PEOPLE Online Chat
PEOPLE Online Conference with Jackie Chan
(PDiL/PEOPLE): Hello everyone. I'm Patrizia DiLucchio, your host, and on behalf of PEOPLE Magazine I'd like to welcome you all here.
Before I introduce our special guest this evening, film director JACKIE CHAN, I'd like to remind everyone that this is a moderated conference -- and it is being conducted simultaneously on Compuserve AND the world wide web! We're incredibly lucky to have him joining us here tonight. Welcome Jackie!
(Jackie Chan) It's nice to be here. It's a magic thing to be talking to everyone!
(PDiL/PEOPLE): I'm going to sneak in one question while everyone else is warming up their fingers.. How will the 1997 Chinese take-over of Hong Kong affect the Hong Kong film industry?
(Jackie Chan) I wish I could be typing this myself!
I don't know about other people, but as far as my own films are concerned, as you know my films are never political--it's always happy-go-lucky, suitable even for kids. My films are all geared toward young people, so no matter what the government, I think that they will welcome my films.
Question from DUBLIN, OH: Kurt Schroeder Of your films, which is your favorite and why?
(Jackie Chan) it's Police Story. Because at that time, many people said that police films would not work anymore. I wanted to prove that they could be made if they were made well. The same thing applied to Kung Fu movies. Everyone said they can't work anymore. This is why I made 'Drunken Master II' and they were both No. 1.
Question from MINNEAPOLIS, MN: Now that Samo Hung has worked with you again on "Thunderbolt", what are the chances that you, Samo, and Yuen Biao might make one more comedy together?
(Jackie Chan) The next movie is Samo-directed. The location is in New York. Everything was done, but Samo came to tell me that "all is done, but New York is too cold." So we changed the place to Sydney, and pretended it was New York. For the last three weeks we came back to New York. I believe it was May or April. Samo directed that. I think the next film will be Samo directed (too).
(4-28,Internet Questions): I want to ask if Jackie thinks Rumble is a funny movie. The trailer made it look somewhat serious.
(Jackie Chan) It is a comedy movie. We have a certain different "cut" to it, because in America I have to show this to a different audience. We have a different for everyone -- ladies, children. I'm not lying, for me, there is one cut and it's for Everybody!
I should add that there will be six to eight different versions of trailers for this movie and each one is targeted for a different audience. But only one movie :-)
Question from REDFORD, MI: If I wanted to introduce your films to someone, which 3 movies would you suggest I have them see
(Jackie Chan) If you really want me to choose: Police Story Part I, Project A, Part I, and Rumble in the Bronx.
Question from PORTLAND, OR: Jackie, what day are you going to be on David Letterman so that I can set my VCR! I don't want to miss it!
(Jackie Chan) That's Feb 13. I'm a little bit nervous. I've been thinking about what I should do for the program...
Should I beat him up (Letterman)? Should I try something funny? I'm worried about my English.
If I can't pronounce my English good, I will kick his butt! Hahaha! :-)
Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Has Jackie ever taken dance? Some of his moves suggest he has.
(Jackie Chan) I've never learned dance but I like to watch dance --especially Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. I learned a lot of things from them.
(4-28,Internet Questions) Jackie I was wondering if you will ever fight Benny 'the Jet' again?
(Jackie Chan) Benny the Jet -- I think he's a great fighter. We still have a commitment for sparring together. But I think that he's retired now. So I'll let him go. Hahaha. But we're VERY good friends (I should call him up.) (Thank you for reminding me!)
Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Will you be working with John Woo again someday?
(Jackie Chan) Not at this moment. I don't know about later -- we might. I still have several projects to do. I'm going to see his "Broken Arrow" on the 5th. I want to see what happens.
Question from SACRAMENTO, CA: Considering the extreme stunts you do in your movies made in china, is their anything preventing you doing the same stunts in American movies, such as insurance, etc. ?
(Jackie Chan) I think that it's difficult in America. For one thing, the insurance companies won't let you do it. So this is why I'm filming in Asia -- I can do whatever I want to do. Since I've been in Asia, all the insurance companies have put me on a black list!
Question from VAN NUYS, CA: Will you work with Maggie Cheung or Michelle Yeoh again? Please work with Lee Choi Fung (Moon Lee)!
(Jackie Chan) Okay, after you've requested it, I'll try it. Because some of those girls have fallen in love, some have other projects to do--they're busy. But I'll keep your suggestion in my mind, thanks!
(Internet Question): Jackie will there ever be another Drunken Master movie?
(Jackie Chan) I've been trying to make Drunken Master III and (chomping on pizza) the script is very hard to think through. I've been working on it, though.
Question from INDIANAPOLIS, IN: Who were you martial art influences and 2. What is your religion?
(Jackie Chan) All good martial arts people have influenced me -- of course. Especially Bruce Lee. There were several Korean teachers of Tae Kwon Do who influenced me as well. Of course, the most important one who influenced me a lot was Buster Keaton. As for the second question, every religion teaches you good things. But I think that the most important thing is to be true to yourself.
Question from LOS ANGELES, CA: Which American directors or actors are you planning on working with or would like to work with, I know Quentin Tarantino is a big fan?
