Inside Kung Fu Magazine
By John Little
INSIDE KUNG-FU: Obviously you are in very good shape. What do you do to keep in shape?
JACKIE CHAN: Before I used to run 45 minutes every day, but after Rumble in the Bronx I broke my ankle. Now, after I run 15 to 20 minutes, my ankle really starts to hurt.
And also after I filmed the Mountain Dew commercials, my left ankle and knee also had some problems. So right now I’m doing the Master Step for one hour every other day. On Mondays, for example, I’ll do one hour, and then I’ll not do the Master Step on Tuesday. I’ll come back in and do it again on Wednesday, take Thursday off, and then do it again on Friday and take Saturday off–and so on.
IKF: At what level do you set the Master Step at? Is it at an intense level?
JC: No, at a normal level. I can’t go too low or too high because of the ankle and the knee. I try to keep it as flat as possible. Even sometimes when I don’t have access to a Master Step I will walk on the street–but on a flat surface. The best is the grass because it is soft and absorbs the impact better. I’ll do this for one hour.
IKF: Do you do any weight training?
JC: Yes, usually after working out on the Master Step, I’ll do some light weight training. I use very simple movements like dumbbell laterals, dumbbell flyes, bench press–that type of thing. I don’t use heavy weights.
IKF: What kind of weight would you use, for example, on the bench press exercise?
JC: I’d use about 45 kilos on each side.
IKF: And for how many repetitions?
JC: Twenty or thirty–done at a very quick pace.
IKF: How many sets of each exercise would you perform?
JC: I average around four sets per exercise.
IKF: Do you work out training different body parts on different areas?
JC: No, I just work out depending on how I feel like it, because we have very good basic training, so we really don’t need to train different body parts on a schedule. When you’re on a set, when we are fighting, there is already a lot of movement. We just cannot get too big especially on our shoulders and arms,
IKF: Your shoulders and arms are very well developed for someone who doesn’t do a lot of specialized weight training for them. Is this muscle development a result of your martial arts training?
JC: Yeah, I think when I was younger.
IKF: And gymnastics?
JC: Yeah, gymnastics is very good for strength and when you do things like flips and hanging upside down, it helps you also with your coordination.
IKF: You have a very good sense of body awareness. By that I mean, gymnastics have a great sense of balance and coordination. Is that something you can train for, or is it simply a genetic factor?
JC: No, you can definitely train for it. The most important thing is when you are young. When I was six and a half or seven years old, at that time we had a very good basic training. It didn’t matter how we felt–push-ups, knee bends, and so on. The basic training is very important. After all those years, it becomes very natural. It’s actually very hard to tell you how I train, because I just "know" what to do. When I lose my balance, you just know how to get it back. So, this way, when I do a stunt, I do get hurt sometimes–but less than some other people.
IKF: Because of your conditioning.
IKF: I should probably make a note of what weight training exercises you do. You mentioned that you do bench presses, dumbbell laterals for your shoulders, dumbbells for your chest. Do you do any weight training for your legs?
JC: No, just kicking. I do kicking and punching exercises.
IKF: How do you train in this fashion? How many days would you perform punching and kicking exercises?
JC: Every other day. Every other day is hard training, like, really kicking and punching hard. Some other days it’s like fooling around–(begins to punch at the air) boom! boom! boom! boom! boom!, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick. Just depending upon how we feel on any given day. Some days we just lay down, we just don’t want to do it. Some other days, we are really kicking and punching hard for three minutes every round, then take 30 seconds rest, then another three minutes of punching, followed by another 30 seconds rest, followed by another three minutes. You just keep on punching–boom! boom! boom! boom! boom!–until your three minutes are up, no matter how slow or tired you get. You just finish up for three minutes, then you rest another 30 seconds.
IKF: So do you mix it up (i.e., three minutes of punching, 30 seconds rest, three minutes of kicking, 30 seconds rest, and so on in this fashion, or do you do combine punching and kicking for three-minute intervals followed by 30 seconds rest?
JC: No, it’s punch first–punch, punch, punch, then kick, kick, kick, then punching/kicking, punching/kicking.
IKF: And are the punches and kicks of any type (i.e.,
random combinations and techniques), or do you practice only certain kicks and punches for training purposes?
JC: No, they are of any type. Because we already have a solid basic training, the most important thing is to keep flexible and to keep the movements fluid.
IKF: So what do you train your kicks on–an airshield, a heavy bag?
JC: A bag. I use a standing bag.
IKF: How long would all of this take to complete all your three-minute intervals of punching and kicking?
JC: Yeah, more than a half-hour.
IKF: This would also be excellent cardiovascular exercise, too, wouldn’t it? After all, it gets your heart beating faster, you’re metabolism would increase...
JC: Oh, yes.
IKF: Let me also ask you this: you say you used to run–now you step or walk, and you do your punching and kicking for cardiovascular fitness; you lift weights for strength fitness, but what do you do for flexibility? Do you stretch?
JC: When we’re on the set, we just put our leg up on something and stretch. Even when we’re talking, or having a conversation with my boys, everybody puts their leg up on a table, on a chair–we just put it up and stretch during conversations and breaks in between scenes.
IKF: Do you find any difference now in warming up, now that you’re older than you were when you first started in the industry?
JC: Yes. Before, a long time ago, I didn’t need to warm up, I’d just do it. But I’ve found out that it’s very easy to twist my shoulder, hip, knee, and "aaagh!" Now, before I do a scene, all my boys make sure that all of us stretch, stretch, stretch. So now I stretch everything before I shoot a scene involving kicking and punching.
IKF: In movies such as Rumble in the Bronx, where your physique is shown, do you have to engage in any different type of training, more specifically, bodybuilding or physique training to acquire such a muscular appearance. Or is this the kind of condition you are in all the time?
JC: No, I didn’t need any specialized training. That’s pretty much the condition I’m in almost all the time. Sometimes when I finish one movie, I’ll travel around and, after one or two months off, I always think to myself, "I’m getting fat, I’m getting fat, I’m getting fat." Always in my mind. So then I know that I’ve got to start training again.
IKF: How long can you go before you feel you "have" to work out again?
JC: After about two weeks or a month–at the most–I feel that I’ve got to workout.
IKF: How about your diet? What do you eat to keep so lean?
JC: I really don’t have a special diet–I eat everything. Of course, I’m watching not to eat things that are too oily. Mostly I eat vegetables and once or twice a week I’ll eat ice cream, but mostly I just stop myself from eating too much junk food.
IKF: You mentioned that sometimes you feel as though you are getting fat, but you must have a tremendous metabolism. Have you always been fairly muscular due to your years of training in gymnastics and martial art?
