Disney's connection to this movie "superstar" is surprisingly longer than you would think

Disney has a long history with A-list actors that many fans don't realize and this international superstar is no different
Jackie Chan And Owen Wilson In Shanghai Noon Photo: Douglas Curran Buena Vista Pictures Distributio
Jackie Chan And Owen Wilson In Shanghai Noon Photo: Douglas Curran Buena Vista Pictures Distributio / Getty Images/GettyImages

Over the years, Disney has featured a lot of huge international stars. But some may not realize the company's surprisingly deep connection to one of the biggest action stars of all time!

Disney has expanded its scope around the world, including in movies. At a point in the 2000s, the various branches of Disney played on studio pictures, prestige Oscar-bait films, and the distribution of international movies with some great casts. It's hard to find a major star who hasn't done something for Disney at one point or another in their careers.

Yet some may overlook how Disney once had a good connection to the man most would consider among the greatest living action stars of all time. A guy whose filmography and style may not seem compatible with Disney but did connect to them in interesting ways to allow them to help boost his global stardom.

Jackie Chan. 

The rise of an icon

The trailer for 1996's Rumble in the Bronx opens with the narrator booming, "To millions of fans around the world, he's a living legend." What could seem hyperbole for anyone else instead seemed to understate how, at this time, Jackie Chan was basically the biggest movie star most Americans hadn't heard of. 

Rising up from a child actor in China, Jackie Chan appeared opposite Bruce Lee in Lee's 1973 martial arts masterpiece Enter the Dragon. After Lee's premature death, Chan was among the many would-be successors to his throne as the martial arts movie genre exploded in popularity.

What set Chan apart was that rather than ape Lee's style as a serious fighter, he borrowed from silent movie comics like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. His fight scenes were boisterous and energetic, and pulling off moves no one else could match, all done with a light-hearted motif. That led to success in China and Hong Kong cinema, such as Drunken Master.

Sadly, Chan's attempt to break out in the United States didn't go well as producers didn't know how to handle him. After disappointments of The Big Brawl and The Protector, Chan returned to Hong Kong where he would go on a spectacular run of hits like Police Story, Project A and Armor of God, the latter two distributed in the U.S. under Miramax.

What soon made Chan famous was that, even for a business where defying death was a daily event, Chan was doing stuff that was frankly insane. Anyone can jump off a roof, but Chan would slide down a five-story pole into glass after hanging off a speeding bus. His movies would end with a montage of various stunts gone wrong as Chan has broken just about every part of his body at one point or another, including nearly killing himself falling off a mountain. That the man is alive, let alone able to walk, boggles the mind. 

That led to a wide respect in action movie circles but it took Rumble in the Bronx for Chan to finally establish a foothold in the U.S. The studios captialized on the new interest to re-release some of his older films redubbed and presented to American audiences, including 1996's Supercop which was the breakout role of Chan's female equivalent, future Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh. 

It was about this time that Chan and Disney's paths would intersect in a surprising way. 

Chan was the Chinese Beast?

When Beauty and the Beast took off in 1991, Disney had it marked across the world in various languages. For the Chinese Mandarin dub, they enlisted Chan as the man did have a reputation for voice work and even singing in Hong Kong. with Sarah Chen as Belle, Chan's gruff voice fit the Beast surprisingly well. 

In 1998, Mulan had Disney targeting a Chinese audience, adapting a beloved Chinese fable. So, for the Chinese versions of the songs, using stars from that continent was logical. Thus, Jackie Chan supplied the vocals and music video for "I'll Make a Man Out Of You." The song of training guys to become warriors was a perfect fit for a martial arts icon. 

The timing was kismet as just a couple of months after Mulan opened, Chan finally got his long-overdue Hollywood vehicle in Rush Hour. The action comedy has Chan as a Hong Kong cop who comes to L.A. to track a friend's kidnapped daughter. He's paired with a smart-aleck LAPD cop (Chris Tucker), and their culture clash supplies the movie's humor.

The film was a smash hit, grossing $130 million and finally establishing Chan as a truly global action star. It was no wonder Disney was ready to capitalize on that new success and did so in a genius way. 

The Shanghai Dulogy

It's too easy to imagine the pitch for Shanghai Noon: "Rush Hour, only it's in the Old West."