(Jackie Chan) By the way, I believe -- or my philosophy in life -- is that you cannot please everybody. Just make sure you are true to yourself.
They've made fun of me, and I also make fun of them. Sorry (strange fingers doing the typing) (Jackie punches typist) I'm a very big FAN of their. I'm very angry that it takes so long for a Stallone script to come. I've been waiting. The next ones I want to work with are Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Jim Cameron, and WHY doesn't Tarantino have a script for me right now?? I really want to know what would happen with my sense of action and American special effects.
(4-28,Internet Questions) Jackie: what do you think of JET LI?
(Jackie Chan) Jet Li is a wonderful actor but we are different types. He is more serious and has Hong Kong-style special effects. So this is why we have different styles, but we are good friends. Supposedly we'll try to make a movie together. But the script writers aren't done yet. They always think -- how can we put two stars together -- they want to make it even
Question from TORONTO, ON: How do you feel about no holds barred contests such as the Ultimate Fighting ChampionShip? Do you think they help or hurt Martial Arts in general?
(Jackie Chan) For me, I don't like it (Ultimate Fighting). I think it's too violent. Before, all people wanted to learn these kinds of things. But I think this kind is wrong. When I watch this kind of fighting -- it's too violent -- what do you think? I've learned all kinds of martial arts, but this is for sport only.
(4-28,Internet Questions) Jackie- how serious are you about getting into the US market? I think it will be great if you start making movies here!
(Jackie Chan) Right now, I'm very serious about coming here. That's why I'm here doing a promotion tour. I think a promotion tour is more difficult. In 10 days, I have to travel around America -- and I have another 14 days to go! I'm really scared taking airplanes.
Question from CZO: Jackie, what do you think are the main differences between Western made martial arts films and Eastern made ones? What is the box office take of a "successful" film in Hong Kong?
(Jackie Chan) For me, I have a more freedom to do whatever I want to do. If you know Drunken Master II, only the end, that seven-minute fighting sequence took me four months to shoot that. You cannot do that in America. No way. The producer would kill you.
(4-28,Internet Questions) What do you think of American Action Films?
(Jackie Chan) Before, there was the American Action Movie. Now I think there is no AmericanAction movie. In Asia, we call it the American Special Effects Movie. The real American action movies were those of people like Buster Keaton. But the age is changing. I think American special effects are very entertaining, though.
Question from NEW YORK, NY: Is Jackie in Hong Kong or New York right now?
(Jackie Chan) We're on tour right now and, right now, we're at Planet Hollywood in New York -- (I can say that because, by the time you come here, I will already have left!) You want me to wait for you? Hahaha! Come and see.
(4-28,Internet Questions),br> Jackie, how tall are you, and how much do you weigh?
(Jackie Chan) I'm five foot ten and a half...160 lbs.
Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: Hollywood takes years to produce most movies. How long does the average Jackie Chan movie take from start to finish
(Jackie Chan) I think that, from start to finish, about one year. I spend most of the time with action scenes, choreographing them, reasonable fighting -- natural comedy...
Question from CFT: Hi Jackie. I'm your fan since when I saw "Project A" in Japan, when I was 11 year old. I want to ask you that how many more action movies you think you will make? And would you prefer being a director and producer than being an actor?
(Jackie Chan) I think I will do about six more action movies. Right now, I still like being an actor. I still have a lot of technique to show to the audience. And later on...(thinking) I will be an action director. And producer. I might open a school to teach people how to fight in movies. (Looking at "Staying Alive' on the big screen ) I think American films have good editing.
(PDiL/PEOPLE): I'm posting this for Kenny Fung... He's having tech difficulties so he asked me to ask you... Do people still compare you to Bruce Lee? And if so, how do you react to this?
(Jackie Chan) Not any more. This is what makes this trip very easy. 15 years ago everyone asked me -- the press -- Who are you? The second Bruce Lee? But not on this trip. I'm so happy! When they compare me to him, of course, I'm happy. But by now everyone knows that I have a totally different style from Bruce Lee. He was like a Superhero. I am not. He was like a real Kung Fu Man. I'm more like a Caesar Salad- a mix of everything. I have action, kung fu, comedy...
(4-28,Internet Questions) Do you have any lasting effects from all the injuries you have sustained?
(Jackie Chan) Oh, many. Especially my back and along the top of the back. (I severely sprained my neck in one film). But I'm doing okay. But don't worry about my injuries, just go see my movies. That's my problem. My job is to make movies, your job is to see them. Thank you.
(4-28,Internet Questions) It's hard to find your movies with English subtitles in this country. Are there any plans to re-release your older movies?
(Jackie Chan) If Rumble is a success, I believe all my movies will be shown in 2,000 theaters with English dubbing. I really hope all my new fans will see my movies not on video, but on a big screen. On TV you lose a lot.
Question from EXTERNAL NETWORK: As a female fan, I would like to see more romance in Jackie's story lines. Is this something I could look for in any new releases?
(Jackie Chan) Now we are beginning to add that. Rumble has a little bit. The next one maybe more. The next one maybe MORE (getting a little excited).
Question from NEW YORK, NY: Has there been any stunt that you wanted to do, started to do, but then said, "Wait, am I crazy? I not going to do this!!!"
