King of America
For Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan, his new hit
Rush Hour is a real-life Hollywood success story
He has battled many a superhuman villain, jumped off mountain tops and skyscraper roofs, taken beatings that would have left Muhammad Ali on the canvas--and emerged a winner in scores of movies that have entranced viewers around the world. But the one foe Jackie Chan could never conquer was that tawdry patch of real estate, that font of fantasy and violence, that beckoning, forbidding state of mind called Hollywood. He made U.S. films in 1980, '81, '83, '85; he sidekicked the famous (Burt Reynolds in The Cannonball Run and its sequel), was directed by the anonymous (James Glickenhaus in The Protector), played the preposterous (a '30s Chicago gangster in The Big Brawl). And each time he would return to Hong Kong to make juicier action movies than the studio guys could dream of. Still, ambition gnawed at Jackie like a pack of piranha. Why couldn't Asia's biggest star become America's?
Interview with Jackie
Chan: "If I Break My Ankle, Click, I Just Snap It Back"
TIME: You've waited a long time for a hit like this in the U.S.
Chan: Am I surprised? Yes and no. People say I should stay in Hollywood. But Rush Hour's success lets me come back to Hong Kong and make an Asian film. In America, there is no way I can make the kind of movie I like: love stories, dramas.
A Family Lost and Found
As an inspiring fable, the story of Jackie Chan's youth is up there with Abraham Lincoln's or Harry Potter's. Boy is born in Hong Kong to poor refugees from the mainland. Boy enters opera school, where he trembles and thrives under his master's whip hand. Boy puts these hard lessons to use in films, becoming a would-be successor to Bruce Lee and finally his own man: an international star and, quite possibly, the most famous living Asian.
The story is true, as far as it goes. But even stranger is the "prequel": the lives of Chan's parents, Charles and Lily, on their perilous journeys to Hong Kong. The absorbing documentary Traces of the Dragon: Jackie Chan & His Lost Family, which premiered at last month's Berlin Film Festival, reveals the extended Chan clan as a microcosm of China's turbulent 20th century history. It's a riveting yarn, too, replete with guns, gore, drugs, thugs and romance.