to do it. My Stunts is one of the best behind-the-scenes features ever produced on the topic of filmmaking. The structure of the film works like this: Jackie and his elite team of stuntmen show how to do something, like a fall, roll, kick, or jump. On its own the move looks impressively real and painful. Then, a barrage of clips from some of Chan's seventy-plus films follows displaying the move in a variety of forms. This point-for-point explanation is so detailed and clear that the viewer ends up more in awe the more is revealed.
This is all helped by the fact that Jackie has one of the friendliest, warmest on-screen personas this side of Jimmy Stewart. He takes great pride in his work, but he also has a great sense of humor. In one segment he uses a basketball to show the danger of running down a steep hill. It looks easy, but the momentum builds up and the basketball lands really hard on a cement road at the bottom. If Jackie had lost his footing when he ran down this same hill in 1985's Police Story he would have found himself in a world of hurt. "Maybe not dead," he says, "but definitely mess!"
Another thing that makes My Stunts so good is Jackie's discussion of his directing and editing techniques. He displays how when preparing to climb up a wall he makes sure to look right and left to communicate to the audience that he is taking in this information. In that respect he follows in the style of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton; He is a purely visual filmmaker who operates with the most basic and effective tools. He also displays techniques that he doesn't like to use, like wire flying of the sort seen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Dragon Inn. He finds it unrealistic and prefers to use wires to enhance kicks and falls.
By the time My Stunts reaches the totally bizarre "competition" that finds members of Jackie's stunt team fighting each other for the "coveted" Golden Kneepad (which turns out to be some sort of explosive) the whole film has built to such a level of excitement that the viewer can't wait to see what happens next. In a way, My Stunts is the best Jackie Chan film of all time: Without any silly romance or overly-complicated gang plots My Stunts ends up being solely about Jackie, his great personality, and his amazing work.
The bulk of My Stunts was shot on video and looks excellent. The colors are sharp and the picture is crisp. of course, it lacks the cinematic feel of something shot on film, but it works. The film clips vary in quality from pretty worn to nice. Some of the clips come from films that are pushing 30 and probably have not been maintained. However, image quality is not the point here and the full-frame image is never less than satisfactory.
The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds great. The movie is available in Mandarin Chinese and English, although this is a somewhat unusual distinction. Jackie shot all of his spoken sequences twice, once in each language. The entire film is available in English on one side of the disc and in Mandarin on the other. While they cover the same material there are subtle differences. For instance, on the Mandarin side he mentions the different Kung Fu styles by name, whereas on the English side he just describes them. It is worth the time to watch the program twice, once in each language, to get the whole story. Plus, the Mandarin side is listed as three minutes longer.
There are also subtitles in English, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Spanish.
The extras are not terribly impressive. A trailer for My Stunts is strange and not really a trailer. There are also a trailer for other Media Asia releases and some text screens.
One unwelcome "extra" is the incredible amount of intro material that the viewer is forced to watch before the film, including a long Dolby Digital promo, a commercial for JAL airlines, and a number of opening montages.
Jackie Chan: My Stunts, more than most action films, should come with a huge DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! warning. Most of the stunts are so dangerous looking that it is a wonder that Jackie and his boys ever survive. But they do.
My Stunts is a fantastic film for a number of reasons. It provides a detailed look into what makes an action film, with a lot of techniques that can be applied to all sorts of filmmaking. It's also a great compendium of Hong Kong stunts and it's just damn entertaining. Most importantly, it is a chance to get to know one of the world's biggest - and nicest - stars a little better.
Other martial arts DVDs:
The Buddha Assassinator