(Jackie Chan) None that I reject. Any stunt that I design, I can't reject. I know I can do it. Of course, when it comes time to do it, I'm a little scared.
(PDiL/PEOPLE): I am asking this for Christopher J. Lest... is it true that your first English word was...EGG???
(Jackie Chan) Yes. Because at the restaurant, when I said "eh?" She asked "How would you like your egg?"-- it's a long story (shaking head) And a big joke.
Question from TORONTO, ON: What does your workout regimen consist of? Do you do a lot of weight lifting, or do you feel that bulky muscles slow you down too much?
(Jackie Chan) Jogging, punching and kicking. With weights,, it's very light weight, because I really need a flexible body to make it all work. And light-weight as possible.
Question from LOS ANGELES, CA: You mentioned you'd like to work with Lucas, Spielberg or Jim Cameron. Does this mean you see yourself doing a science fiction or fantasy film? What would be a dream project?
(Jackie Chan) (Now watching Charlie Chaplin and smiling.) I would like to do an action movie. I still want to do my stunts, but I would want to see what would happen with those larger special effects in the background. Maybe there is something new that could come from that.
(PDiL/PEOPLE): Jackie, I know you must be tired with all that traveling around! And I want to thank you for this magical hour you've given us tonight!
(Jackie Chan) Thanks!
(PDiL/PEOPLE): Everyone in the audience, I know some of you did not get the chance to ask your questions! There were so many of them.
Thank you all for coming! And thank you Jackie!
(Jackie Chan) This time that I've come to America, I'm very happy because I've found there are a lot of people here supporting me. This has given me new confidence. But I must say this was a magical hour for me too. This is magic to me--because I can talk to so many of you at once. I hope to introduce more of my new "friends" to my movies. I will continue to make better movies, without hurting myself.
New York Times
Jackie Chan, American Action Hero?
Throughout Asia, he's Elvis Presley, Steven Spielberg and Bruce Lee rolled into one. Finally he's coming to a movie theater near you.
Whenever Jackie Chan leaves Hong Kong to make a public appearance in Shanghai, Taipei or Tokyo, or in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Seoul, hundreds - sometimes thousands - of his fans gather in a frenzy of adoration. Last June, Chan, the martial artist, comic actor and stuntman who is Asia’s biggest movie star, flew to Los Angeles for MTV's annual Movie Awards. He was met at the airport by about 25 people. Among the signs and banners held aloft, a bright pink stripe read: ALL AMERICANS LOVE JACKIE. SOME JUST DON'T KNOW IT YET.
Martial arts devotees and patrons of Chinatown movie houses have known to love Chan since the late 1970's. More recently, his signature blend of comedy and combat, honed over 43 films, has turned him into a cult icon among a more diverse audience, including Hollywood film makers and Generation X hipsters for whom high octane Hong Kong films have become required viewing. At the MTV Awards, where Chan was given a Lifetime Achievement Award, Quentin Tarantino heatedly proclaimed him a cinematic virtuoso on the level of Buster Keaton (one of Chan's acknowledged influences) and Fred Astaire.
Now that the action-comedy format he pioneered in Hong Kong has become a dominant genre in Hollywood, Chan will try to leap across the chasm separating the art house from the multiplex. This Friday, Chan's "Rumble In The Bronx" will close the Sundance Film Festival. On February 23, New Line will release the film in 1,500 theatres across the country. (It broke box office records in Asia last year.) This year, Miramax will release the two movies that preceded "Rumble" - "Crime Story" and "Drunken Master II"; in the fall, in the fall, the Topps Company is publishing a Jackie Chan comic book miniseries. Maxine Hong Kingston once wrote, "Nobody in history has conquered and united both North America and Asia," but at 41, Chan has the chance to do just that.
What sets Chan apart from the movie stars we are accustomed to is immediately apparent on a humid morning in Kwai Chung, a landfill area outside Hong Kong. Chan and his crew are shooting a scene from "Thunderbolt", the follow up to "Rumble". A large derrick holds a two-ton container port high above the ground, swinging precipitously at the end of a steel cable, like a railroad car where a wrecking ball ought to be. Inside, Chan caroms from side to side, scrambling to get out before the container port strikes its target, a ramshackle auto garage. Seconds before impact, Chan leaps down to the garage's second floor, dives over a balcony railing, turns a midair somersault and lands on his back - just as the wall above splinters into oblivion.
In an earlier shoot, Chan dangled by his hands from the bottom of the swinging container port. The night before, he did his own daredevil driving in a street racing scene, several times turning to admonish his co-star, Anita Yuen, cringing next to him in the passenger seat, with a curt "Shut Up!" when her involuntary cries of terror threatened to break his concentration.
Now the crew stops for lunch and Chan collapses into a chair. He reaches for a copy of the Apple Daily, a Chinese language tabloid. "Die Hard With A Vengeance" is opening in Hong Kong, and the paper has a photography feature about the film's special effects. In one picture, Bruce Willis's head is shown close up against a green background, but it's sideways, as if lying on the ground. The next photograph shows a car barreling down a busy city street. The third shot combines the two scenes, producing the illusion that Willis was actually brave enough to lie down in the car's path. Chan studies the photographs and shakes his head ruefully.