JC: I think so, yes. And also because I enjoy being I active. I would rather walk than take the elevator. I don’t want to take the escalator. If I can exercise, I’ll do it. If there is an opportunity for exercise, I’ll take it. For example, if I can walk up three flights of stairs, I’ll walk up three flights of stairs, rather than taking an elevator. In life, I’ve found that most people these days are very lazy. Like, they will get in the elevator, then in their car. Then, after car, they get on the escalator, then sit down in the restaurant, then get back in their car for an hour’s drive home, then when they get home they sit on their sofa, take hold of remote control, then, within a half-hour, they fall asleep. With such a lifestyle it’s very easy to get fat. So mostly I make sure that I take the time to just walk, walk, walk, walk.
IKF: Do you have an exercise machine in your house?
JC: I do. Right now, yes.
IKF: Do you bring anything with you to help you keep in shape when you travel?
JC: I just bring two pieces of exercise equipment with me–wherever I go around the world: a barbell set and a bench press. That’s all. Wherever I go, they break it down and pack it up. Like when I was recently filming in South Africa, they put it together in my room. I always have two rooms that interconnect when I travel, and one of those rooms is for exercising. I don’t really use dumbbells and weights that much, however. Mostly in these empty rooms I use them for practicing my punching and kicking. Punching, kicking, and jumping–these are more important than the dumbbells and the weights.
IKF: Do you consider yourself an expert in all facets of the martial arts?
JC:Right now, because I’m not training as intensively in the martial arts as I did before, I wouldn’t call myself a "martial arts expert." Before, I could say that I was a martial arts expert because I was actively training in everything: I learned southern style, northern style, hapkido, judo–everything. But after I started doing movies, I just mixed everything. Now if you asked me, "Jackie, do the bai-mei," I already have forgotten the routine! I only remember a part of it because I have mixed in so many martial arts into my training over the years for the movies. Right now I would consider myself an expert in "martial arts in the movies."
IKF: What are your thoughts on the martial arts you see performed in the movies these days by other actors?
JC: Right now, in the movies, they don’t really utilize martial arts anymore. Not classical martial arts, anyway. It’s action, action–it’s more than simply fighting these days. It’s more like boxing. Even the kicking is different. And also, right now too many people are kicking in the movies. So I don’t want to kick. I want to make myself special. Van Damme is kicking, everybody is kicking–that’s the big thing, apparently. So I want to make my movies different, so I’m not kicking so much. I do more difficult things like jumping on the sofa and going up to the roof. I do so many different things, like punching with a bicycle, or I flip kick with a motorcycle. I want to use some other thing, not just standing there–boom! High kick–like Bruce Lee.
IKF: In your fight scenes, one thing I do notice is that you make your fight scenes practical. Like, if there is something on a table that you can use to help you get out of a jam, then you incorporate it into your fight scene–rather than the typical North American method of simply "putting up your dukes" and delivering a punch toward the camera, and then cutting the scene to show a close-up of an adversary taking the punch on the jaw. I think this is important because, while you still perform incredible feats of skill and martial arts mastery, you remain believable to the audience. Is this something that you’ve deliberately intended to infuse into your fight scenes, or is it something that just happened to evolve over time?
JC: I just don’t know. I went to the video store the other day to look at something and I was shocked at how many "biographies" there are on me! (laughs) There’s too many biographies on me. But seeing the boxes and, later, looking at my older movies, like, the ones I did 25 or 30 years ago, it’s almost like looking at a different person. I was almost pure classical kung-fu in my moves, doing techniques from different martial art styles. There would be no use of, for example, chairs in my fight scenes or other props, just hand-to-hand fighting in a very traditional manner.
IKF: How do you go about setting up your fight sequences? What’s the most difficult aspect of your choreography?
JC: For a stunt coordinator to choreograph all the fighting scenes, the most difficult thing is the initiation of the fight between two people–how do you land the first punch? That’s very difficult. Then you think about what are the reasons why the character is going to fight? What are his motivations for throwing that first punch? Then, when you start that first punch and kicking, it becomes very easy in terms of what camera angles to use, and things like that. When do the combatants separate, catch their breath, and then resume fighting–and then, what are the strikes or kicks that would be suitable for them at this juncture of the fight? Many things have to be considered when choreographing a fight scene, besides simply a string of techniques because we are not, like, say, two gentlemen fighting (adopts a John L. Sullivan pose) where it’s (adopts a polite expression): "Okay, now we will fight." That’s not how fights take place in these days. It’s more like, "You kill my sister, I’ll kill your father!"–(Jumps up and delivers several lightning-fast strikes) Aaaagh! As the fighter, you would have to think about going there ahead of time to fight this person and once there, you would look for something–anything–to get it going.
If you saw a table, you probably would kick it toward your opponent, because then it might hit him and hurt him, or, at the very least, it would distract his attention so that you could close the gap between the two of you with a technique–boom! (throws a backfist at an imaginary opponent). You make some move, or think about "how can I make that first contact?" That’s important. You must put both the thought process and emotion of the character into the fight sequence, particularly at the initiation of the fight. So this is the way that I choreograph my fight scenes. It’s a mixture of things. It’s not like, "Okay, I don’t like you. You don’t like me. So now we’ll go outside and have a fight. Come on. Now, are you ready? (puts up his hands in a fighting posture). Now I am ready."–Boom! boom! boom! (simulates punches being thrown, then steps back into his fighting stance once more) Now, let’s do it again." That’s a different kind of thing.
The way I choreograph fight scenes was actually a big help to me in becoming a good director, because when I teach people fighting, I am also teaching them the emotions and motivation behind their actions, like, why I am kicking the table, why I’m doing this, why I’m doing that. So later on, my martial art changed from martial art to action. Right now, it’s the 20th century, almost the 21st century; how can you justify fighting in this way? No, it’s ridiculous. Getting into classical, traditional kung-fu stances and gentleman-style techniques is okay for comedy (throws a series of wild man punches and then quickly attempts to adopt a classical kung-fu stance to make it look like the previous punches were part of his style and not simply wild swinging.) It’s not like before, though. I’m the one who really wants to change these types of things and make the fight choreography more up to date and modern. You see this in not only martial art, but with dancing, with the rhythm and everything.
IKF: You must notice a huge difference between your approach and that of your American counterparts in the film world?
JC: A lot of American movies feature fighting that is, really, old-time martial art (assumes several classical and theatrical fighting stances and techniques). And that’s wrong. Now there is an audience for this type of fighting, but it’s small. Only a small amount of people make up that type of audience. Most audiences like to see the real thing, not the old traditional thing. They like the natural thing–the way fighting really is–natural comedy, too.
