Well to test this out Robert and I constructed a simple wooden apparatus that will firmly grip a piece of cloth. This apparatus was then hung from a support (a tree branch) and the other end fixed and supporting a large bin which could be filled with water. As the bin is filled it becomes heavier which strains the cloth. When the weight of the bin exceeds the strength of the cloth the cloth brakes and the bin falls down (it needs to be caught!). By weighing the bins (with bathroom scales) we can see which took the greatest weight and so see which was the strongest.
In this way Robert and I tried two pieces of identical cloth cut from a shirt. One was put up dry and tested the other was wet (with our fake urine that we made!). We did the experiment a couple of times and each time the wet cloth was stronger (sometimes by 20%). So Jackie Chan was right wet cloth is stronger!
Apparently at the time the film was set (around the turn of the century) there were reports that Chinese prisoners had escaped from Jail by bending prison bars with wet rags! Our go at bending bars amazed both of us. Of course there are problems with the simple set up that we copied from the film. Both these bars had supports top and bottom but I would suspect in real life that there would have been a middle bar going across the vertical bars - this would have made it impossible to bend the bars I would have thought. However we copied the film and so its is indeed possible that the stunt works !
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