Not the most dangerous. Not the most painful*. Or, maybe, not even the most difficult per se. But if movie lore is true, then 1982’s Dragon Lord could be the most gruelling scene Jackie Chan has done for one simple reason: An insane number of takes.
Usually, movie directors get what they need in a handful of takes. Some filmmakers only do one or two. Film is expensive, and doing the scene over and over again can be draining on the actors. There are horror stories about directors demanding an unusual number of takes, such as when Stanley Kubrick had Tom Cruise walk through a door over 90 times on Eyes Wide Shut or when Charlie Chaplin did over 340 takes of Virginia Cherrill saying “Flower sir?” in City Lights. That number of takes is even more bonkers when you realize City Lights was a silent movie.
But in Dragon Lord, Jackie Chan wasn’t demanding endless takes only from others, but rather, from himself as well.
While Dragon Lord features several standout set pieces, many fans don’t hold the movie in the same esteem as Drunken Master or Police Story. The film is important in several regards: At the time, it was the biggest budgeted Chan had directed, and it’s also the first of his movies to have a blooper reel, which is now a Jackie Chan trademark.
What’s more, the movie contains a sequence that is said to have the most individual takes ever for a motion picture shot on film. The number sometimes given is 2,900 takes for an entire scene. (Though, oddly, the book Kung Fu Cult Masters puts the number between 190 takes and 2,900, which is one big freakin’ ballpark.) There is some confusion about which Dragon Lord sequence took the rumored 2,900 takes—the “human pyramid” scene or the shuttlecock (jianzi) sequence. One version of the DVD release says it it was the “human pyramid” scene at the beginning, but Jackie Chan’s first biography, 1997’s Inside the Dragon, says the shuttlecock game required the most takes of the actor’s career.
Also, as pointed out on the Blu-ray forums, it’s supposedly been incorrectly stated that the “human pyramid” scene needed 2,900 takes, because that doesn’t really make sense (because, if you see the scene, which has some impressive stunts, it doesn’t seem like it would need that many takes and, what’s more, one of the crew members apparently refuted the claim).
So which scene was it? And was it really 2,900 takes? Or a lower, but still amazingly high, number?
When talking about needing 30 or so takes for a scene in Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino told El Rey Network, “Jackie Chan still has me beat, though, in Dragon Lord. That hacky-sack thing was a thousand takes. That was the most takes ever done.”
Dragon Lord was not an easy picture to make. Raymond Chow, who produced the movie, told Backstage.com that shooting ran way behind schedule. Chow, who was based in Hong Kong, flew to the set in Taiwan.
Recalls Chow, “It turned out that he had spent 40 days on a scene of him kicking a shuttlecock, an admittedly very difficult and elaborate action sequence involving all kinds of jumps and somersaults that he intended to do in one continuous shot. I was amazed. I told him, ‘Jackie, film is make-believe! Why don’t you make do with editing?’ He was adamant. In the end, he did it in one take.”
This is apparently the successful one:
If you estimate that Jackie Chan did twenty-five takes a day over the span of forty days, that would put the total number of takes at one thousand. Considering the breakneck pace at which Hong Kong filmmakers worked at during the 1980s, that seems possible. Then, factor in all the other takes it took to nail that shuttlecock sequence, and you end up with a whole bunch of footage for the editor.
Whatever the final number of takes, forty days on one shuttlecock scene sounds gruelling. Other shots in the shuttlecock scene are also impressive:
The sequence shows Chan’s desire for not only perfection, but for capturing real stunts on film instead of relying on movie trickery. Today, they’d just use CGI.
Visit the Fortune Star Entertainment’s website for more Jackie Chan’s classic films.
*That being said, Jackie Chan did hit his chin so hard during the filming that he had trouble delivering his lines.
This article was originally published on April 16, 2015.
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