"Hey Rob, I know it’s been a while, but we just got something in the mail. Would you be interested in interviewing Jackie Chan?"
"You bet your ass I would. You’d have to shoot me in the face with a cannon to stop me. Sign me right up What movie is this for?"
"The Tuxedo? Who else is in it?"
"Jennifer Love Hewitt. It’s directed by some guy that used to do commercials or music videos or something."
While not a literal word-for-word transcription, the above is a close approximation of my reaction to this whole scenario. Real joy at being able to sit down and talk to Jackie Chan, tempered by a gnawing fear that I would want to carve out my own eyes after having seen the film he was in town to support.
Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (which really isn’t saying all that much.) Aside from the excruciatingly painful (and terribly ill-advised) Jackie-is-dubbed-by- James-Brown-and-dances-to-sex-machine (no, really) sequence, the film is almost okay. It doesn’t quite make it, but it’s such a "safe," formulaic film, that it doesn’t really have that far to fall. It’s a typical, mindless, sophomoric, goofy to the extreme Hollywood "product." Not good, but not all that bad either…
You will notice I didn’t compare it to Jackie’s Hong Kong output. You may think I’m just being generous because I got to interview the guy. I might be (no one ever said I wasn’t honest), but this is so far away from anything Jackie has done in Hong Kong (or even the US for that matter) that any such comparison is downright unfair. It’s basically an FX picture. Between the wires, computers and other effects there’s hardly anything that makes it feel like a Jackie Chan picture (at least from an action perspective.)
Anyway, as part of this Faustian bargain I got to take part in a round-table with Jackie. Dressed from head to toe in his own clothing line (betcha didn’t see that one coming) and sporting a pair of "JC EYEGEAR 1.0" sunglasses, Jackie turned out to be pretty much everything I expected. Infectiously charming, polished, confident and willing to speak his mind.
Some highlights from the round table.
On the difference between Hollywood and Hong Kong:
Hong Kong style is more. how can I say this? [You have] more freedom [but, it’s] more dangerous. You can save money [because it’s] quicker [which makes it] more dangerous. The American way is safer, but it wastes a lot of money. Like when I was doing The Tuxedo. I was doing a stunt- sliding down from 120 feet. I had already practiced it. But, they say "Oh wait, you have to do it tomorrow." Why? Well, they have to get the Safety Captain to fly to Toronto all the way from LA. Then [we have to] sit on the round table and explain- "It’s dangerous for Jackie. How dangerous for Jackie? Blah, blah, blah" Then, on the set, "Jackie you can only do that shot, not the second one." "What?!? It’s not very high?"
They never risk. [that] I get a little hurt. Otherwise the whole production stops. I said, "I’ve done this jump so many times.. I did the rehearsal!" (laughter) The rehearsal? They don’t care. They’re not there. But, with the shooting day.
But, the good thing is- I do get hurt sometimes in Hong Kong POW! I crack my ankle. BOOM! I crack my finger. But, I never stop the production. I use the wheelchair. (laughter) I have my own way of filming. The American way is totally different.
On the cultural differences between his two markets:
After I made Rush Hour, I automatically knew I didn’t like the film. Even Rush hour 2. Because compared to my Hong Kong action- it’s not as good. And the humor- I don’t understand [it.] But, it was a big hit in the US. Then slowly I understood- that’s American culture. But, I go back to Asia for the promotion, [in] the theater- nobody’s smiling. Even the best joke in the film- in the whole theater. maybe one person "ha.ha." Chris Tucker, most people [find him] annoying- [he’s] too loud. They just don’t like these kind of things. Owen [Wilson], they [find] more acceptable. Chris Tucker, speaks so quickly- they don’t understand. The whole movie he’s "blah, blah, blah!" You can tell by the box office. My box office is usually 45/ 50 million (HK$) But, Rush Hour-12 million. Shanghai Noon- 20 million. Then I said, "wow, if I keep making American films, I’ll lose my Asian market." I immediately went back to make Gorgeous- $40 Million. Then I made another one- 46 million. Every movie I make does better than [my] American films in the Asian market. But, my Asian films cannot be released in the American market. Only the direct to video market. So I realize that I have to make two movies, one for the American market and one for the Asian market.
I’ve been doing this twenty years. Everybody is watching me in Accidental Spy, Drunken Master- this kind of fighting. Suddenly we come to America "boom, boom, boom" (pantomimes a two second fight) "What’s that? That’s terrible?" But for American market- "Wow, Jackie’s Great!"
Sometimes, like for Tuxedo, I’m filming a half hour fight scene. Boom. They cut it to 20 seconds. "too long, Jackie, it’s becoming violent." We just need a little bit. That’s the American way. Okay, then. I trust the American Way. After this, I’ll go back to make Hong Kong films. Then I’ll make my own film in Asia, then I’ll come back and make American films.
Now, I really like this American way. Now, on the set, whatever Owen tells me to say- I say it. Whatever Chris Tucker tells me to say- I say it. Because I know that’s an American joke.
On Hong Kong films moving into the US market:
Right now, in Hong Kong we try so many ways to get into the American Market. When they made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon they never though they’d make it into the American market. Then- BOOM. "wow. Is that for the American market?" Now everybody is making these kind of films. I tell you what. Very quick dying.. Very quick.. Crouching Tiger is a special case. Really special. If it keeps coming. Gone.
Rumble in the Bronx- we were only for the Asian market. Suddenly the American market- they accepted it. Then we try to do another one, then another one. it doesn’t work any more. If you’re making an America film, you have to totally make an American move. For a certain film- yes. They accept it- like Life is Beautiful. But, what’s the second one? Nothing. American audiences are selective.
On working with Donnie Yen on Shanghai Knights:
Yeah, I knew him in Hong Kong a long time ago. Sometimes he’s helping me choreograph together because we have different styles. I’m more southern, he’s more northern. I have these kind of things, "what else do you have?" Then he’d give me a little. Because he’s also a stunt coordinator.
On Acting in English:
Before, difficult. Every scene, every shot, the dialogue coach just corrects my English. (with exaggerated diction) "where do you come from? I’m from Hong Kong OH-KAY."
Later on I said, "look, let me speak ‘Jackie Chan English’," Because from now on I [could] practice 20 hours a day for two years, [and] I’ll never speak like [an] American. I’ll still have my accent. So, now, it’s pretty easy. They just let whatever I say go. "Just remember, Jennifer is a She, not He." (laughter) Before. nobody concentrated on my acting, nobody concentrated on my fighting, "Wow, Cut! Good! Your English was good." I’d go to the motor home and practice my English. The action scene? Nobody cared. Now it’s, "yeah, just speak your way."
And finally, a telling bit on his reasons for doing this Special Effects heavy, decidedly un-Jackie Chan style picture:
Stephen Spielberg. DreamWorks. No DreamWorks, no Stephen Spielberg, I wouldn’t do this movie.
Well, I guess I have something else to bitch about when I talk about Spielberg.
Originally published in Boston's Weekly Dig (now digBoston) in Septamber 2002.