Clothes make the Chan: Breaking the Fourth Wall

Clothes make the Chan: Breaking the Fourth Wall

21. February 2024 Off By Thorsten Boose

[last update on 24 February 2024]

Do you have prejudices? Even in ancient Rome it was said: Vestis virum reddit. At that time, one should not feign prosperity by dressing appropriately. Over the course of centuries, many clever people have addressed this issue. In 1874, the Swiss lyricist Gottfried Keller elaborated on this rather human trait of paying attention to appearances and associating them with familiar patterns in his novella “Kleider machen Leute” (translated as “Clothes make the people”).

The morally raised forefinger “Never judge a book by its cover” still holds true today, even if exceptions confirm the rules. One person who definitely does not flaunt his wealth is actor and filmmaker Jackie Chan. In his private life, he has hung up his favourite outfit of the 80s and 90s, blue jeans, white shirt and sneakers, and now likes to wear comfortable tracksuits. Always embroidered with his own logo, of course. On official occasions, it may be a traditional Chinese suit.

Forbes magazine estimated Jackie Chan’s net worth in 2015 at around 350 million US dollars, citing income from his films and various companies he owns.

Source: „Big Bucks For Big Brother: Why Jackie Chan Is The World’s Second-Highest Paid Actor”, 29 June 2015, Zack O’Malley Greenburg

Big Brother may have changed his style, but he has remained true to his morals to this day. He doesn’t care much about clothes. Ironically, he still wears his logo on almost every piece of clothing. However, this has something to do with his loyalty to his stunt team. As the founder of Sing Ga Ban, he has been taking care of orders and family cohesion for decades in a way that is only known from fraternities or the military – without the war aspect. It is clear that members want to show this cohesion to the outside world with a certain pride. Legitimately!

Even in the 1980s it was a privilege to wear the official stunt team shirt. The daredevil stuntmen from Hong Kong identified themselves both on set with the red dragon logo on the white shirt and in private. The Jackie Chan and Sing Ga Ban brand stood for the highest quality in the Hong Kong action film industry. And because the team clothing was worn everywhere and at all times, people sometimes forgot to change during a hectic film shoot.

The first stuntwoman in the Jackie Chan stunt team, Yu Hao Er, only joined in 1999 for SHANGHAI NOON (2000). It was only twelve years later that model and former Taekwondo champion Zhoe Zhang Lan-Xin joined the team as the second woman. Since then, more and more female stunt performers have joined Sing Ga Ban.

Check out “Jackie Chan’s stunt team members from 1976 to today in a complete overview“, 21 September 2019, Thorsten Boose

“The Prisoner”

According to Kevin Chu Yen-Ping, Jackie Chan only had five days to shoot ISLAND OF FIRE (1990). Legend has it that he only made the film to pay back an outstanding debt to Jimmy Wang Yu, just like the other main actors in the film. The shoot must have been stressful because in the final scene at the airport, Jackie’s shirt changes from his own stunt team shirt to a neutral white one.

“Dragons Forever”

A little oopsie that hardly anyone would have noticed in the cinema at the time. But it was not the first time Jackie Chan broke the Fourth Wall, completely without kicks and punches. In DRAGONS FOREVER (1988) he wants to apologise to his girlfriend in front of her flat and blocks her way. One little swipe and the same logo appears under the denim jacket.

“Police Story”

However, this is nothing compared to POLICE STORY (1985). Here, several JC Group trucks are standing around in the background of the scene. These trucks were used by Jackie’s company to transport film and stunt equipment. Here they either neglected to drive them out of sight, or deliberately placed them so that nerdy fans could spread fun facts.

“The Inspector Wears Skirts”

Just like the example of “Police Story”, this one is not strictly speaking one that relates to clothing. And yet I like to mention it for two reasons:

  1. You rarely see Jackie’s own film cameras in his films
  2. The meta-level of “Top Squad” will play an important role in my future projects #JackieChanExtendedUniverse (#JCEU)

At the beginning of the film, we find ourselves on a film set (the attentive fan will of course recognise it immediately). As the clapperboard drops (director Wellson Chin plays the director in the film here), we catch a glimpse of film equipment, including the then-typical reel cover for cameras from “JC Films”, another name for Golden Way Productions, Jackie’s company that produced the first two “Top Squad” films.

I will describe this meta-level in detail in one of my next articles (or books), because such “guest appearances” can also be found in other movies that at first glance have nothing to do with Jackie Chan. We experience almost the same concept with director Chen Chi-Hwa in his film “Little Kids Beat The Boss” (1990), unfortunately never released in English.

“Rouge”

Speaking of Jackie’s film cameras… they also made a prominent guest appearance in Stanley Kwan’s award-winning and unfortunately still under-recognised international masterpiece, “Rouge” from 1987.

The film was produced by Jackie’s company Golden Way Films for Golden Harvest. His stunt team took care of the action. In the leading roles we see the tragic legends Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung.

Towards the end of the film, we find ourselves on a film set in the 80s. Lau Kar-Wing plays a director who is sitting on a camera crane at the film camera. A skilful pan and a third of the shot shows the fabric reel cover.

By chance? Certainly not. At the time, Jackie had already invested huge sums in film equipment and had just ventured into dramas as a producer; he wanted to be seen internationally. Not so much by his usual audience, but he wanted the respect of his colleagues in the industry. He got it with several well-deserved awards.

“Thunderbolt”

You’d think Jackie and his team would have learned from these “mistakes”. Nope. In THUNDERBOLT (1995) they virtually spin-kick the viewer through the Fourth Wall when Jackie’s racing team boss walks up to him. Thanks to the collaboration with Mitsubishi in the 80s, Jackie also became an advertiser for their rally brand Ralliart. Jackie’s enthusiasm for cars even went so far that he later ran his own car repair shop with JC Motor Sport. A special design adorns the boss’s jacket in the film.

„Jackie Chan Ralliart | JC Motor Sport | Specially designed in the name of Jackie Chan”

“Kung Fu Yoga”

Even in the new millennium, Jackie Chan likes to print his logo wherever he himself or fans would use it in everyday life. Another oopsie happened like this in the film KUNG FU YOGA (2017). Just before Jackie goes to the balcony for Wooden Dummy training, he cooks a meal. Check out the apron.

“Marvel Studios: Assembled”

What made me personally happy was the fact that Andy Cheng wore a Jackie Chan stunt team anniversary shirt on the set of SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021). To be seen in the making of the film (“Marvel Studios: Assembled”). Andy Cheng deserves not only his career to Big Brother but also his life – Jackie pulled him out of the water on the set of RUSH HOUR 2 (2001) before he could drown.

Other films

The Jackie Chan stunt team was in such demand in the 80s and 90s that members were also lent to third-party productions. In Hong Kong, they knew and helped each other out. Director and good friend of Jackie, Chen Chi-Hwa, can be seen wearing a classic stunt team shirt in the outtakes of KUNG FU KIDS 2 (1986), for example.

And what do my eyes see in the making of DRAGON – THE BRUCE LEE STORY (1993), could that be John Cheung Ng-Long, brother of Johnny Cheung Wa (who was a 3rd generation member of the Jackie Chan stunt team), with a buddy from the team?