First and foremost, Chan is a cinematic Evel Knievel, devising and performing bravura acrobatic stunts that straddle the line between courage and lunacy. The powerful devotion of his fans is largely a result of how clearly he risks his life to entertain them. "I want people to come out of the movie thinking Jackie Chan is good, not, the special effects are good", he has said.
However, in Hong Kong and throughout Asia, Chan is far more than super stunt man. He is both Elvis Presley and Steven Spielberg: naughty boy and mensch, movie star and auteur, heartthrob and philanthropist. He produces his own films and those of other directors, makes pop records and organizes charity events, including an annual race car extravaganza. He owns a piece of the local Planet Hollywood, a modeling agency called Jackie's Angels and a shiny hip store full of Chan paraphernalia. Cans of a popular herbal soft drink, Bobo Tea, are labeled a "Jackie Chan Product". The Hong Kong entertainment community calls him Dai Goh, Cantonese for "big brother". Entire families go to the theater to see his movies. Roger Lee, a film producer here says the annual release of a Chan movie at Chinese New Year has become "a holiday tradition, like the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall".
Chan's early years and rise to fame are already folk legend throughout Asia. In 1961, when he was 7, his impoverished parents contracted him to a training school nearby called the Chinese Opera Research Institute. There he endured 10 years of Dickensian cruelty and privation while being molded into a performer of traditional Peking opera. Students were awakened at 5a.m. and trained until midnight almost each day. (Such a school is depicted in the film "Farewell My Concubine", for which Chan was offered and turned down the leading role.) He ultimately mastered a complicated drill of tumbling, singing, acting, dancing, sword fighting, and kung fu. As Chan tells it, the school's leader, Master Yu, enforced a pitiless pedagogy: "We are learning by the stick. The stick tell me jump, the stick tell me kick. The teacher say jump over the table, I say I can't. You can't? Well, as soon as the stick comes up, I jump two tables!"
By the time he was finished at the school, Peking opera was a dying art. Chan went to work as a stuntman and fight choreographer in Hong Kong's prolific film industry (which produces more than 200 films a year, compared with Hollywood's 350, distributing them almost as widely). In 1975, the 21 year old Chan was chosen to star in a Bruce Lee sequel. Fiercely charismatic, Lee had been the first international superstar out of Hong Kong, and in the wake of his death, producers were desperate to find a successor. But the film had made was a commercial failure, and his next several pictures did just as poorly. He didn't carry himself like Lee. On screen, he appeared scrawny and lacked authority.
The problem, as Chan now puts it, was, "How can I get out from Bruce Lee's shadow?" His solution was simple. Just as Samuel Beckett made his mark by taking the extreme opposite tack from his former employer, James Joyce, Chan set out to become an anti-Bruce Lee. "I look at a Bruce Lee film", he says. "When he kick high, I kick low. When he not smiling, always smiling. He can one punch break the wall; after I break the wall, I hurt. I do the funny face."
Chan was remade, in a pair of 1978 kung fu comedies, as an overeager underdog who succeeds mostly by accident. Both films were wildly successful, and Chan, who was being paid $385 a month, suddenly found himself the object of a bidding war. When Chan signed a contract with Golden Harvest, Lee's old studio, he became the highest paid actor in Hong Kong, a distinction he has held ever since. Today, his fee is 30 million Hong Kong dollars per film (about 4 million American dollars). He also earns a percentage of the profits, a unique arrangement in Hong Kong.
More important, Chan was given complete control over his work. During the next decade, he wrote, directed, produced and starred in a series of increasingly ambitious films. He studied old Hollywood movies, inspired by the outsized comic stunts and escalating mayhem of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. In the films of Frank Capra, Lloyd's former gagman, Chan discovered a kindred sympathy for the common man.
The results were unprecedently popular. Chan's manic action comedies became giant Rube Goldberg devices designed to shuttle their star from chase to fight to stunt while resolving a rather simple plot. "The thing about my movies", Chan says, "you don't have to understand the dialogue to understand it. So all over Asia, people go to see them." He gets a serious look on his face. "For my philosophy, the more people look at a movie, it's a good movie. Like Schindler's List - I think it's bad movie. I think Jurassic Park is a good movie. When you make a movie you get Oscar, O.K. Very difficult. But when you make one movie around the world everyone wants to see it, it's more difficult than to get Oscar."
In person, Chan is an irrepressible performer, punctuating his anecdotes with comic gestures and exaggerated faces. Everyone is an audience to be entertained, whether in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean or broken English. (Chan will often stop to translate a joke, so as not to exclude any listeners.) There often seems little distance between Chan himself and the eager-to-please characters he plays.
He is almost shockingly free of celebrity hauteur. One night while shooting "Thunderbolt", he takes advantage of a short break to head over to his production office to sweep the floor. Next, he straightens up his staff members' desks, then takes a rag and bottle of Windex and works on the Xerox machine. "This is my office", he explains. "These people, they just work here, they don't care about dirty." Even conscientious film makers like Robert Redford or Martin Scorsese are not likely to scrub their own photocopiers - or offer to drive home some extras when shooting ends at 3 in the morning.