IKF: You mentioned that when you kick the table, for example, toward the opponent to initiate a fight, it brings a lot of emotion into your fight scenes, whereas Jean-Claude Van Damme, for example, seems to prefer using orthodox martial arts kicking which many filmgoers find unbelievable.
JC: I think every action star–not only Van Damme–like Stallone, Chuck Norris, whatever, are good fighters and martial artists. Or if not good fighters, at least good actors. The only reason that Jackie Chan has become special is because they don’t know how to choreograph, they only know how to fight. And when they make an action movie, maybe their director is not a martial artist, he is only the director. Which means that when they fight, everything’s wrong. So this way, when the action in the movie comes up, it doesn’t make sense sometimes. It doesn’t look as good as a Jackie Chan movie. Why? Because when I direct all the fighting scenes, I’m directing myself. And, most importantly, I use my own stuntmen. Even if I were making a movie where you were the director, when it came time to film the fight scene, you would go away and I would direct it. So this way, it makes my action movie more exciting than some other people’s. This doesn’t mean that I am better than Van Damme–no, because Van Damme is good. But because of the situation, the people here in America have to listen to one person tell them how to fight, and then if the actor wants to do this type of kick, but his stuntman doesn’t know how to do the proper reaction, and the cameraman who is a good photographer, but is unfamiliar with how to ideally film action scenes and the director is more drama oriented than action, all of these things combine to make the action scene not work. When you look at Jackie Chan’s action, it works. Why? Because I use my own cameraman, my own lighting man, my own stuntman, I’m the director, I’m the stunt coordinator–I’m the actor! So I do everything.
IKF: What do you look for when you select your stuntmen?
JC: I train them.
IKF: You train them yourself?
JC: Yeah. Like, a lot of people like him (points to a young protégé), when he was with me he was just a young kid, but he’s not in my group yet. He just hangs the pads, sets up the safety things, and does those kinds of things until I think he’s ready to join my group. Once I think he’s good enough, then I’ll bring him on my team. They know that if they keep at it, then one day they will have the chance to fight with me (on screen), which is so exciting to them. I mean, nobody else can fight with me in Asia. No matter how good the stuntmen they are just standing way in the back. If you are the actor here, and I’m talking to you, as soon as it is time to fight–"cut!"–you are out. As soon as the fight begins you are out, they replace you with a stuntman, they change his hair to look like yours. But my stuntmen fight with me because when you fight with me–no matter how good you are–we’re unfamiliar with each other. So, when you kick or punch toward me, I’ll be pulling away too soon or maybe I’ll be worrying about getting hit and, believe me, I’ve been hit too much already. I’ve been hurt so many times from people who were not my stuntmen; my nose has been broken three times because I trust people; my tooth is gone because you cannot control your technique as well as it needs to be. I’m not saying that I still don’t make mistakes, my own stuntmen have hurt me, too, but that’s okay–I trust them–and that’s an accident. If you hurt me or fight with me, then I’m scared (that an accident could happen). But with my stuntmen, the chances of my getting injured are greatly reduced. We can go full out–(throws punches and kicks) bam! bam! bam! bam! bam!–we know each other’s rhythm and timing!
If today, you find in America a very talented Caucasian stuntman, like you or, like anyone, to fight with me, it will be the worst-looking Jackie Chan fight scene of all time. Why? Because when you go to kick me, I’ll be already flinching and turning away from you. If the scene calls for you to hit me across the back with a stick, I’m already covering up and trying to get away from you because I’m really scared that you are going to hit me. But my stuntmen can hit me right across the back with a club–boom!–and you can actually see it touch my shirt, and I’ll stay there and take it because I know that he’ll pull it just enough to prevent me from getting hurt. That’s what we want in fight choreography. So that is why I always bring my stuntmen with me wherever I go. We have that timing together. Like, in Rumble in the Bronx, when they were throwing bottles at me–boom! boom! boom!–I trust them and tell them, "Come on, now, hit me right here on the arm with it," and they will. But if you throw the bottle, I’d rather be ten miles away because if I stand there, I might move because we’re not used to each other–or you might not throw it where I’m expecting it–and I’ll get hurt. So this is quite different from some of the other action stars who might use one set of stuntmen for one film, and then a second set of stuntmen for another film–how can you create realistic looking scenes this way? You must fully trust the people you are working with, and you have to know each other, anticipate each other and know each other’s rhythm and timing. This is essential. You could put two good fighters together in a fight scene, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be entertaining to watch in a movie. In the movies, it’s different fighting than what you would see, say, in a martial arts tournament or a boxing match. There, it’s bam! bam! bam! And that’s a good fight to watch, too, they’re really fighting and it’s exciting. But in a movie, it’s all rhythm, and that requires a different type of fighting. And even in the action star’s films, the actor doesn’t want to get hurt, and says "Don’t hurt my nose, don’t hit my face"–they’re already scared! And that comes across in their films and really compromises their ability to fully express their character’s personality or intention in their fighting scenes.IKF: You have truly elevated stunt coordination and fight choreography into an art form. You have really infused an element of soul or honesty into your action sequences that keeps your character’s scenes very pure.
JC: Yes, well I like action, but I hate violence. That’s why in my movies you don’t find a lot of violence. If you say, "Your movies are violent," I’ll respond: "It’s good violence; I didn’t show the blood from the nose, there was no swearing" no, I never have any of this kind of dialogue. Also, I never have gunfights where there is someone shot–"Bang!"–and then blood comes pouring out of a guy’s mouth, his nose, and so forth. So that is why when I design fighting scenes, it’s more like an art, like dancing, rhythm. Like a tap dance, "ba-da-da-dum-dum, ba-da-da-dum-dum."
IKF: Is there a difference in the type of people that go to see your films, and the ones who go to see those made by other action stars in Hong Kong?
JC: One of my movies has been released right now in Asia and I just got the press reviews from Hong Kong. When they go to the theater to see my film, they are not surrounded by the young kids in the yellow hats with the earrings through their noses. These type of kids go to see the Triad-produced films. They want to see the Triad movies. But everybody can bring their children to a Jackie Chan movie, everybody feels comfortable bringing their children to a Jackie Chan movie. When I’m fighting on screen, all the children are smiling and laughing. The children are smiling and the big people are excited, saying "Oh, yeah! Look at that!" That’s my audience, and that’s the only audience I want.
IKF: That would explain the difference between "violence" and "art." The honesty and purity comes across the screen in what you do. I want to ask you, given your upbringing in the Peking Opera and its very tough regimen, and the fact that you personally put your life on the line in many of your stunts to give your audience 100 percent of your best in each and every film you make, when you see a lot of the North American stuntmen who complain about doing stunts that are quite minor in comparison, does it upset you? Does it cause you to think "These guys don’t know what hard work is?"
