|Jackie Chan is his
own live-action comic strip.
Up close, Chan has the kinetic energy of
a particularly manic superhero. He speaks
in a rapid-fire manner punctuated
with the occasional sound effect
and loves to illustrate what he's talking
about with cartoon-like movements.
The Duke of Hazards: Jackie Chan
Chan, whose latest film, "Shanghai
Noon," opens on Friday, is a
action star. He's so full of energy,
dialogue balloons practically form above
his head containing words like THWACK!
For example, asked why he never uses a
gun in his films, Chan flails his arms
"I don't like guns, they're too
violent. There are so many kids who learn
from me. After I did 'Drunken Master' [in
1978], I would notice kids on the street
He gets up, wiggles his arms around and
demonstrates the woozy, drunken kung-fu
moves he made famous.
"I knew then how many children went
to see my movies."
So he made sure that, despite all the
mayhem in his movies, there would be no
guns in them.
"Action films. There's a
dilemma," he admits. "A lot of
people think they're violent. But you
look at my films, it's like dancing
boom boom, bum, boom boom bum
The live Jackie Chan seems a lot like the
character he has played in more than 70
films a slightly bemused Everyman
who gets into all sorts of strange
situations, fights off a host of
evildoers, yet emerges from every
encounter with the clean-cut demeanor of
a choir boy.
"Jackie's got a big heart,"
says "Shanghai Noon" director
Tom Dey. "He's very generous. He's
got a very open face, you see his
emotions, and he's accessible. He's one
of the last silent-film stars, and I
think that's why he appeals to so many
people. He's an incredible physical
comedian, and makes you think of Buster
Keaton and Harold Lloyd."
Leaping the Ocean
The 46-year-old Chan has been a star for
so long, it seems he's been around
forever. But his celebrity was mostly an
Asian phenomenon for many years. And even
though Chan had been trying to break into
the American market since the early '80s,
he never really connected with Stateside
audiences until his 1996 hit,
"Rumble in the Bronx." Chan
then solidified his superstar status with
"Rush Hour," the buddy comedy
he made with motor-mouthed comic Chris
Tucker, which grossed more than $140
million in this country.
Still, Chan's fame in the U.S. was
confined to Chinatown video rentals and
cult status for much too long. His small
core of fans raved about Chan's balletic
moves, awesome stunts and comedic timing
he was the anti-Bruce Lee, a star
who created a genre by combining martial
arts and yuks.
Along the way, Chan's life and career
more interesting than any of his
films attained the status of
legend. And the many stories that
sprouted up around him (some true, some
not) say a lot about Jackie Chan, the
person and the artist.
Legend No. 1: Chan's parents were so
poor, his father tried to sell him to the
doctor who delivered him.
True. Chan was born in Hong Kong, where
his father worked as a cook in the French
Embassy, earning $45 a month. Chan was
born by Caesarean section, and his
parents couldn't afford the surgery bill,
so they offered to give the infant to the
doctor as payment.
"It was 200-something [dollars]
U.S.," says Chan, "but a friend
of my father said, 'No, it's your only
son, don't sell him.' So they borrowed
the money, paid the hospital bill, and my
father promised within two years he'd pay
it back. He ate dog food for two years
[to raise the cash]."
Legend No. 2: Chan is illiterate.
True until surprisingly recently. Chan's
parents emigrated to Australia when he
was small; when he was 7, they sent him
to the Chinese Opera Institute in Hong
Kong, where he trained for 10 years in
the techniques of Peking opera
dancing, mime, acrobatics, martial arts.
The regimen proved invaluable for his
film career, but because it did not
include academic subjects, Chan emerged
from the school at age 17 unable to read
In the 1980s, when he began directing his
own films, Chan finally learned to read.
But he can still barely write, and
composes screenplays by dictating them.
"Now I can write a little bit, and I
read a lot," says Chan. "There
was always a writer with me in the old
days. Even when I came to America, I
would say, 'Write this, write this.' I
just [points to his brain] got by."
Legends No. 3 and 4: Chan once had eye
surgery to make him more acceptable to
Western audiences. He is also partially
deaf in one ear.
