Two martial arts icons — Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee — had a humorous encounter in the early 1970s. The two have a reputation as the two biggest kung fu movie stars of all time. Bruce Lee made a handful of movies from 1971 and 1973, while Chan, who had a far different style and image, dominated the genre over the next three decades. While the two actors never co-starred in a picture, the two did meet — and the true story of how Chan met Lee is as charming as the actors themselves.
Kung fu movies were being made in China long before Bruce Lee came onto the scene, but it was the arrival of “the Dragon” that transformed the genre — especially how it was viewed by countries outside of Asia. Bruce Lee made an explosion in the entertainment industry with the release of The Big Boss in 1971. Bruce Lee’s skills as a martial artist wowed audiences, and as a result he became a worldwide sensation. Following the release of The Big Boss, Bruce Lee starred in four movies before his death. He died during the filming of Game of Death, and his most famous film (and arguably the most iconic martial arts movie ever made), Enter the Dragon, was released after his death.
It was during the filming of Enter the Dragon that Bruce Lee had an interesting meeting with Jackie Chan, who had yet to become a star but had worked as a stuntman on Bruce Lee’s second movie, Fist of Fury. Jackie Chan was one of several nameless opponents that Bruce Lee’s character had to fight at once in a particular scene. Jackie Chan, who recounted this experience in a video, says that when he attacked Bruce Lee, Lee hit him across the face with one of his sticks [via YouTube]. The blow was an accident, but Lee continued with the scene until it was over. As soon as there was a break, Lee rushed over to Chan and apologized.
As Chan tells in the story, he pretended that he was hurt more than he actually was, simply because he enjoyed the attention he was receiving from Lee, whom he idolized. After this encounter, Lee remembered Chan’s name whenever he would see him on set and would even talk with him on occasion. This incident also led to Lee selecting him for even more stunt work in Enter the Dragon.
It’s a fun story, and it goes to show just how much of an icon Lee was at the time, and still is. Lee’s movies had an irreversible effect on the kung fu genre, as it changed the approach that studios, directors, and producers used for making martial arts films. Not only did Lee create the kung fu craze of the 1970s, he taught studios that what they needed for their kung fu movies were highly trained actors with backgrounds in martial arts. This approach gave the industry kung fu stars like Gordon Liu, the Five Venoms, and in the late 1970s, Jackie Chan. At first, Chan was groomed to be the next Bruce Lee, but after a while, studios realized that Chan was at his best when he was allowed to create his own brand of movies. In time, Chan was able to become an icon in his own right. Even so, his experience with Lee still had a great influence on him. Jackie Chan has said in the past that working with Bruce Lee is what inspired his trademark method of doing all his own stunts.