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Interview with Jackie Chan
Top Hat and White Tie Tales
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Since his first movie role in 1964, Chan has racked up hundreds of credits, performing with rabid enthusiasm in front of and behind the camera. He's also racked up nearly as many injuries. One is a scar located on the right side of his head, just above his ear, which has dictated his hairstyles for the past decade or more.
"If you cut it short, you can see the scar," Chan says.
Today though, he wears his hair unusually long, which he says is in preparation for his next role, in Around the World in 80 Days. The film's director and Chan still have not decided on a proper hair length for him, so he must keep it long for the time being. He says he has to wear women's hair clips when he practices kung-fu at home, but today he wears a stylish pair of sunglasses perched on top of his head.
Still, long hair or no, this is the same Jackie Chan we've all come to know and love over the past decade or two.
I've been watching Jackie Chan movies since a film buff friend loaned me videotapes of Project A II and Dragons Forever back in 1992. Like almost everyone who watches him for the first time, I couldn't believe my eyes, and I set out to see every Chan movie I could get my hands on.
Chan makes funny, and often beautiful, films in the comedy/kung-fu genre, but typically, American viewers see him as an action star. Chan himself would rather be taken as a graceful physical actor -- along the lines of his heroes Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
To this end, one of my all time favorite Chan bits comes in his 1991 film Armour of God II: Operation Condor, (released here in 1997, dubbed and shortened, as Operation Condor). During a struggle, Chan causes his opponent to drop his gun, which lands on the edge of a rug. He flips the carpet up in the air, does a forward roll, grabs the gun, cocks it and aims it at his opponent's head all before you can say, "good grief!"
That's basically what Chan has on his mind today, visiting San Francisco and promoting his new film The Tuxedo, which opens Friday in Bay Area theaters.
He says that anyone can do a big stunt, like falling out a window. He indicates that even I could do such a stunt. "You land on a mattress and you don't get hurt... most of the time," he says with a grin.
But when it comes to little stunts, like using the furniture or household items in a room for a fight scene, Chan says he feels tapped out. "The television? Been done. Under the bed? Been done."
Chan says he'd really like to move upward and do something dramatic, especially something in which he gets to kiss the girl. In The Tuxedo, he stars with the ever-so-cute Jennifer Love Hewitt, and the pair shares an aggressive "I can't stand you"-type banter that usually leads to a kiss. But The Tuxedo never pays off.
"Hollywood knows my movies and they don't want to risk the formula," Chan says. "American people like it, the whole world likes it. So, okay; keep the formula. No love scene. Just funny," he says almost sadly.
Hollywood interfered with the film in other ways as well. When Chan was about to perform a jump off a 120-foot silo, he had to wait for a Dreamworks executive to arrive and to take a meeting with the filmmakers to make sure Chan wasn't being exploited and wouldn't be hurt. Then they forbade him to perform the follow-up stunt, a jump from the silo into a cement truck.
"American films are difficult; there are so many rules. For me, they waste so much time, so much money. Making Asian films, I can do whatever I like to do," he says. "On Hong Kong films, we save a lot of money, save a lot of time, but you see I do get hurt. That's the Hong Kong way, different, good or bad. The best way is if I can combine the Hollywood way and the Hong Kong way."
The other drawback with the Hollywood films is that American directors tend to cut too many times during a fight scene. Chan choreographs a whole fight in one go, and the director chops it to bits. "That's why I never move the camera during fight scenes," Chan says of his own pictures, like Armour of God II: Operation Condor.
He boasts about his next film, the sequel to the hit Shanghai Noon, which comes out in February. Chan claims that the American crew finally listened to him and that the film will be closer to Hong Kong style.
"It's five times better than Shanghai Noon," he says. "Wait until the end! There's a swordfight." He stops and makes rapid-fire sword fighting noises with his mouth, explaining that this sword fight will play much faster than your usual thrust-and-parry.
"They hired a professional sword guy," he says. "He told me that even he didn't know how to do these kinds of things."
Born in 1954 in Hong Kong, Chan attended the punishing Peking Opera School, where he learned martial arts and various other skills he would use to propel himself to fame. (Chan's frequent collaborator Sammo Hung, from TV's "Martial Law," was a classmate.)
After Bruce Lee rocketed to international stardom in the '70s, Chan was groomed to be "the next Bruce Lee," along with dozens of other would-be stars, and even worked briefly on Lee's best film Enter the Dragon. In 1978, Chan came into his own by mixing comedy and slapstick with kung-fu in his film Drunken Master, directed by Yuen Woo-ping of Crouching Tiger fame.
Now, in The Tuxedo, Chan plays a wonderful scene full of irony. When an angry bicyclist tries to pound taxi driver Chan to a pulp, Chan gets away by hiding under his taxicab. After the brawl, a friend asks why he didn't just use kung fu to defend himself. Chan replies, "Not everyone can be Bruce Lee."
That may be true. But not even Bruce Lee can be Jackie Chan.
September 17, 2002