Early in his career, Chan Kong-Sang, a stuntman from Hong Kong, was pegged to become the “next Bruce Lee”. About 200 films later, he deserves the honorary Oscar he received on Sunday for pioneering a genre. Jackie Chan, luckily for us, had as much Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin in him as he did Bruce Lee. After Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master released in 1978 (both are still shown on one English movie channel or the other every week), Chan cemented his reputation as the master of slapstick action. Through films like Police Story and later Rush Hour and Shanghai Knights, Chan became a Hollywood mainstay as well.
The Indian film industry owes quite a bit to Chan. Remember Govinda and Rajnikanth dance-fight their way through mercenaries in a disco in Hum? Or the way Chunky Pandey and Govinda, along with their trusted monkey, take on a gang of terrorists in Aankhein? Before Chan, the idea that a bumbling sort of fellow can be an action star was a marginal one. That departure from the angry young man — a comic, fallible but ultimately triumphant hero — was made possible by Chan. He made fight sequences that are gripping, yet choreographed like a Three Stooges episode. His brilliance as a stuntman, the near impossible things he can do with his body, make his violence almost cartoonish, and so, more palatable to a wider audience.
Like most commercial action heroes — and comedians — Chan hasn’t strayed into more serious themes and subjects. And quite a few of his 200 films have been duds (remember The Myth with Mallika Sherawat?). But at a time when the Oscars have been criticised for “being so white” their acknowledgement of a man who took a style developed in Asia — coincidentally, one of the largest markets for Hollywood — and writ it large across the world, is welcome.