When confronted by his fans, Chan seems to appreciate them as sincerely as they appreciate him. Twice a year he hosts a party for the Jackie Chan International Fan Club, many of whose members fly in from Japan. At one point the club had more than 10,000 members, most of them girls. Being a teen idol, however, has exacted its price: in his films and in his private life, Chan must be careful not to reveal too much romantic involvement. In 1985, after he mentioned in an interview that he was dating someone, a Japanese girl committed suicide. The next year another Japanese fan arrived at his office, announced her intention of bearing Chan's child and drank a vial of poison.
"I'm very scared," Chan admits, "because I have a responsibility with all my fans. I cannot say, Now I have a girlfriend, now I getting married, now I have a son". How many people die? So all those years, my private life, I'm very secret. Very hard for me, but I'd rather hurt one person, one girl. I don't want to hurt many fans."
In actuality, Chan is married, to a Taiwanese actress, Lin Fung-chiao. The have a son, J.C., a shy skinny twelve year old who is much better at video games than martial arts. Chan and his wife live separately, however, and he also sees other women. Not that he has a lot of leisure time: he is almost always at work, promoting his work, or thinking about new work. Like the Buster Keaton character who lives in a theater in a short film called "The Playhouse", Chan often sleeps at the Golden Harvest complex while he is shooting, using his office as a studio apartment. (It has a shower, refrigerator and microwave oven.) "Sometimes", he says, "everyone's asleep and my mind is still working. I come downstairs in the middle of the night and edit. Sometimes I shoot all night, drive to the day location, park my car, sleep in the car and then wake up and go shoot."
By the time "Rumble" opens in the United States, he will have already completed "Thunderbolt" and his next film, "Piece of Cake", a globetrotting romp in which Chan takes on rogue CIA agents and a shark. "Maybe my philosophy different than some other people", he says. "Today, most important is work. Relationship with all my staff because they help me. Girl, wife, son, doesn't help me. So I do everything for public first. Then I think about family."
Though some might find Chan's priorities backward, a contemporary movie star who takes his public responsibilities so seriously seems almost too good to be true. In a fight scene in "Rumble", Chan reluctantly beats up about a dozen members of a motorcycle gang. On his way out of their clubhouse, he turns around to say: "I hope next time when we meet we won't be fighting each other. Instead we will be drinking tea together!"
"When I am making a movie," he explains, "I always think: Is children gonna see it? Yes. Is it cheap dialogue? No. Is it sometimes too violent? No."
He is also a founder and officer of the Hong Kong Directors Guild, Performing Artists Guild and Society of Cinematographers. The Jackie Chan charitable foundation provides scholarships to young people for education and training in the arts. When stunt men are injured on his films, he pays for their medical care. One day in Kwai Chung, the actresses who play his teen-age sisters burst into tears after filming a dangerous shot in which an entire three story building crashes down around them. They are unhurt, but very shaken. Chan takes them aside and recounts episodes of paralyzing cowardice that he has experienced over the years. Gradually, the whole crew gathers around to listen. By the time he is done, the two girls, along with everyone else, are laughing.
Will America, long in the business of exporting international pop superstars, be willing to accept the importation of one? Bruce Lee, after all, was born here and spoke English; before he started making movies, he was on television, as Kato in "The Green Hornet". Chan's kinesthetic sensibility also may take getting used to, with its references to centuries old martial arts traditions, the classical grace of Buster Keaton and Michael Jackson's dance moves.
Just where Chan will fall on the culture curve in this country remains to be seen. At the MTV awards, Tarantino's presentation speech placed him firmly in the realm of art, down to a pretentious mispronunciation of his last name as "Chon". What followed was a hyperactive montage of fight scenes from Chan's films, accompanied by the cheesy 70's pop hit "Kung Fu Fighting" - as if to imply that Chan might be merely another oddball addition to the kitsch pantheon.
It may be, however, that Chan's moment has arrived. As American audiences have warmed toward Asian and Asian themed films, the trendiness of Hong Kong action movies in particular among the 20-something crowd has increased Chan's visibility. But to put "Rumble" over the top, New Line is intent on minimizing Chan's foreignness.
"We're in the business of Americanizing Jackie Chan as much as we can," says Mitchell Goldman, president of marketing and distribution at New Line. "Once we establish him as an action star in an American setting, it will be easier for his Asian pictures to cross over." In "Rumble", which was shot not in the Bronx but in Vancouver, British Columbia, Chan travels to New York to help his uncle sell the family grocery store, where he encounters menacing neighborhood gangs and heavily armed mobsters. It may not be his greatest film, but its American backdrop makes it an excellent introduction for audiences unfamiliar with Hong Kong cinema. "Rumble" has also been re-edited for Western audiences, with a clever dramatic justification for dubbing much of the film - with Chan's participation - into English.
Still, Edward Tang, who wrote the screenplay and has worked with Chan since 1979, isn't convinced the gap can be bridged. "We know how good is Jackie", he says. "Even the Americans know how good is Jackie, but so what? If you want to be popular in America, you have to be American. It's the culture." And Chan has tried before. He moved to Los Angeles in 1980 to make "The Big Brawl" with Robert Clouse, who had written and directed Lee's first English language film, "Enter the Dragon". Chan felt misused in the Clouse movie; worse, a Hollywood stunt man choreographed his action scenes. "I always teach people the fighting, but when I come to Hollywood, someone teach me," Chan says. "I ask, How long you been in action film? Oh, six years. Six years teaching me how to punch somebody!" The film disappeared quickly from theatres.