JC: (emphatic) No. I think differently. I really learned my action, my punch – a lot of my punches in the movies – I really learned from American stuntmen. From the beginning. Before, in the old days of the Hong Kong film industry, we were all fighting in a classical style–(performs a series of classical blocks and strikes) tung, tung, tung, tung, suddenly a movie came to Hong Kong to shoot in Hong Kong called, The Sand Pebbles and it used a lot of Hong Kong stuntmen. They taught us how to do the reactions to a punch. It was a movie about a boat and a gunfight, and they used some Hong Kong actors. It was an American-made movie.
IKF: How long ago was this?
JC: Oh, this would have been 35 or 39 years ago. The American stuntmen had to teach the Hong Kong stuntmen how to react properly to movie punches, and how to throw the punches. We learned how to do our reactions and our action from the American stuntmen.
IKF: And now it has come full circle as the Americans are looking to Hong Kong to learn new ways to do stunts.
JC: All those years ago we learned that much–reaction and punch. After that, we continued to create more things. However, in all of the years since then the American moviemakers have been concentrating more on computer graphics and these kind of things, staying away from what we were working on developing because of union things and insurance considerations.Later on, they went more for big stunts, parachutes, crashing cars, motorcycle jumps, and in those kind of things America is the best. We cannot do those kind of things–parachuting, motorcycle jumping–because we don’t have that kind of room in Hong Kong. Even if you had a motorcycle, there’s nowhere to jump!
Paragliding? Where? There’s no space! So we developed the smaller things, like, kicking and punching. For 50 years, almost non-stop, we’ve been working on improving our fighting action every day. Especially me. So, it’s like going to school every day, how many things every day can I create? Many things. Look at American movies–how many things are created by computers? And they are the best at this. So now, we learn from America the special effects, and America learns from us the punching and kicking, the small things.
IKF: Do you think that a lot of American stunt coordinators copy a lot from your movies?
JC: I believe right now that there are a lot of American stunt coordinators who watch my movies. I can tell when my movie is released in Asia, they are already looking at it. After that, they are releasing copies of my stunts and action sequences in their own films before mine are released in America.
IKF: What do you think of that? When you see stuff that you’ve created in your own mind and worked out with great effort and meticulous detail on the screen, then ripped off by your American counterparts with absolutely no credit given to you?
JC: (smiles) I’m happy.
JC: Yeah, because I first learned from American stuntmen. After that I created my own things. After I create my own things, somehow the technology comes up. I look at the videos of Buster Keaton and I think, "Wow!" I find out that Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, we have the same–not the talent–but the same kind of idea for making movies. Then I find out that I have the same kind of talent.
IKF: But doesn’t it upset you when you see, for example, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell’s film, Tango & Cash, ripping off your bus stop crash sequence?
IKF: But that’s like your painting–something that you created! That doesn’t upset you?
JC: No, because I respect Stallone, I like him. He’s my hero. Also, Spielberg is my hero. When I look at Spielberg’s Indiana Jones Part II, I see that he totally copied my bicycle sequence from Project A–I used a bicycle, he used a motorcycle–I’m so happy that even the biggest director has learned something from me! That makes me happy. But I have also learned from other movies. I just create my own things. I think in the world of movies, everybody copies everybody.
IKF: You’ve always been original, however. And even when you were starting out and becoming famous, I remember you saying that "Bruce Lee did it this way, so I’m going to do it the opposite way"–like yin and yang–but you always did your own unique thing.
JC: Well, I always wanted to do something that was different from all the other movies. That’s what makes what I do special. Look at, right now, American movies–everything is a big explosion. "My explosion is going to be bigger than your explosion," type of thing. When I did explosions, that was ten years ago! Police Story Part II dealt with everything about explosions. The whole movie, you can find out, the explosions were hitting my body, in my eyes, in my head, then from the small explosions to, at the end, the big explosion.
Then, after that, I stopped doing it. In Police Story Part I, I did everything with breaking glass–glass, glass, glass–the whole movie was breaking glass things. Then, with The Miracle, I played with some other things. Then, I find out that in America, during these same two years, everything was explosions. Then I tell myself, "My movie is not going to use any more big explosions." Small explosions and more difficult action scenes. So that’s what made me and my movies different from Hollywood movies. So I’m always watching some other movie and then doing something different as a result of having seen it. That’s what makes mine special.
IKF: I wanted to touch on your martial arts background. You’ve said that you’ve studied all sorts of different martial arts, so what would you consider to be your “style” of martial art?
JC: Right now it’s chopy suey (laughs). Everything! I know everything! I can talk to you about judo, I know tae kwon do, I know—I know everything, but right now I can’t say that my style is any one of them. I’m like a “chop suey expert.” You name it, I know it, but on each art, I’m not an expert—but on the whole thing, I’m the expert. And if you are talking about fighting for a movie, I’m the big expert.
IKF: When you first started martial arts training in the Peking Opera, what was the style they trained you in?
JC: A northern style. It dealt with everything. After the northern style, then I learned the southern style. And after the southern style, I learned the “White Eyebrow” (Pak Mei) style. I concentrated quite heavily on the White Eyebrow style.
IKF: What are your thoughts on all the various styles you’ve studied in the martial arts?
JC: Actually, all the styles are almost the same, only the titles are different. I was really interested in learning other martial arts after I learned the styles I just mentioned, so I went on and studied some other arts after these. I went on to learn hapkido for six months, tae kwon do, judo, wing chung for three months, boxing for another six months, and I learned that only boxing was different. Boxing’s punches are different, but these other martial arts are almost the same. Hapkido, tae kwon do, karate—the same! They’re just a little different in some small respects. Then I found out—because I’m crazy about martial art—that it’s only the titles that are different. Everybody’s the same. Right now if I opened a school, I could call it Dragon Do, then after somebody learned from me, he could call it Dragon Curtis Do, so right now there are just too many arts with names like Jak Koo Soo, Su Chi Soo, Ha Soo Soo—too many things going on—but the basic things are all the same. They just change some things a little bit, like, wing chun puts their hand out like this: Pak Mei puts their hand out with a slightly different arc, hung kune does it similarly—basically, they’ve just called what they do by different names. But basically, it’s the same thing. Like a gun and a bullet—pow!—but now they have machine gun, revolver, semi-automatic, but they’re still guns. Just a little bit different.
IKF: Going back in your past for a moment, and people always ask this, have you ever had to use your martial arts for real? Have you ever had a real fight?
JC: Yes. When I was young.
IKF: Really? Can you remember the details of it?