Written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, who would later go on to create Smallville, Into the Badlands and Netflix's Wednesday series, the 2000 Touchstone release stars Chan as Chon Wang (yes, it's meant to sound like John Wayne), a Chinese Imperial guard in 1881. When Princess Pei-Pei (Lucy Liu) runs off to America, Chan joins a pack of guards to find her. 

Pei-Pei ends up abducted by Lo Fong (Roger Yuan), a traitor who plans to use her for a ransom to build up an army. Wang's group is on a train robbed by outlaw Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson). While Roy has a code of honor, his underling Wallace (Walton Goggins) overthrows him and circumstances lead to Wang and Roy forced to work together.

The comedy is pretty fun, with Wilson's easygoing charm shifting to Roy actually being good in a gunfight even as he's baffled at Wang's martial arts moves. Speaking of, despite being toned down for Disney, Chan is marvelous, pulling off some spectacular stunts and inventive bits like his ponytail used as a whip and mixed with his unique style. He's matched by Wilson's fun character and Liu showing the first signs of the action star she'd later become. Its fun feel carries all the way to its final punchline, revealing Roy to be a famous Western figure. 

The movie landed on Memorial Day weekend, the perfect time for a family-oriented action film. Made for $55 million, it grossed just under $100 million, not bad against the stiff competition. Chan would make a few more films like The Tuxedo that didn't land as well, so open to an inevitable sequel after Rush Hour 2. 

Shanghai Knights opens with the evil Lord Rathbone (Adan Gillen) stealing a Royal Seal from China. Chon is now sheriff of his small town when he gets word from his sister Lin (Fang Wong) and goes to find Roy, who's hit on hard times as he's now a waiter. They head to London, where Rathbone plans to hand the Seal to the Emperor's traitorous half-brother Wu Chow (Donnie Yen), who intends to assassinate the Royal Family to allow Rathbone to become King, and he uses the Seal to become Emperor. 

The movie isn't as fun as the first but has its moments, especially Chan and fellow Hong Kong action legend Donnie Yen in a fight scene. Released in February 2003, it grossed $90 million off its $55 million budget for a good run, although plans for a third film fell through.

The rough end to the Chan-Disney relationship

Chan kept up a bit of a Disney connection which included him among the celebrities featured in the infamously terrible Superstar Limo ride. However, he ended up only making one more movie for the company.

2004's Around the World in 80 Days isn't technically a Disney movie. Walden Media made it with Disney the distributor. To say it's loosely based on the Jules Verne classic would be an understatement. 

The plot is mostly the same as Phineas Fogg (Steve Coogan) accepts a wager to cross the globe in 80 days. The first change is rather than an idle rich man, Fogg is an inventor and the bet is if he loses, he can never invent again. The second change is that Fogg's aide, Passepartout is now a Chinese thief played by Chan who lands the job to hide after robbing the Bank of England of a jade statue belonging to a Chinese village.

Slapping a martial arts comedy into a classic story leads to a messy tale. Chan and Coogan don't click that well and Chan's action antics play second fiddle to the story. There are notable cameos like Arnold Schwarzenegger (by then elected governor of California) as a tribe leader and Chan reuniting with Owen Wilson, who, with real-life sibling Luke, played the Wright Brothers. There's also a fun appearance by Chan's old buddy and fellow martial arts star Sammo Hung.

Made for $110 million, the film only grossed $72 million to be a flop. As it happened, Chan was already getting weary of Hollywood, the lack of control he had over his films and stuck in roles requiring more special effects than he preferred. He did have a few others, like a remake of The Karate Kid and The Forbidden Kingdom, which featured the long-awaited on-screen teaming of Chan and another martial arts icon, Jet Li. 

Since 2011, Chan has stuck to Hong Kong and, as age and all those injuries caught up to him, cut down on wilder action roles. He is making a mild return with 2023's Hidden Strike, talk of a fourth Rush Hour movie, and voice projects like Splinter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. His career hit its height in 2016 when he was given an honorary Academy Award for his lifetime achievements. 

Chan's Disney connections may be shorter than a lot of global movie stars, but it is still notable how his style of action fits Disney well. Chan has always preferred a comedic approach in his fight scenes and mixing that with the quirky scripts helped make the Shanghai movies hits. There's always the chance he might return for a third movie to hand the baton to a newer star, yet it once more shows Chan's status as an action movie icon that even Disney couldn't resist showcasing him to audiences.

Around the World in 80 Days and The Karate Kid 2010 streaming on Disney+.