The next year, Chan was cast in "The Cannonball Run" - as a Japanese character. He was flown cross country to appear on the "Today" show, only to be told that his English wasn't good enough for an interview, and that he should demonstrate kung fu instead.
It's not surprising then that he would be ambivalent about making it in America. Willie Chan (no relation), his longtime manager and business partner, says, "Jackie is happy about Rumble", but he's not putting all his hopes on it." In Hong Kong, Chan can do pretty much whatever he wants; even the reabsorption of Hong Kong into China in 1997 doesn't particularly worry him - he is a hero on the mainland, where "Rumble" is the highest grossing film ever. Yet it would surely hurt Chan's pride to fail where Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jim Carey have gone so far while putting out so much less. Chan is also eager to collaborate with certain American directors, offering to work for free if Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola or James Cameron wanted to make a film with him. "I want to find out what happen, my action and their technology", he says.
Such wishes, if they are to come true, must be realized soon, while Chan is still capable of the exertion his roles require. Though he is in excellent condition, the years of stunt work have taken their toll. A fall from the container port in Kwai Chung hurt his back, and twice over the next week he must call off shooting because of the pain. On the "Rumble" set, he mistimed a jump from a bridge onto a speeding hovercraft and broke his right ankle. He had to perform the rest of his scenes in a cast, painted to resemble a sneaker.
Even if an American wave of Jackie-mania doesn't materialize, Chan says he will have few regrets. Late one night, he stands outside his production company's building on the Golden Harvest lot. Around the corner, a sound stage holds an elaborate set - a lavish pachinko parlor - that will be demolished in a fight scene next week. The parking lot in front of Chan is filled with high performance cars and motorcycles, many of which he owns. The next building over houses Filmtech, an equipment rental company he started as an excuse to buy the latest high tech camera gear. "Twenty years ago," he says, looking around, "I work here as the lowest stunt man. Now I have all this. I am very happy."
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?
Logic offers a thousand excuses. Because no Asian actor had been a star in the States since the Japanese heartthrob Sessue Hayakawa—80 years ago. Because moviegoers supposedly like their action heroes on the mean and bulky side. Because slapstick and melodrama don't mix. Because this little guy who does his own stunts could get himself slightly killed, thus spoiling a multimillion investment in him. No mogul would gamble on creating a franchise when he might have to attend his star's funeral instead.
Even in the mid-'90s, when Chan's American fame escalated from the cult darling of video-store moles to a guy who, in industry parlance, could "open a movie"--Rumble in the Bronx was No. 1 at the North American box office, with a $10 million take, when it was released in early 1996--the stardom was evanescent. Subsequent Chan films like First Strike, Mr. Nice Guy and Who Am I?, made with his Hong Kong team but aimed at the English-speaking international market, earned less than half of Rumble's final tally in the U.S., and the returns kept diminishing. Jackie shot his films in South Africa, the Netherlands, Australia, in search of steeper slopes (in First Strike he skis off a snow-covered mountain onto the runner of a hovering helicopter) and taller edifices (in Who Am I? he jumps off a 21-story building and tumbles down its 45º incline).
Though Jackie was vigorous as ever, the films had tired blood. His leading ladies lacked the snap of Michelle Yeoh, the grace of Maggie Cheung; and the occidental villains were often too slow of foot to give the fight scenes much kick. His recent cameo in the lame An Allen Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn didn't help. Americans seemed less interested in following Chan's career. He might have been some exotic cuisine that the Western masses were willing to sample once, for the novelty, not as part of their entertainment diet.
But we know a few things about our hero. He can be bruised and even broken but he never gives up; his damned doggedness makes him the movies' most ornery, adorable masochist. And at the close of every adventure, he is rewarded with a happy ending. Well, now, at 44, Jackie has something better: a happy beginning.
Rush Hour, a buddy picture that marks Chan's first starring role in a big American production, earned $33 million in its first week--as much as Rumble did in its entire theatrical release. And unlike most action films, which grab gaudy box office numbers the first weekend but quickly exhaust their young-male audience base, this one has kept finding new fans. In its first 17 days it amassed a fat $84 million; that's a bigger take than the latest film of Robert Redford or Harrison Ford or John Travolta. By the time you read this, Rush Hour should have hit the $100 million mark in North America alone.
The film's success astonishes and embarrasses Hollywood executives, many of whom said no thanks to an action film pairing Chan with Chris Tucker, an agreeably yelping black actor-comedian. Disney could have had Rush Hour; that's the studio that Roger Birnbaum, the film's executive producer, calls home. He had to go to New Line Cinema, which had distributed most of Chan's recent films. It's one of those happy Hollywood tales: the picture no one wanted to make, with the Asian star Hollywood had nearly discarded, strikes a chord and strikes it rich. "Jackie," says New Line chief Robert Shaye, "was a class act waiting to happen. There's always been a market for charming, ingenuous action stars. From the first time I saw his movies, I knew he could succeed here if he were cast appropriately in a film that was really designed for an English-speaking action audience."
