Only in Hollywood
Jackie Chan still a kid at 56
LOS ANGELES—-JACKIE CHAN is 56, but he’s young in spirit. When Jackie’s manager told him that his friend, actor and producer, Will Smith, offered him to be in an update of “The Karate Kid,” the Hong Kong star thought for a minute that he would play the “kid” title role.
Jackie, smiling and animated as usual in our latest encounter, recalled, “I said, ‘Good. Am I the karate kid?’ My manager said, ‘No, no, no. You’re the teacher.’ Honestly, sometimes I forget how old I am.” We believe him. Ever friendly and energetic, Jackie is youthful in his demeanor.
“I really forget my age,” said the versatile Jackie, who’s also a director, stunt choreographer, martial arts hero, singer and producer. To Jaden Smith, Will’s son who is the “kid” in the update of the 1980s hit, Jackie is the “master.”
Jackie stood up (as he did several times during our interview to demonstrate something) and pretended to climb up. Then, he said, “Sometimes, when I’m standing somewhere high, my students try to catch me, in case I fall (he showed how they spread their arms). They say, ‘Careful.’ I’m not that old, but I forget. Then, I realize, wow, I’m 50-something already. Sometimes, I want to be young again. But, I’m happy.” And, with those words, he broke into hip-hop moves he learned from Jaden.
In turn, Jaden learned quite a few stunts from his master. “When I teach Jaden, he learns everything so fast,” Jackie revealed. “I taught him how to do the flip. Jaden asked, ‘What are you doing?’ I said to him, ‘Trust me. Lie down, boom! Okay, do that too.’ He’s a young kid—he’s a quick learner.”
In narrating how he was cast in “The Karate Kid,” which was coproduced by Will and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jackie brought up what he considered a curious Hollywood habit. “I remember a few years ago, I was in Japan,” he said. “I was eating in a restaurant. Somebody told me, ‘You know who’s outside? Will.’ So, I went out and saw Will. He said to me, ‘We should make a movie.’ I replied, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’”
He added, “In Hollywood, so many people told me in the last 10 years, ‘Let’s do a movie together.’ It never happened. Slowly, I learned the American way. So, I just go, ‘Okay, bye bye.’ Then, I turn around.”
“But, in Will’s case, one year later, my manager got a call from him,” he recalled. “Will wanted me to do ‘The Karate Kid.’”
After months of filming in China, the movie opens this weekend in the US, the Philippines and other countries. The moviegoing public will decide whether “The Karate Kid” is a worthy update of the blockbuster that starred Ralph Macchio and the late Pat Morita.
When we told Jackie that Jaden, 11, said in a separate interview that his favorite Jackie Chan movie is “Drunken Master,” he reacted by saying, “I really like ‘Drunken Master 2.’ Why? Because I corrected something there. When I was young, I didn’t know a lot. ‘Drunken Master’ seemed to tell children, ‘The more I drink, the more I can fight.’ I thought, ‘No, it’s the wrong message.’ How can you teach children to drink and fight? I did ‘Drunken Master 2’ with the message, ‘Don’t drink, don’t fight.’ That made me happy. I corrected myself. I’m still learning. I know there are many children watching my movies, so I have to be careful.”
Jackie also shared that he learned the importance of the story in movies. “The story should be first in importance,” he said. “Not like in the old days. Thirty years ago, action was first. We didn’t care about quality or the script. Now, it’s different. I found that out after watching ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’—the whole movie is a drama, but suddenly, there was one punch in the bar. I said, ‘Wow.’ Everyone was clapping. In my old movies, I fought for half an hour and nobody clapped. The audience got tired seeing me still fighting. I already got 200 kicks, and I was still standing. But, in ‘An Officer,’ there was just one punch and, boom! I realized how important the story was, and how to mix it with action to make it work.”
Hollywood may have been slow to embrace Jackie’s trademark action style. But, the star eagerly recalled the day when he realized he was making an impact on American action movies: “I remember when I saw Sylvester Stallone,” Jackie stated. “He said, ‘Hi Jackie. Come to my trailer. Look at this.’” Jackie demonstrated how Sylvester pointed at a video monitor. “Stallone told me, ‘When we run out of ideas, we just look at your video.’ That made me so proud!”