JC: You know the different thing is when you learn the martial art and you’re fighting on the street, you just only use a certain part of your martial art training. It’s just what naturally comes to you—”bam! bam! bam!” It’s rather wild and uncontrolled—and not like you see in the movies where a guy will do 15 blocks and end up in a stance. But at that moment, you’re really fast. In the fight you are asking about I was one of three people that had a fight against six people. They all went down and I, myself, got hurt. I ran away afterwards and when I was running away I heard my shoe—at that time we didn’t have “Airshoes,” we just had the Chinese slipper type of shoes and they were sloshing against the ground as I ran. Then I looked down at my shoe and it was all blood. Then I went to the store, called White Stone, and I changed my jeans and—do you know Hong Kong?
IKF: I was there once.
JC: Well, I crossed the street to look back at where the fight was and I saw the police come, the ambulance come (laughs)—yeah! Just once. It was a big fight on the street. Then I had other fights at the school with Sammo (Hung) and some other brothers. Yeah, we used to fight a lot.
IKF: The one where the
ambulance and the police came, what happened afterward?
JC: We don’t know what happened, we just saw a lot of people standing around.
IKF: How did you feel after the fight?
JC: Well, for 20 or 30 seconds immediately after the fight you shake. You run away, and even when I was talking to my friends I was shaking, you just can’t help it. My whole hand was shaking and hurt. I found that a bone in my hand had popped up through the skin and I tried to push it down but I could not. Then I saw a white thing in my knuckle showing through the skin and I tried again to push it back inside my knuckle, but I couldn’t do it. Later on, however, it just popped out! I thought, “What was that?” It turned out to be the other guy’s tooth—from his mouth. I think it went into my knuckle when I threw a backfist at him. I hurt for two weeks and my muscles were sore. My whole body ached —and yet the fight was like—wham! bam! bam! wham!—it was over so fast.
IKF: How old were you when this happened?
JC: Oh, like, 17 years old.
IKF: Do you remember how it started?
JC: Yeah, just by looking. There were six people standing next to their motorcycles. The motorcycles were standing up, all of them right beside each other. Then we were passing by and I said, “Ahh, my dream is to one day have a motorcycle!” I just pointed at them. And one of the guys turned around—and this was at night—and said, “What are you pointing at?” Then I said, “This.” Then my friend went over and, with one kick, knocked all six of the motorcycles down. Then he ran over to fight with these guys. Then my other friend, who was still standing next to me, ran over to fight—except me. Then I looked at myself and thought, “What am I doing standing here?” Then I went over and started fighting—boom! boom! boom!—and that was it. Just that quick.
IKF: And that was the point at which you took off with your bloody shoe?
JC: Yeah. We all got hurt. You just don’t know what’s going on in a situation like that. Boom! Boom! Boom! It was over so fast.
IKF: That must have been quite an introduction to life—as it really is on the streets of Hong Kong—as compared to how it was in a Peking Opera school.
JC: Right, because we didn’t know any better. We were in a school, protected from the realities of the outside world by our master. Wherever I went, I had 30 or 40 people surrounding me. Suddenly to come out—like a bird leaving its parents and nest—to fly wherever I wanted, I quickly discovered that there were a lot of hungry eagles out there. But until that time, we thought we were the best fighters. But out on the street we learned that people don’t fight that way; if you fight two people, they’ll come back with four people, if you come with four people, they’ll come back with ten people. Then we learned that, “Wow, society is really that bad.” They’re not coming to fight with fists only, they’re coming with knives and, if you take their knives away, they’ll bring a gun, and if you take their gun away, then they’ll come back at you with a machine gun. That’s when I understood that I had to be careful out there. And now I get away from the trouble, I just keep away from it.
IKF: Did you see a lot of bad things, violence, growing up in Hong Kong?
JC: When I was young, yes. I saw people get killed, I saw people selling drugs, all those bad things. It’s not that my life was really bad, but it was bad.
IKF: What was it at that age that you think created your ambition, because it’s obvious that at that young age you decided that that’s not what you wanted to do with your life?
JC: Yeah, because I always remembered something my father told me. Around me at that time were all the Triads. And in the old days, all of the Triad organizations tried to recruit me for their gangs. “Come, come, come” they’d say to me, but I remember my father saying, “Never get in the Triads and no drugs.” Those two things I promised my father. I said, “Okay.” And then my father left me and went back to Australia and I was left by myself in Hong Kong. And ever since then I’ve stayed away from the Triads. Even if a friend of mine was in the Triads, I would tell him to go away from me. He was okay—he was still my friend until he did something wrong. If he sold drugs, I would just go away. We’d sit at the same table—until the drugs came out.
IKF: It’s hard, I think, for people in America and around the world, to understand just how prevalent the Triads are in Hong Kong. But they’ve been there for decades—centuries, in fact, which must have made it especially hard for you growing up to do what your father told you to do when the Triad influence is everywhere. How were you able to do that without “offending” the leaders of these Triads?
JC: I just pretended to be dumb to their requests and, also, I was quite young at that time. I’m quite lucky and I pretended that I didn’t know anything and they would just say, “Oh, leave him alone.” And also, my personality has always been happy-go-lucky—ha, ha, ha, hee, hee, hee. They just treated me like a very good friend and were just waiting, I think, until I got a little bit older and maybe I would need their help, or something like that. And I suddenly became interested in bowling.
IKF: You like bowling?
JC: Oh, yeah, I’m a champion at it. Then suddenly I was not going to the poolhalls any more, where a lot of the triad members would congregate. There were a lot of British-owned pool halls in Hong Kong at that time, and until I discovered bowling, I would hang out in the pool halls quite a bit—even sleep at the pool halls. I liked the pool halls because there was always something exciting going on in there. At that time, our schools didn’t have basketball or soccer—we had nothing. When I first got out of the Peking Opera, I liked soccer very much, then three months later I liked learning boxing. After boxing, I learned that there was gambling going on, so then I liked gambling. After gambling, there was pool, and I continued to play pool—people were always introducing me to new things—and I loved pool, I would play it almost 24 hours a day. And, while I was not professional, I became very, very good at it. You know, young people always learn things very quickly, so I learned pool until some people said, we’re going to play bowling. Then I found out that I liked bowling and so, I’d spend up to 24 hours playing bowling. But bowling is different. A bowling alley is very big. Sometimes I would go to the bowling alley and sleep—just by myself. So the bowling alley helped me in a way to get away from the Triads. The Triads are not really hanging around in bowling alleys.
IKF: But how do you deal with them today? After all, you are now very famous and you represent a lot of money to a lot of people, which is something that the Triads are very interested in.
JC: You mean now?
JC: No, they stay away from me. They stay away from you when you get too big.
IKF: Really? I would have thought that it would have been the other way around.