To give Western audiences a fuller view of their new hero, Chan has just issued his autobiography, I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action (Ballantine Books). Written with verve and narrative skill by Jeff Yang, the Los Angeles-based publisher of A., an Asian-American life-style magazine, the book is as funny, brisk and exciting as any Jackie movie, with the surprise of poignancy. Here he talks for the first time about his father's turbulent life in old Shanghai, about the cruel but inspiring martial-arts master whose school Jackie attended as a boy, about his bittersweet love affair with pop star Teresa Teng Lai-kwan and his secret, 15-year marriage to Taiwan actress Lin Feng-jiao. The book manages to be brutally revealing and consistently charming--Jackie is beating himself up, just to entertain you.
The author is a movie star first; he must be thrilled by Rush Hour's popularity, right? You would think that. But listen. "All those years in Asia, all my life, every movie I made, the one moment I waited for was the opening," he says, punctuating his thoughts and acting out his feelings as if every sentence were the climactic fight scene from Drunken Master II. "Bang! Yeah! Success! O.K.! Then, go on to something else. I waited 15 years to become a success in America. Now Rush Hour is a hit, and there's a lot of happy news. People keep calling up and congratulating me. But I say what I always say: 'Wow! Finished. What's next?'"
Why is the chronically energetic, typically optimistic Chan speaking with skepticism? Perhaps he is hedging. It's possible that Rush Hour is a fluke, albeit a gloriously profitable one, and that Jackie could soon be back where he was: movie king of the Pacific Rim. Perhaps also he is reluctant to give lavish credit to a film that he did not totally control. "In America there is no way I can make the kind of movie I like to make," Chan says. In Hollywood, even now, the king is only an ambassador.
But an ambassador for a zesty form of popular filmmaking--the Hong Kong action movie--which Rush Hour imitates and approximates with plenty of dash. In the script by Ross LaManna and Jim Kouf, Chan plays Lee, a Hong Kong detective fighting corruption and drug dealing in the colony at the time of its handover to China. One of his friends, a diplomat, is leaving for Los Angeles and taking his young daughter Soo Yung (Julia Hsu), who is studying martial arts under Lee's supervision. He already misses them both. "Will you practice your kicks and eye gouges?" he fondly asks the cute kid. (You know those moves will be useful in the U.S.) Soon after her arrival, the child is kidnapped, and Lee comes to America to help with the investigation. The FBI, deeming Lee a nuisance, teams him with James Carter (Tucker), a mouthy L.A. cop who gets on everyone's nerves. They hate each other and are totally opposite. In other words, they are the typical odd-couple.
Brett Ratner, who directed Tucker in the 1997 comedy Money Talks, mounts the caper smartly; the kidnapping scene is a model mix of suspense, comedy (the kid puts up a good fight) and technical facility. Ratner also stirs a good rapport between the stars: Chris all flailing sass, Jackie the image of stalwart exasperation when he's not talking down and dirty to Tucker's black friends, or grunting along with the old Edwin Starr anthem War: "Huh! Yeah!" Does the film stoop to racial stereotype? Yes, as many Hong Kong action films do: broadly and without malice. "He's he and I'm me," says Tucker of Chan. "He's a real cool person, and he trusted me, so it all worked out, the comedy and the karate together."
The stars also worked out together. "I did like 300 sit-ups," Tucker insists, with a roguish laugh, "and I think Jackie stopped at about 50." Chan thinks that Tucker's rapid street banter, a key to Rush Hour's U.S. success, is a reason the film confounds some Asian audiences. "At the premiere in Taiwan," he says, "they just sit like"--and he puts on the stone face of incomprehension and displeasure. "They cannot catch the American jokes. Even the translators can't keep up. After 10 minutes, they just put a subtitle: 'How are you?'"
What lifts Rush Hour above Chan's earlier stabs at American assimilation is that it lets Jackie do his uniquely nimble stunt magic with minimum interference. Ratner knows that, for Jackie, there's no building ledge too high, no comedy too low. In one funny fight, he must kick beaucoup butt while keeping precious vases from toppling and breaking. Some of the stunt gags are filched from Jackie's own 1985 Police Story (he jumps onto a double-decker bus, he dangles from the top of a mall space), but, if you're going to steal, why not from the best? In the most graceful piece, Jackie hangs from a Hollywood Boulevard street sign, then drops onto a truck, rolls off and slips into and out of a jitney, slides across the top of a taxi and in through the back seat window--all in 15 seconds.
Chan not only choreographed the stunt, he chose the street sign. "The director had me hanging off a Sunset Boulevard sign," he recalls, "and I asked him if I could change it to a Hollywood sign. That sign has meaning to the Chinese. It's like I grab Hollywood. If the movie opened at only $1 million in the U.S., I would have let go. But now I'm happy. It says: Hollywood, I've come back."
He has come back to America, in triumph, at the same time his autobiography traces a painful trip back to his youth--to birth and before. Because he legendarily spent nearly a year in his mother's womb, Charles and Lee-lee Chan's only child, Kong-sang, was nicknamed Pao-pao--Cantonese for cannonball, but also a sound effect from any Jackie Chan movie fight. Charles was a cook for a French diplomat in Hong Kong, and the family lived in a mansion on Victoria Peak. Not until Jackie was an adult did he learn that Charles had been married previously, had sired three sons and had lost his first family during the Japanese occupation of China. In Shandong he met Lee-lee, who had lost her spouse, and smuggled her out of the country to Hong Kong.
