An Interview with Jackie Chan
- Wednesday, October 09, 2002
I vaguely remember hearing of Jackie Chan in the late '70s when he attempted to become known as "the next Bruce Lee." But it wasn't until the '90s that I (like the rest of America) got my first taste of just how funny and talented this veteran Asian superstar really is.
Jackie is a powerhouse on the big screen--an explosive whirl of martial arts maneuvers that almost leaves you thinking you've watched a fight choreographed to a ballet. He has a knack for making every trick look easy and can turn a serious scene into a light moment as soon as he opens his mouth. He deservedly has earned his reputation as an action superstar not only with the older male crowd but with women and children as well.
Kids look up to Jackie as a role model, and his older fans respect him for his longevity. Jackie's climb to the top is the stuff Hollywood legends are made of, but the best part about his fame is that he's earned every bit of it. Through hard work, perseverance, determination and a spirit that wouldn't quit, Jackie Chan is a shining example of what a dream can become if you never give up on it.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie at a press event promoting his new film, The Tuxedo. Jackie was refreshingly honest about his career choices, candid about his take on Hollywood, pleasantly frank about how mystified he is with the American sense of humor, and genuinely humble about his popularity and adoration of his fans.
I thought about paraphrasing the interview and filling in words that Jackie didn't use in order to make the dialogue more "reader friendly." But in doing so, I would be cheating you out of getting to know the real Jackie Chan and getting a glimpse of the witty personality, charisma, and humorous side that makes him so endearing and adorable.
So, despite the choppy answers and broken sentences, please read the following interview with patience and a smile....
Q: Jackie, why did you choose this particular story--why The Tuxedo?
A: "A few years ago I tell my manager that I want to do something different. I'm tired of doing Rush Hour, Shanghais Noon, Hong Kong films, police stories. I want something different. But I like action. I want something new. I fly to New York to see Ang Lee, and see what he says. I fly to China to see a director. I always keep hope. Then I realize, the best way to have my career is Rush Hour. Then my second movie should be like a Kramer vs. Kramer. Wow, pure drama! Then I do Shanghais for comedy action, then Spy Game, then Rush Hour 2, then Gladiator, then Tuxedo [Editorial note: By this time I'm laughing along with everyone in the room at hearing Jackie Chan longing to do drama and more than just "action" films]. Now, in February I do Shanghais Nights. But I want to do different characters in different movies. Now I'm tired of the same, Rush Hour 1, Rush Hour 2, 3,4,5,6,7--I'm tired."
Q: So, no more Rush Hours?
A: "Yeah, there is. [Editorial note: At this we again burst into laughter because of the smile on his face. He clearly knows that these movies are what make him a box office hit.] Right now we talking about 2004, Rush Hour 3. After Rush Hour 3, then talking about making Shanghais Dawn. But I like Shanghais Nights. It best American film I made so far!"
Q: Why is it the best?
A: "I can't tell--you have to go see it! You go see it--maybe I'm wrong! I like American people, and I think they will like it. Something I don't like is successful like Rush Hour, I make the movie and I tell my manager, 'See I should never make this kind of movie!' Then I go to Asia to make Asian film and they call me and say, 'Jackie, big hit! It success!' I say what? Then I make Rush Hour 2 and I hate it! Worse than Rush Hour 1! And they call me and say, 'It success!' Then I slowly realize, okay, I still have Chinese mind, I have 'hometown' mind. I don't get American culture, American dialogue. So now from that time on, I really listen to whatever Owen [Wilson] tell me to say--whatever Chris Tucker tell me to say. I realize, okay, anything I think not funny means, it's funny."
"Now with Asian film I am right! I know what works and what doesn't. Rush Hour release in Asia and bomb. Nobody go to see it! Yeah! Only 12 million! My movie, I make a Hong Kong film and it make 50 million! You see the difference? If Rush Hour not starring Jackie Chan, I think it only make half million in Hong Kong--that's all!"
Q: So why are you doing Rush Hour 3 then?
A: "American market. Yeah, right now I know making a film for American market and every year I go back to make Asian film for Asian market. So right after Rush Hour 2, now I'm doing my next movie, Around the World in 80 Days, right after that I go back to Hong Kong to make Titanium Ring. It's a Hong Kong film for Asian market. But Asian market film cannot release in American market, only direct to video. Even though I think my Asian film Accidental Spy, 10 times better than Rush Hour 2! [Editorial note: Again we all laughed.] Has anybody seen Accidental Spy? You see it?"
[Editorial note: Jackie addresses a woman across the table from him, but most of us shake our heads no. He then explains the difference of making a movie in Hong Kong vs. in America and talks about the financial differences as well.]
Q: So let's talk about this movie--you know the ballroom James Brown strut? How did you do that? Singing, dancing and doing the splits and all?
A: "Split it kind of easy. Singing for me--it not difficult. I have my own album in Asia but different kind of song. I sing like country song [Editorial note: He launches into a melodic refrain in a very good singing voice]. I like this kind of song. When I listen to American song--I like 'You are always on my mind, you are always on my mind' I like this kind of song. Never like a James Brown. What's that? When I listen to rap song, I only use the beat for me to train, what are they saying? I don't know. So I never listen towards of song, I only listen to music for my training."
Q: So did you tell James Brown that you were a big fan of his?
A: "Of course! Yes I did! Because when I see--I big fan of his the way he dances [Editorial note: He stands up and launches into a Chinese version of "Yeah! Good God Y'all!" and does a little dance. At this point we again burst into laughter]. Then after I know I have to do that kind of movement and it makes me scared. I was in the islands and the teacher send me the video and I look at and I know I have to do his dancing--dancing okay I like dancing--but I have to sing and remember every lyric. Every day getting tired. Work on it for three months! I practice! At the end of the month the producer come and say, 'Jackie don't feel bad, but we don't like that song.' So I learn other song and we get along fine and I do it in movie. It turn out pretty good."
Q: Did you like playing a James Bond type of character in this film?
A: "Yes I do! When I younger I always dream to be in James Bond movie. I love watching and dreaming about being him when I was younger. I say I want to be like him. I dream about saving the world, saving people, so I want to be like him and do those things. So in this movie I get to be James Tong and it fun to dress in tuxedo and be cool and have all the toys that make spy cool. I had good time making this movie because of that."
Q: Who's your favorite Bond?
A: "I think, I like when I younger and he the best. Who the older one with gray beard? [Editorial note: Someone yells out Sean Connery.] Yeah that right! Sean Connery! He the best Bond for me, and only he the true Bond as far I concerned."
Q: In the movie you made a joke about Jennifer (Love-Hewitt) always laughing at you, how did you like working with her?
A: "I like working with Jennifer. But she always laugh at me, all the time we have to stop camera because she laugh at everything I say. But she fun and good actress. She like to do fight scenes so I teach her how. We had good time."
At this point our interview was over. It's not usual in these interviews for the press to gather around the star and get an autograph. But in this case, Jackie Chan was one of those most of us couldn't refuse. He obliged several with an autograph, shook our hands, and a couple of us took a few pictures.
I walked away with a sense that this is a humble man who's worked hard for his dream, loves his fans, has tried hard to understand and bridge the differences in our cultures but is enjoying every minute of his fame and popularity. He truly is a star who loves his fans.
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