Jackie Chan Nearly Drowned while Filming on the Set

Reading time: 9 minutes

I've got to admit, when it comes to injuries, Jackie Chan makes Tom Cruise look like a toddler. Over his 50 years in cinema, the beloved actor, singer, and stuntman have taken one hell of a beating. But after well over 100 movies, Hong Kong's greatest action hero is still going strong.
Today, we are taking a look at some of his most gruesome gaffes to ask what could be the most important question of our times: How the Hell is Jackie Chan Still Alive?

This video was uploaded by Now This Nerd on their official YouTube Channel. Don't forget to check them out.
The following article is a transcript of the video above.

Jackie Chan as Stuntman

Jackie's had dozens of brushes with death, including one close call that left him bleeding from bone fragments in his brain. But before we get there, let's talk about the time he was pretty much Folded in Half.

Folded in Half

One of Jackie Chan's biggest influences is American silent cinema, specifically, the pratfalls and perilous stunts performed by trailblazers like Buster Keaton. That is why, in his 1983 film Project A, he engineered a setpiece that paid tribute to one of the most iconic moments in classic comedy: Harold Lloyd's clock tower caper in 1923's Safety Last.

Jackie Chan

Now, Lloyd used some optical illusions to make it seem like he was dangling from a skyscraper high above the streets of LA, but Jackie did it the old-fashioned way. He spent a whole week psyching himself up for the 80-foot drop he had planned, and while the two awnings he crashed through were supposed to break his fall, they also twisted his body so he landed straight on his neck.

Jackie in Project A

Of course, there was no padding, there wasn't even a cut, he had to stand up and keep acting after a severe cervical spine injury. Not only that, he insisted on filming the fall two more times, and each one was equally brutal. But he lived to drop another day, and drop he did. He dislocated his sternum and received a severe concussion after falling from a chain in Armour of God II, and famously demolished his ankle after leaping onto a hovercraft. But that didn't stop the Chan-man, he just painted a big sock to cover up his cast and kept on stunting.
In 1985, one of Jackie Chan's most famous falls resulted in Burns and a Busted Spine.

Jackie Chan falling in Project A

Burns and a Busted Spine

According to Jackie, Police Story is his best pure action film, and given its legendary reputation, and incredible sequences like the shanty-town car chase, and dangling from a double-decker bus, we are not going to argue with him. The climactic scene at a shopping mall is also where Jackie suffered a string of horrific injuries in a stunt gone wrong. The final showdown was filled with squibs, sparks, and shattered sugar glass, culminating in a classic slide down a metal pole.

Jackie Chan Police story

They only had one chance to shoot the stunt, since the production had to clean everything up so the mall could open the next day, and Jackie was understandably a little nervous, so one of his fellow stuntmen offered him a big ol' hug and a Buddhist prayer paper to keep in his pocket. It wasn't enough to keep him completely safe, but the last-minute divine intervention might have prevented a far worse fate.

Police Story

So what went wrong? Well, for one thing, the pole had been standing under hot studio lights for hours, so when he grasped it with his ungloved hands, he suffered severe second-degree burns. As if that wasn't bad enough, the glass partition he crashed through barely slowed down his fall, and he landed on the hard marble tile below with a sickening thud dislocating his pelvis, and nearly cracking the seventh and eighth vertebrae in his spine. Jackie was nearly paralyzed, but this still wasn't his most life-threatening tumble.
We're almost there, but first, let's look at the time he crashed Into a helicopter.

Police Story, Jackie Chan

Crushed into a Helicopter

No, not "in a helicopter crash." He crashed INTO a helicopter. Important distinction. Jackie Chan + vehicles is a recipe for disaster. He broke his foot and nearly destroyed his knee in a skateboarding accident during City Hunter, which resulted in the rare case of Jackie allowing a stand-in to complete the shot for him.

Jackie Chan City Hunter Skateboard

In Crime Story, Jackie pulls his legs to safety just before two crashing cars crush them into oblivion, but in a previous take, he wasn't so lucky.
His most iconic mishap with a moving vehicle, however, has to be from Police Story 3: Supercop. Let's put it this way: Most people don't survive a helicopter crash, especially when it smashes directly into you. Jackie had no problems dangling from a rope ladder as bashed him into billboards, but after the chopper lands on a train, Chan is left clinging to a pole. And when the whirlybird blasts by him, it collides with the actor at full speed, fracturing a rib, and tearing the ligaments in his shoulder to shreds.

Police story 3 super cop

And if that wasn't bad enough, the poor guy just had to dangle there in agony until the crew could cut him down. Still, the result is one of the most spectacular setpieces in all of cinema, and none other than Quentin Tarantino proclaimed that Supercop boasts "the greatest stunts ever filmed in any movie ever". We're inclined to agree, but even though it must have been extremely painful, a separated shoulder isn't usually life-threatening. Unlike the accident that nearly killed Jackie in 1986, where he suffered a badly Broken Skull.

Police story Jackie Chan

Broken Skull

It goes without saying that Jackie Chan is no stranger to head injury. He's been slashed across the face by a broken steel cable, nearly lost an eye after an errant punch shattered the ridge of his brow, broke his nose at least three times, and dislocated his cheekbone, which I didn't realize was even a thing.
In a career filled with knocks to the noggin, one errant impact nearly ended Jackie Chan's life, in a film called Armour of God.

Jackie Chan Stuntman

As you'd expect, the movie is filled with madcap stunts, including a scene where Jackie skydives onto a hot air balloon, but the stunt that nearly slayed the star was far more routine. In the opening sequence, Chan slides down a wall, leaps off, and catches himself on a tree branch. Pretty simple, right? Everything went smoothly for the first take, but, ever the perfectionist, Jackie insisted on a second shot, and that's where crap hit the fan, or rather, Jackie hit the ground.

Armour of god

When he grabbed the branch, it snapped, sending him plummeting 16 feet to terra firma, where his head cracked against a rock. It instantly shattered his skull, forcing shards of bone into his brain, resulting in a torrent of blood gushing from his ear. The injury required eight-hour emergency surgery and left him with hearing loss in his right ear, as well as a plastic plug permanently embedded in his skull.

Armour of god

Jackie considers this particular fall the closest he'd ever come to death, and when you consider everything else he's been through, that's saying something. I've got to admit, Tom Cruise has some serious guts, but he is still a far cry from equalling Jackie Chan in terms of onscreen injury. Still, he's got time to catch up, since Jackie's daredevil days might be behind him.

Jackei Chan

He is basically uninsurable at this point, and no studio would dream of letting him do his own stunts today, so the 60-year-old has finally started to slow things down, which is probably for the best. We've only scratched the surface of Jackie's jaw-dropping injuries, and frankly, it's a miracle he is even still alive today. But after five decades of suffering for his art, I think Jackie Chan has earned a break.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published

Thank you. Your comment will be approved shortly.


2022-11-28 20:28:18
When did he almost drown?

Reply to Antony


Your email address will not be published

Thank you. Your comment will be approved shortly.


* indicates required