Lee-lee gave her son unconditional love; Charles pounded physical discipline into the boy's body. At seven he was placed in the China Drama Academy, a Peking Opera school run by Master Yu Jim-yuen. If one judges a school by its graduates, then this was Harvard, Oxford and the Sorbonne. In Jackie's class were at least a half-dozen future shapers of Hong Kong action cinema: Samo Hung, the tubby terror who starred with Jackie in 15 films, directed him in eight and is now the lead in Martial Law, a new hit series on American TV; cute, lithe Yuen Biao, another frequent Chan-Hung co-star; and comic villain extraordinaire Yuen Wah.
Out of respect for their old master, many of his students took his name. Jackie, known in school as Yuen Lo, did no such thing. At 17 he left the Academy to work in movies, yet the master haunts him still. This is the man who introduced Jackie to "that grand altar of communion between player and audience: center stage." This is the ghost he still needs to please and appease. "Charles Chan was the father of Chan Kong-sang," he writes, "but Yu Jim-yuen was the father of Jackie Chan." And at the end of the book, an invocation: "I hated you. I feared you. I love you, Master."
Kong-sang's parents had emigrated to Australia while he was at school. For a while, in his early 20s, he joined them, and picked up his English nickname on a construction site in Canberra; his Chinese screen name, Sing Lung ("already a dragon," a reference to his ambition to succeed dead superstar Bruce Lee, of Enter the Dragon fame) came from his longtime manager, wily Willie Chan. Jackie served a frustrating film apprenticeship with Lo Wei, who had directed Lee in Fist of Fury and tried to make Jackie a sullen carbon copy of Lee. It was not until he teamed with Yuen Woo-ping on the 1978 hits Snake in Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master that Jackie located his screen personality: the modest, smiling man of the people. He still is.
The book displays a more complicated fellow: one who reacted to his first stardom with too much swagger and a retinue of burly parasites. That Jackie was no apt suitor for Teresa Teng. "I loved her," he writes, "but I loved myself more. And no heart can ever serve two masters." (Teng died of asthma, at 43, in 1995.) Even today, the older, wiser Jackie knows who's boss. "I spent two-thirds of my time abroad," he says in the book, "and even when I'm in Hong Kong, my schedule is so full that I can barely find time to be with my wife and child." The man is a workaholic; career comes first. "I think each year: this will be the year I slow down to enjoy the important things in life. Some year. Sometime soon."
He can enjoy his new American eminence in the silly, thrilly Rush Hour--"the movie to me is like a toy," he says--and start planning the inevitable follow-up. "The last scene of Rush Hour has Chris Tucker and me on the airplane, headed for Asia," Chan notes. "We said, 'If the movie opens at $30 million, we'll land in Hong Kong. If it opens at $1 million, then let's say there was a plane explosion. No more sequel.' So yes, there is a sequel."
In this whirlwind, can he push the "important things in life" from his mind? That Rush Hour subplot of the kidnapped child must resonate in Chan. In the days when he denied he had a wife and son (with good cause: one Japanese fan threw herself in front of a subway train after reading a rumor of the marriage), Jackie's stuntman friends would take the boy out for a walk. "One day he saw a poster with my face," Chan recalls, "and started uttering, 'Dad!' And the stuntmen grabbed him away. Later they told me this, and I cried." And when the boy was 12 or 13, his father warned him about kidnappers. "Then my son said, 'Don't worry, I'll never tell people that you are my father.' Wow! I just sighed."
In public, Jackie just smiles. His still-boyish energy and relentless charm are a tonic in this glum, sordid age. He is unfailingly gracious to the press, fans and colleagues. Bob Shaye of New Line cites a dinner party Chan threw at a Los Angeles restaurant after the opening of Rush Hour. "He invited 40 people--agents, friends of his, company executives--for a Chinese banquet. He helped serve the food, and got up to talk to people like a real host. He's a terrific guy--a Chinese mensch."
He is considering other Hollywood projects, with titles like Strike Out, Escape, West West. "All action," he says. "New for American audiences. For me, I'm a bit bored already." Just like his stardom. After all, he has been Jackie Chan, superstar, for two decades; and smacking his head against the Hollywood wall all those years hardened him against emotional vertigo when he finally hit the heights there. So instead of moving to L.A., as Samo and Michelle and Chow Yun-fat have done, Chan wants to make his next film in Hong Kong. And describing this, he feels the excitement of the artist-salesman: "A love story. First Jackie Chan movie love story! Everyone in Asia will say, 'Yes! We are going to see it!'"
Nice career move, Jackie. And who will be his co-star? Maybe Lin Feng-jiao? At least, then, Mrs. Jackie Chan could get to spend some time with her husband.
There we go, trying to slap a Hollywood ending onto a very Asian marital arrangement. What Chan and his wife do is their business. But what Jackie has, at this moment in a spectacular career, is exactly what he wants: a happy middle. An American hit. The faithful adoration of his Asian fans. And his own renewed enthusiasm to keep fighting, loving, filming.