JC: No, because all these years I’ve been doing a lot of things for charity. I’m the image in Asia that is against the Triads. I’m the model of the police. In all my movies, I always say good things about the police and I have a very good relationship with the policemen. And also the Triads know that if I get some problem, they get a problem too. I’m the one who stands up and says to the newspapers, “Come on Triads. Come to my office to destroy my office—come on! I’m staying right here and will lead the people, marching against the Triads. With the Triads, if you take one step back, they’ll take one step forward. Then, if you go forward, they move backward. The Triads are always in the darkness, when you take out a flashlight and put it on them, they scurry away and hide. You have to fight back. Most of the time I concentrate on...let me put it this way, if I’m doing something bad, of course it would be very easy for the Triads to get to me because I would need their help. But I’m always on the good side. If I say something like, “You are wrong! You are wrong—why are you threatening this girl? Go away!” They say, “Okay,” and go away. That’s the way to be.
IKF: Obviously you are the first one we’ve heard about in America that has done that. Were you a little nervous when you first decided to stand up to the Triads?
JC: Ummm, yeah—but someone had to do it. And after you do it, you find out, yeah, everybody backs me up on this, and you find out that you have a lot of support, and that gives you much more confidence. Then, you just keep speaking out again, and again, and again to protect some other witnesses.
IKF: You mentioned earlier that you dared them to come and disrupt your office. Had they threatened to do this to you?
JC: No, I just said it to them. I said, “I’m here in my office right here. Come here and destroy it—if you have the guts. Come!” Nobody came. If you don’t say it, that’s when they will come.
IKF: What was the reaction of the people of Hong Kong when you did that?
JC: Everybody applauded me. I got a lot of phone calls the next morning, with people saying, “I saw what you did in the newspapers! That’s good! It’s about time we found somebody to stand up to them and say those things!”
IKF: You led a march against the Triads in Hong Kong, didn’t you?
JC: Yes. Also, I think I’m quite different and, after that, I’m always moving around. When I come into Hong Kong and people come up to me and say, “Jackie we need your help, would you say something on our behalf?” I say, “Okay,” and do what needs to be done. But then I get with my group and we’ll fly off to Malaysia to film for six months, and then come back to Hong Kong and do something else. I don’t just stay in Hong Kong these days, I’m traveling around all over the world. But, still, everybody knows I’m from Hong Kong, and I try to help Hong Kong in many ways. I help the Hong Kong film industry and try to always do good things. Then, after that, I go off to make my own movies. After I spoke out against the Triads, everybody in Hong Kong just calls me “Big Brother.”
IKF: What is your philosophy of life?
JC: I just like to look after myself and to improve. When I have time, I try to engage in more training. Health is very important. And, also, I try to help some other people. I help the elderly, I help the children who don’t have a father or mother. I try to help people as often as possible because when I was young, the Red Cross helped me quite a bit. I remember the Father who worked there said to me, “Don’t thank me. When you grow up and you have more strength, then you can help some other people.” So I think what I’m doing now is kind of like a payback to those people who helped me in the Red Cross.
IKF: What makes you feel sad? I know you do a lot of work with underprivleged children to help them out, but I’m guessing that in Hong Kong you are quite active with the hospitals. Do you help out in hospitals?
JC: Yes, because later on in my career I found out that there were many children who watched my movies, so I made a conscious decision to cut down on my violence. If you look at my earlier films, my later films, and my present films there is quite a difference in this respect. When you see Drunken Master I, I was telling people that they should mix drinking and fighting—this was wrong. There’s too many children who watch my movies; how could I tell these children that drinking and fighting is okay? That’s wrong! That movie was a comedy, but some children might take it seriously and it gave out the wrong message to these children. Then when Drunken Master II came out, I gave out a different message: “Don’t drink. Don’t fight.” It was far less violent, it contained no sex scenes, and had no curse words in it. No blood. And my character was always happy-go-lucky, because I care about children. I know that children are watching my movies. It’s very natural for me to care about children.
IKF: What are your views, philosophically speaking, on issues such as racism? Like, in this country, in America, there has always been a prejudice against different cultures and even giving Asians leading roles in films. Even though you may be a big success and can come over and star in an American made film, there is still not a lot of opportunities for Asians in the film business here in America. Has it been your experience that there is still a lot of racism here in America?
JC: I think there is still a lot of racism in every country. In America, in Europe, in South Africa, even in Hong Kong—the Chinese call the Caucasian “gwei-lo” (foreign devil) and call the Chinese from China, “Ah-Chan.”
IKF: What does that mean?
JC: I don’t know, it’s kind of a term for a stupid person. They call similar names to the Vietnamese people. It’s everywhere and I don’t like it. I just don’t like it. I think we should help everybody. Everybody should help everybody. That’s why when I do charity work, it’s not just for Hong Kong. When I do charity work, I’ll do it in Malaysia, in Singapore, in Korea, in Taiwan, in China. I let them know that all the people in the whole world should be willing to look after each other. It helps to spread peace. Now there are already so many accidents going on, earthquakes, tornados—all kinds of problems to contend with already, so why do people have to fight against everybody?
That’s why when you look at my movies, like Rumble in the Bronx especially, there was a Chinese in the Bronx. Why? I did that on purpose, I let the audience know that the Chinese have good people—I’m the good person—but they also have bad people in the Bronx, and not just Black people, White people, Italian, French, and Chinese. So that way, it shows people who see my film that the world is full of good people and bad people of all races. No one race is good, and all the other races bad. That’s my philosophy. So when I’m making a movie, I have to put—even in Who Am I?—I put a Chinese guy in it and said, “Why do Chinese have to fight Chinese?” Then I had to cut that scene out. Why? Because the movie was too long, but I will put it into one of my other movies with the hope that the Chinese government will see it. That means, China—don’t fight Taipei; Taipei don’t fight China. That’s my philosophy.
Then, of course, I put in a little comedy. I don’t want to always say political things. I put a little politics in, and then I put in a little comedy. That’s why when the bad guy is fighting me, I say, “Come on, why Chinese have to fight Chinese?” Then he says, “No, I don’t hold a Chinese passport!” Then he starts fighting with me. Then, when I start to beat him up, he says, “No, no, no. I’m Chinese.” And I say, “Now you say that you’re Chinese!”
You see, I put in a little politics with my comedy. I don’t want to put in my movie to be like, say, a Bruce Lee movie where the Chinese are always good and the gwei-lo are always bad. My movie, I want to put in that American people can help me, and that they can also hurt me. Chinese people can help me, but Chinese people can also hurt me. Everybody is the same. There’s not only one way, there are many ways. That’s my philosophy. Especially when you see a Bruce Lee movie. In his first films, the Japanese are always the bad guys. He’s this type of person, he’s a big hero person (to the Chinese), but there’s a lot of good Japanese, right? Even during the Second World War. When he was making the American movies, then the Americans were always bad guys, and he was the good guy. I don’t like that. I’m not this kind of person. When I make a movie in which there is a bad Japanese guy, then the people who are fighting with me and help me, are also Japanese.
