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The Movie That Made Jackie Chan A Kung Fu Star

It took one kung fu movie to change Jackie Chan’s film career and launch the martial arts actor into stardom in Hong Kong. Here’s what it was.

It took one kung fu movie to change Jackie Chan’s career and launch him into stardom. Long before becoming the biggest star of the martial arts genre in the 1980s and 1990s, the actor actually struggled to make a name for himself in Hong Kong. He began acting in the early 1970s but it wasn’t until 1978 that his luck in the film industry finally took a turn for the best.

After starring in a string of box office bombs, Chan emerged as a kung fu star when Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow hit theaters in Hong Kong. Helmed by the now-legendary director Yuen Woo-ping, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow was a martial arts comedy that put Chan in the role of Chien Fu, an unskilled kung fu student who gets bullied by his peers. After being taken under the wing of a Snake Kung Fu master, Chien becomes a formidable martial artist and gets involved in a battle with another kung fu clan. Throughout the movie, Chien’s fights were filled with the signature, comedic antics Chan is now known for internationally.


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Why Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow Was So Successful

Jackie Chan Snake in the Eagles Shadow

Period pieces about young men learning martial arts from mysterious kung fu masters were a dime-a-dozen in Hong Kong during that time, but that didn’t stop Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow from making waves at the box office. A big part of what drove its success was its comedy and Jackie Chan’s unique fighting style. Admittedly, humor was nothing new for kung fu movies in the 1970s, but nonetheless, how the film combined Chan’s acrobatic skills and comedic talents went over extremely well with audiences.

The humor found in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow was something that his previous movies had sorely lacked. Prior to making the film, Chan had starred in a string of unsuccessful kung fu films, beginning with New Fist of Fury. Each carried a serious tone and saw Chan play characters that contrast greatly with his current image. In Chan’s autobiography, Never Grow Up, the actor explained that he was “box office poison” before Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow because filmmakers were trying to mold him into the next Bruce Lee. It wasn’t until the 1978 film that Chan was able to bring a more comedic approach to the action.

What Happened After Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow

Jackie Chan battles an opponent outside in the film Drunken Master.

Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow was actually the first of two box office hits Chan made in 1978. With the same director and formula that made the previous film so popular, Chan starred in Drunken Master, which has since become one of Chan’s most iconic films. What Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow did for Jackie Chan’s career was compounded by the success of Drunken Master. Together, the two films set a trend for Chan and laid the groundwork for more Jackie Chan kung fu comedies in the years that followed, including The Young Master, The Fearless Hyena, The Dragon Lord, and more.

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