Jackie Chan: Rum­ble in Hol­ly­wood

China Pictorial (English) - - People - Text by Ru Yuan Pro­jecta Ar­mo­rof­god Rum­blein­bronx Mr.niceguy Rob-b-hood Rush­hour

Ar­guably the best-known work­ing Chi­nese movie star, Jackie Chan will ac­cept an honorary Os­car this Novem­ber for his im­pres­sive ca­reer in film. The first Chi­nese per­son to re­ceive the Acad­emy’s Gov­er­nors Award, Chan spent decades act­ing in more than 30 Hong Kong mar­tial arts films, as well as sev­eral he wrote, di­rected or pro­duced, “stun­ning spec­ta­tors with daz­zling ath­leti­cism, in­no­va­tive stunt work and bound­less charisma,” ac­cord­ing to the Acad­emy. In his 50-plus years in the film in­dus­try, Chan has been in­volved in more than 100 films. Bruce Lee might have opened the door to Hol­ly­wood for Chi­nese actors, but Jackie Chan fin­ished the race he started, con­quer­ing Hol­ly­wood with his spec­tac­u­larly unique style.

A New Style

Born in Hong Kong in 1954 as Chan Kong-sang, Chan stud­ied at the China Drama Acad­emy, a lo­cal Pek­ing Opera school where he be­gan learn­ing mar­tial arts and ac­ro­bat­ics at the age of six. The tal­ented child soon be­came one of the school’s stand­outs and be­gan to ap­pear in small roles.

Jackie Chan ap­peared briefly in Bruce Lee’s most fa­mous film, En­terthe­dragon, as a prison thug, just be­fore Lee’s death in 1973. Chan was in­cluded with a hand­ful of Hong Kong stars who were hyped as Lee’s suc­ces­sors. How­ever, his unim­pres­sive five­foot-nine fig­ure made him seem minis­cule com­pared with most mus­cle-bound ac­tion film actors at that time. From the very be­gin­ning, Chan knew that he had to de­velop his own style in or­der to stand out.

Chan’s ma­jor break­through was the in­cor­po­ra­tion of comic el­e­ments into ac­tion films. His work in­jected new life into the genre, and soon Chan found more room to ex­plore his ex­per­tise in mar­tial arts and ac­ro­bat­ics. The comedic el­e­ments suc­cess­fully set Chan apart from other kung fu actors. “When Bruce Lee punched some­one, he just kept do­ing like it didn’t hurt,” Chan once said in an in­ter­view. “But when I hit some­one, I shake my hand and go, ‘Ow!’”

Chan’s comedic kung fu genre fea­tures acro­batic fight­ing style, comic tim­ing, usage of im­pro­vised weapons, and breath­tak­ing stunts. The sto­ry­lines of his films also veered far from tra­di­tional mar­tial arts movies. For ex­am­ple, in his 1978 film Snakeintheea­gle’sshadow, in­stead of learn­ing fight­ing from ei­ther of the ti­tle an­i­mals, Chan is in­spired by a cat.

Thanks to the re­lease of Drunken Master in 1978, the new genre quickly be­came pop­u­lar. In the film, a young kung fu stu­dent learns a style in which the fighter ap­pears to be drunk. Gross­ing nearly 2.5 times that of Snakeintheea­gle’sshadow, the film be­came an overnight sen­sa­tion and box of­fice smash in Asia as well as art houses in the United States. The film even en­joyed a re­stored Amer­i­can re-re­lease.

Since then, comic kung fu has been Chan’s sig­na­ture. For about four decades, al­most all Chan’s ac­tion films, in­clud­ing and in the 1980s,

and in the 1990s, and and tril­ogy in the 21st Cen­tury, have fea­tured this style.

East Meets West

Now one of the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized Chi­nese actors, Chan broke into Hol­ly­wood in 1995, when Rum­blein Bronx was re­leased in the United States and grossed US$10 mil­lion in its open­ing week­end. The film fin­ished as the sixth best-earn­ing film in North Amer­ica that year, mak­ing Chan an A-list actor. Soon, he was cast in big-bud­get Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions such as the Rush­hour fran­chise and

An­a­lysts point out that Chan’s unique style, in­ter­na­tional cast, light-hearted plots, and self-per­formed stunts ex­plain his suc­cess in the West. West­ern au­di­ences ap­pre­ci­ate his death-de­fy­ing stunts per­formed with­out spe­cial ef­fects or stunt dou­bles, such as a jump from a he­li­copter be­fore it ex­plodes, a 21-story slide down a sky­scraper, roller skat­ing be­hind cars, and a clock tower drop.