That’s my philosophy—just to let the people know, to tell the whole world, that even your own people are bad people. Just don’t promote something wrong. When you continue to make these kinds of movies, the children are made to think that “the Japanese are bad, bad, bad!” If that continues throughout his lifetime, he sees maybe 100 movies and thinks that all Japanese are bad. That’s the wrong message. It’s like the old education they used to have in Taipei, when you would open a history book you’d learn that the Japanese were nasty people. And whenever I would see a Japanese person we’d get scared.
IKF: You touched on education. Just how important is education in your opinion?
JC: Education is very important. I do not have a very good eduation. What I learned, I learned is mainly from the society. I don’t know how to read or write properly—even in Chinese. Of course, right now I can read a little bit. As far as writing goes, I have someone else write for me. As far as English, I can talk a little bit, I cannot read it or write it, however. So, I want my second-generation to have a very good education. Also, my father had no education, my mother had no education, no school. Me? No school. In this way, I want my boy to have a very good education. He can speak very good English, and speak Mandarin, Cantonese. He can read Chinese, write Chinese. So, education is very important for everybody. If you have an education then you know what’s happened. You can judge good things from bad things.
IKF: You seem to bring a lot of social consciousness to your films.
JC: I always tell the actors and actresses in Hong Kong, “We have the responsibility to do something for the society. Show bad things on the screen as little as possible, because we are the role models. Everybody watches us. Everybody wants to copy us as role models. If, for example, you have the hero in a movie, take a cigarette out of his mouth and throw it on the floor, everybody will then take their cigarettes out and think that it’s alright to throw them on the floor. That’s the bad things. How many children have learned from movies that it’s okay to kill people? Too many. They rob the banks, rape women, these kinds of things. So in my movie, even if somebody else drops a newspaper, I will have my character go and pick it up and throw it in the wastepaper basket. Why? Maybe you don’t care—but I care. I don’t care if you care or not, but I, myself, do care. That’s my responsibility.
IKF: It must be a very good feeling for you to know that you can so positively affect people in such a manner.
JC: Well, really I should thank you. I should thank the audience for supporting me. Because of them, my career has changed. I wasn’t born to become a good person or a “God.” No. I was a bad child. A long time ago, I went around fighting on the street. I wanted to fight, I wanted to see how powerful I could be, how powerful my punch was, how fast my kick was, and how fast I could run. And then later on, I found out that this was wrong. That was wrong. Then, later on, I found out how much the audience supported me. I know, “Wow, so many children go to see my movies.” But when I first became famous, I didn’t want anything to do with charities. People would come up to me and say, “Jackie Chan, would you please help out our charity?” And I’d say, “No, I’m too busy. I want to go to a disco, I want to have fun.”
Then on one occasion, a person came up and asked me to go to a charity. They said, “Would you please go—just for one day? Just say ‘hello?’ The children really need to see you.” I said, “No, I’m busy.” So, for whatever reason, I said, “Okay, I’ll go—but make it quick. I’ll give you 15 minutes.” Then when we got to the children’s hospital I saw these children with no legs, some couldn’t speak, they were sick but they were so happy to see me! My being there made a difference in their lives! Then, the people announced, “Jackie bought a lot of presents for you children, and now he would like to present them to you.” I didn’t buy them any presents. But they had already prepared all these presents to make the kids happy. I asked the people, “What’s this?” They said, “I don’t know.” “You don’t know?” I asked, “But you’re the ones who bought them!” “Would you please just give them out to the children?” they asked. So I started to give them out, one by one, to the children. They were so happy, some were crying. I touched them, they cried. I shook their hands and they would tell me, “I’ll never wash my hand again!”
I suddenly looked at myself in the mirror. Why did I have so much power to help these children? Then I find out that I was cheating those children, the presents weren’t purchased by me! Somebody bought them for me. The children asked me as I was leaving, “Are you coming back to us next year?” I knew what I had to do. “Yes, I’m coming back” I said. Then I turned around and told them, “People, I’m coming back next year. Let me know what time, what day—I’ll buy my own presents.” Then the next year, I went to buy a whole bunch of trucks and toys and went back to see them. I was so happy because I wasn’t there under false pretenses. This time it was true. “Here, here, here” (gestures giving out gifts). “Are you coming back next year, Jackie?” “Yes!”
Then another children’s school requested my appearance. “Yes” to that, too. At first, I went back and then promised to go back again. Then I went to a second one, and promised to go back to that one again. And this just grew from Hong Kong to Las Vegas. Why would I go to Las Vegas to do a free show? Because I know that the proceeds are going to go to charity. Last year, I did a benefit for the elderly in San Francisco—and I’ll be going back again this year. Then I did the charity for MGM—over 14,000 people came and I gave all the money, over $200,000, to the elderly. Not doing it for the posture it gives me, but doing it naturally. And everybody I work with, the actors, the actresses, I tell them “Go! Do it!” They are like me, hesitant at first, but once you’re involved—you’re involved. I like to have everybody involved because if everybody helped everybody, how pretty is the world? Now it seems that everybody is just interested in taking care of themselves. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I take care of myself, too. That’s okay. We should. But everybody should look at everybody. That’s my philosophy. Of course, I know that it’s difficult. It’s hard. But I just try to do the best that I can. Maybe one day, you’ll try the best you can. If everybody just tells everybody, then ten people will tell ten people. It grows. And maybe not this generation, and maybe not the second generation—but by the third generation, everybody is becoming good.
IKF: What are your thoughts on the current political situation now in Hong Kong, what with the Chinese takeover from Great Britain?
JC: Of course, I’m Chinese. I hope China becomes big. Like in America they say, “I’m proud to say I’m American.” One day, I hope that there will be the same pride when a person says, “I’m proud to be Chinese.” Why is it that every Chinese immigrates to some other country? Why are American people not immigrating to China? Why is everybody going away? That shows that we are ashamed. Why were we Chinese scared when China took back Hong Kong? You’d suppose that we should be happy. But now everybody scared. “We don’t like China.” Why? Everybody immigrated to Canada, America—why? Maybe I’m too idealistic. I realize that there are no perfect things, but I would like things to be perfect. I want everybody to be like, “We’re Chinese, we have a good government.” I know it’s difficult.
