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     Volume 4 Issue 13 | September 17, 2004 |

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All Action Globetrotting


The pleasure of interviewing the Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan begins before you meet him. It is provided by the wide-eyed reaction of your children when you tell them you are going to interview him. At the age of 50, Chan enjoys a popularity that straddles continents and generations. Children see him as a cartoon character, while film buffs remember that he used to be a stuntman in Bruce Lee movies and was one of the architects of the renaissance of Hong Kong action films after Lee's death. Ordinary filmgoers will have seen him cavorting on top of skyscrapers, leaping from lorry to lorry at breakneck speed and shaking off hordes of killers hot on his heels in one of the Hollywood productions that have confirmed his world-star status over the past seven years.

Chan was recently in Paris promotin the remake of Jules Verne's classic Around the World in 80 Days in which he appears as Passepartout, the part that in the 1956 version was played by the Mexican actor Cantinflas, whose image in Latin-America was similar to Chan's today in the far east.

Chan saw the earlier film of the novel when he was still a boy learning singing, acrobatics, dance and martial arts at the China Drama Academy. Born of

parents who were so poor that they thought of having him adopted, he spent the rest of his childhood at that school, after his family moved to Australia. Today Chan is a firm believer in family entertainment: "I wanted to make a movie for families all over the world - not just for the British or the Americans, but for everyone. One shouldn't be afraid of travelling. One should show children the world."

The world as seen in this version of Around the World in 80 Days is not quite the same as Verne's. In the film Berlin plays the role Paris did in the book. But when the Chinese countryside is shown, it is genuine: "I'll always be Chinese," Chan says with a heavy accent. "Directors know very well they can't get me to play an ABC [American-born Chinese]." This explains the presence, in the middle of this very free adaptation of Verne's novel, of a martial arts mini-movie.

As he has done ever since becoming a fully integrated Hollywood figure, Chan took control of that episode: "I chose the village, the actors and the extras, and I coordinated the fight scenes." He got Sammo Hung, a fellow student at the China Drama Academy, to play Wong Fei-hung, a character taken from the great classics of Hong Kong cinema who pops up in a Verne story. Chan's co-producers of the movie had little choice but to agree.

It took Chan two tries before he became successful in Hollywood. He was already a huge star in Asia when he had his first go in the 1980s: "It didn't work, because the older directors wouldn't listen to me. To be quite frank, they were directing the movie, but they had no idea about how to shoot action sequences. Now everyone has learnt the Hong Kong style, but at the time no one listened to me. So I said: 'Goodbye Hollywood.' "

"Then a new generation came along, people such as Brett Ratner [director of Rush Hour] and Frank Coraci [Around the World in 80 Days], who never say 'I know everything, there's nothing you can teach me'."

Chan has considerable experience of film-making. His theatrical training enabled him to get a job at the Hong Kong studios in their heyday. His extraordinary physical abilities made him a natural stuntman. He appeared in two Lee movies, Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon. "I was a poor stuntman. I earned less than $10 a day. When I saw Lee, I said to myself that perhaps I could be like him one day."

It was not until 1978 and Drunken Master, directed by Woo Ping-yuen (who coordinated the fight scenes of Kill Bill ), that Chan became a screen icon - as someone who combined slapstick with violence, elegance with ridicule. He was likened to the great comic stuntmen of silent cinema, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.

He has broken most of the bones in his body, but that has not made him any more cautious: "Safety comes first in Hollywood, but after so many years in the business I'm trusted by the insurance companies - they know I'm crazy, but not stupid."

The toll taken by his fractures has now been compounded by the passing years: "I choreograph my fights. I know how high I can jump. I know I can't kick in the air the way I used to 20 years ago. So when, for example, there's a table between me and my opponent, instead of leaping over it I pause for a moment, then shove the table forwards. But I'm still pretty nifty."

Chan is a nifty businessman too. He has launched two lines of clothes and set up a film company, Jackie Chan Empire. He has just shot New Police Story, a sequel to one of his biggest successes, Police Story, and produced a comedy in Singapore. Chan would now like to go over to more dramatic roles: "I talked to the director Ang Lee about that, but at the time he was preparing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon . I also almost got a part in a Zhang Yimou film - but he said he wanted to shoot an action movie, just as I was thinking of taking up dramatic parts."

If there is one topic that Chan likes to talk about, it is the return of Hong Kong to China and its benefits. He adopted such a forthright public stance on the issue that China's main television channel, CCTV, named him as the "inspirational person" of the year for his "patriotic passion". Chan describes Beijing's influence on the Hong Kong cinema as follows: "They let us do what we want, but if the movie is too violent or too sexy it won't get released in China. And as it's well known that China is a huge market, we automatically cut out the violence and the sex - which is a good thing, as there's too much violence. It's getting worse and worse. China wants to prove that it can do better than the British, and there's more and more freedom in Hong Kong. But freedom has made people selfish."

Source: The Guardian



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