Be­cause of Chan’s com­mer­cial suc­cess in the West, he be­gan to work more with Hol­ly­wood in the late 1990s. How­ever, he even­tu­ally be­came frus­trated with the in­dus­try over the lim­ited range of roles and lack of con­trol over the film­mak­ing process. “Some­times, I felt the ac­tion style was too Amer­i­can­ized, and I didn’t un­der­stand Amer­i­can hu­mor,” he once re­marked in an in­ter­view with U. S. me­dia. Also, Hol­ly­wood’s safety reg­u­la­tions seem smoth­er­ing. “I know they want to make sure that I’m safe when I do my stunts, but some­times it would be a sim­ple thing, but they make it into a huge or­deal,” he ex­plained.

Chan be­gan to fo­cus more on his home­land in the early 21st Cen­tury. Not sat­is­fied to join Hol­ly­wood’s crowded ranks as an­other face, Chan longed to en­ter­tain spec­ta­tors on both sides of the Pa­cific. “Some­times, I wish I could strike a bal­ance,” he re­marked.

For many years, Chan has been ac­cel­er­at­ing con­ver­gence be­tween the Hol­ly­wood and Chi­nese en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­tries. His lat­est ef­fort was a 2015 his­tor­i­cal ac­tion drama—a swords-and-san­dals, East­meets-west epic ti­tled Dragonblade. In the movie, Chan plays the com­man­der of the Pro­tec­tion Squad of the West­ern Re­gions (a Chi­nese his­tor­i­cal term re­fer­ring to what is now China’s Xin­jiang and Cen­tral Asia) dur­ing the Han Dy­nasty (202 B.C.–220 A.D.), who fu­ri­ously fights Ro­man war­riors played by John Cu­sack and Adrien Brody.

Think­ing Big­ger

Chi­nese char­ac­ters ap­peared in Hol­ly­wood movies as early as the 1930s, with the emer­gences of Fu Manchu and Char­lie Chan. But at that time, most por­tray­als were neg­a­tive. Thanks to bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion and un­der­stand­ing, West­ern spec­ta­tors now have more pos­i­tive feel­ings of Chi­nese char­ac­ters in movies in re­cent years. How­ever, de­spite evolv­ing roles, the Chi­nese films most em­braced by West­ern view­ers usu­ally in­volve kung fu.

Chan hopes that for­eign au­di­ences will em­brace a wider va­ri­ety of Chi­nese movies, but he knows that such a mis­sion is no easy task. “I am con­duct­ing ex­per­i­ments and chang­ing styles in re­cent years,” he re­vealed. “And I hope that even­tu­ally, when spec­ta­tors think of me, they don’t just think of ac­tion-com­edy.”

In re­cent years, Chan has do­nated most of his free time to phi­lan­thropy and pub­lic work. He es­tab­lished the Jackie Chan Char­i­ta­ble Foun­da­tion in 1988 and Dragon’s Heart Foun­da­tion in 2004, re­spec­tively. While the Jackie Chan Char­i­ta­ble Foun­da­tion of­fers schol­ar­ship and help to young peo­ple from Hong Kong, Dragon’s Heart Foun­da­tion places fo­cus on the ur­gent needs of chil­dren and the el­derly in re­mote ar­eas of the Chi­nese main­land. Through these or­ga­ni­za­tions, Chan has sup­ported youth sports ac­tiv­i­ties in Hong Kong, built 27 schools in im­pov­er­ished ar­eas in the Chi­nese main­land, and pro­vided cloth­ing, wheel­chairs and other ne­ces­si­ties for poverty-stricken se­niors.

Chan is also a UNICEF Good­will Am­bas­sador, and has cham­pi­oned char­i­ta­ble work and cause. He cam­paigned for an­i­mal conservation and pro­moted dis­as­ter relief ef­forts to help vic­tims of earth­quakes and floods in the Chi­nese main­land as well as those hurt by the 2004 In­dian Ocean Tsunami.

“I could re­tire and spend ev­ery day mess­ing around,” he said. “But I want to do good things with the years I have left: help peo­ple and spend my money on good things. That’s the most im­por­tant thing.”

A still from Chan's 2016 film Skip­trace. CFP

Au­gust 20, 2015: Jackie Chan vis­its a nurs­ing home at Dagze County, Ti­bet Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, and poses for a pic­ture with se­niors liv­ing there. by Liu Dongjun/xinhua

Chan shoot­ing Dragon Blade. The 2015 film was a com­mer­cial suc­cess, gross­ing US$120 mil­lion on the Chi­nese main­land. CFP

A still from The For­bid­denk­ing­dom. The 2008 Chi­nese-amer­i­can mar­tial arts ad­ven­ture fan­tasy film starred Jackie Chan and Jet Li, an­other in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized Chi­nese ac­tion star. IC

A still from Rush Hour 3. The Rush Hour tril­ogy has earned Chan great pop­u­lar­ity in the West. CFP

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