False and true. The eye surgery came
about because of a failed stunt. Same for
the deafness. This should come as no
surprise to Chan's fans, who savor every
outrageous on-camera feat the 5-foot-9
The Duke of Hazards
Chan does all his own stunts. No doubles,
no digital tricks and, in many cases, no
safety net. This means that no company
will insure his pictures (although, given
his box-office clout, he has no trouble
getting them financed) and has led to a
series of accidents (including one that
ended in brain surgery) no other major
star has had to endure.
In "Police Story" (1985), Chan
hitched a ride on a speeding bus by
hooking an umbrella onto a window frame
and hanging on while fighting off bad
guys. In "Armour of God II"
(1990), he drove a motorcycle off a pier,
leaping off in midair to land in a net
hanging from a passing crane.
Even in "Shanghai Noon," a
cheerful period Western in which Chan
plays an imperial Chinese soldier sent to
Nevada to recover a kidnapped princess,
he fights off Indians by performing
Tarzan-like maneuvers through a forest,
and battles bad guys in a saloon using an
enormous set of moose antlers.
Chan says there is really no secret to
his action sequences, most of which he
choreographs himself (he started in the
business as a martial-arts director and
"When the director asked me, 'What
do you want to fight?' I say I don't
know. 'What scene do you have?' 'Oh, we
have a scene in a bar.' 'Okay, you dress
[the set] first, then we go in.'
"Okay, there's a table. I've been
fighting with tables for so many movies
now, I'm not gonna use a table.
"Oh, there's a long bar! And moose
antlers. That's something new I
try to make every movie different."
Chan is the first to admit that age, and
multiple injuries, have slowed him down
some, that he can't do the
falling-from-a-building tricks that made
"I still do big stunts," he
says, "but when I do them now, I do
something reasonable, not like before
jump, jump, jump, jump. Like in
'Shanghai Noon,' there's nothing you can
do [because the film is set in the
1880s], there are no helicopters, so you
just do the normal things. Like in the
fight with the Indians, I just use the
trees, the water. But in 'Rush Hour II'
[which begins filming this summer]
there's a big stunt coming. Now I'm just
Some Things Don't Translate
Chan is big enough in America that last
week he was a guest on MTV's "Total
Request Live," and hosted
yesterday's edition of "Saturday
Night Live." When he walks around in
midtown, truck drivers call out to him as
they pass by and pedestrians rush up
asking for autographs. Yet he is even
bigger in Asia and loves to segue
back and forth, making movies that appeal
specifically to each market.
In fact, this is one of the big lessons
Chan has learned since he became an
international star not everything
he does travels well. Most Westerners
remain turned off by the broadness and
slapstick of Chan's Chinese films
"I had to filter out what was too
broad for American audiences," says
director Dey. And because of "Rush
Hour," which didn't do that well
overseas, Chan realizes that Asians don't
get a lot of American humor. The ethnic
dialogue in that movie, for example, was
lost on them.
"They didn't get [Chris Tucker's]
dialogue [in 'Rush Hour']: 'What's up,
n-----?' In Asia, Chris Tucker, the
director and I went to the premiere. The
whole theater was quiet. When Chris
Tucker was speaking, they were very
quiet. Nobody was smiling."
Chan feels that "Shanghai Noon"
may fall victim to the same syndrome.
"In Asia, they will not get this
kind of 'How, kemo sabe ' " thing,
says the actor.
But having been reared in extreme poverty
and subjected to an ancient Chinese
training regimen that makes boot camp
look like a country club, Chan doesn't
have too many complaints.
What's more, he has earned the film
"After 20 years [in the
business]," he says, "the
lighting man, cameraman, director
everybody watches my films. They've been
my fans for a long time. The first day
[on the set of 'Shanghai Noon,' people
knocked] on my door and said, 'Jackie, so
honored to work with you.' "
But Chan isn't the least bit
self-satisfied. He has fought for almost
everything he has achieved, and knows
what it's like to be in for the long run.
So when Chan says he still doesn't
consider himself a movie star in America,
you can understand why he feels that way.
"In America, I see so many ups and
downs [among movie stars]," he says.
"One movie, boom. Second movie,
boom. Third movie, gone. I want to see
how long I can stay on top."
Original Publication Date: 05/21/2000
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