Everybody in China and Hong Kong were going on about the government. I said, “Do something for the Chinese government. Do something for your government. Don’t always tell the government, ‘Do something for me!’ You sit there, you throw the rubbish on the floor, you throw your cigarettes on the floor—you’re not helping your country.” You just sit there and say, “We need this and this...” No. If you don’t have the strength to help your government, then help yourself. Help your country—pick up something, at least. Yeah, that’s my philosophy. If I cannot help my government to do something, then at least I can do my best to make my movies the best that I can. Then people say, “Ah, Jackie’s from Hong Kong.” I let people know I’m from Hong Kong. I pick up some rubbish if I’m in my own country. I do some smiling for the tourists. If I can help the tourists, then, more tourists will come to Hong Kong to help our businesses.
IKF: Is there a lot of dissent from Chinese people outside Hong Kong who are complaining about the new government?
JC: Well at that time a lot of Chinese immigrated to Canada and then it was coming back to Hong Kong that they said, “Oh we don’t like the Chinese government!” To them I say, “Shut up! You’re not Chinese anymore. You’re Canadian. Go away.” I say, “Go away!”
JC: Yeah! I tell them, “You suppose you’re Chinese after you immigrate to Canada? You have a Canadian passport and now you’re coming back saying, ‘We don’t like China!’ You’re making a problem for those of us who stayed! You went away. Let our Chinese resolve our problems. You’re not Chinese anymore. You’re Canadian.” That’s what I’m saying. I hate those kind of people. I’ll tell you why I don’t like those kind of people; alright, some people for some reason immigrate—okay—because generation after generation go. That doesn’t matter. But these other people, they move to China, and from China, they skip to Hong Kong. They stay in Hong Kong for seven years. After seven years they get a passport. Then they find out China will be taking back Hong Kong, so they move to Canada. After the Canadian government says that they don’t want anymore Chinese, or if they encounter racial problems in Canada, these people get scared, so they move to America. They get scared again when they experience an earthquake in L.A., so they move to Singapore. Those kind of people are useless. They never help the country they are in, they just want to find a good country. Now, because Singapore’s laws are so strict, they are holding a Singapore passport now, so they go back to Hong Kong. I hate those kind of people.
IKF: Do you see a lot of that in Hong Kong these days?
JC: Yes! Yes. I stay in Hong Kong because I have to give the people confidence. And I help my country so that it can become the best country.
IKF: It’s true. You could have gone to, say, America and said, “Oh, the Communists are coming to Hong Kong, I’m going to take my money and go to America.” But you didn’t do that.
JC: No. I had to let six million people see that I’m staying. I trust our government. Everybody was saying, “Let’s give the policemen trouble.” “Let’s give the government trouble.” I say, let the government alone to make our roads better, to do the good airport things. The citizens should do their part to pick up the rubbish and help to keep the city clean. Let’s try and make Hong Kong the cleanest city in the world. That’s what I would do. That’s what I would promote. I don’t know. Maybe a lot of people, after they read this interview in the magazine will not agree. Okay, that’s my thinking. You asked me, so I’m telling you my thoughts on the matter. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m wrong and too idealistic. No matter what anybody else says, I’ll do my own thing. I’m happy. You don’t want to pick up the rubbish, okay. I’ll pick up the rubbish and make myself happy.
IKF: Jackie, a lot of people in this country obviously look at you as being the ultimate in successful. And I’d like to know what do you think are the secrets to your success?
JC: Hmm. I think there’s a lot of audiences that know me and know my road to success has not been overnight, but rather a process extending some 35 years. Some other new audiences think, “Wow, Jackie Chan is a big star!” They think I’ve become a big star overnight. No, I’ve been through a lot of painful ups and downs. I don’t know. I don’t care what image or how the audience see me, I know who I am. I always have my feet on the ground. You treat me, say, as a big star, then I become a big star. But I never treat myself as a big star. I just treat myself as a fellow with a job and that job is to make better movies. Besides making a movie, besides making money, I have a responsibililty. That’s all. Then making movies is my choice. I have fun. Everyday I have fun with the 300 or 400 people who are on the set with me. I’m like the leader who can control everybody. And that’s the most fun part. And I can make fun toys to show, like, a billion people. That’s the most fun thing about it. If you are talking about success, there are far more people who are far more successful than me. My dream was simply to have everybody in the whole world to know me, like the dinosaurs or like an E.T.
IKF: What are the ingredients or qualities that go into making you so successful?
JC: Well first, of course, it is the audience. First, of course, I want money—for living. After I get the money, I find out that for a film to be successful, a lot of people have to go to see it. Then I get the support from the audience and not just the Asian audience. There was the Indian, Malaysian, Vietnam, Thai, Korea—everybody. They send me flowers for Valentine’s, Christmas. Then I find out a lot of parents write to me, “My son thinks you’re a role model. Please write to him and encourage him to do well in school.” Then I find out I have a responsibility, so I have to make better movies.
Either then, I make 20 movies a year or I make one movie a year. But I knew that I could guarantee myself that that one movie I could make really good. How could I make 20 movies, all with dangerous stunts? I might die soon if I did that. Okay, I want to make good movies. Aside from making money, I want to make good movies. Then later on, I find an enemy in Asia; this company or actor is almost as good as me, so I want to knock him down. I want to make a better and better movie so that I can beat this action star. At the time there were several action stars in Asia, but I don’t want a few, I want one—me. Because this other fellow would make five or six movies in a year, the audience was seeing him every three months and were starting to get tired of him.
Then Jackie Chan’s movie comes out, with the best things in it, and always different than any other movie. When you make five movies, I have a chance to watch you in four movies, then I know what direction you’re heading in which tells me that I should be doing something completely different. That way, my movies are always fresh. Pretty soon, nobody in Asia could compete with me.
The Asian scene was no longer giving me any challenges to overcome, so then I started looking at the American movies. So then I have to find a new “enemy” to beat in the American movies. Let’s say I choose Sylvestor Stallone. Okay, I like Stallone, so he has become my target. I find out different things, they use special effects, so I’m not going to use them. American directors think they can make anybody into an action star, but when the people watch their action movie, they think only of Jackie Chan. So after a while, I became very popular in America where they consider my movies and stunt coordinating very outstanding.
I know I’ve paid the price for this position—broken finger, broken ankle, this kind of thing. But I like it. I want to be different than the others. I don’t want to be Superman, and I don’t want to be Batman, because you or anybody can be Batman or Superman—but nobody, or at least very few people, can be Jackie Chan. Then when I found this out, I thought, “Good, I want to be a Jackie Chan.”
So only making one movie a year, I have a lot of time for research what kind of locations, action, comedy I want. I’m always making notes on these things—”I want this for my next movie,” “I want this for another movie,” “This one for Police Story,” “this one for Police Story V,” and so on. I always write it down. So this way, I think the audience is the most important ingredient in pushing me on. I’m like a train and the audience and fans are what keep me going down the tracks.