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THANKFULLY, CHAN DIDN'T RETIRE

     

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 5, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: I was introduced to Jackie Chan movies in the late 1980s by my friend and fellow film critic Don Porter, who was reviewing movies for the Ogden Standard-Examiner (where I also began my journalism career) back when newspapers were newspapers.

 

Those blurry old bootleg VHS tapes of early Chan flicks — already dubbed and redubbed several times when Don let me dub my own copies (you could do that with VHS) — made me an instant fan of Chan’s hilarious antics and daredevil stunts, with zero use of stunt doubles.

 

By the mid-1990s Chan was becoming better known in this country, thanks to art-house screenings and rental videos of several of his films but he had yet to make a dent in the U.S. box office. So I was excited when it was announced that he was bringing a movie to the Sundance Film Festival, one that he hoped would be his crossover ticket.

 

So, as noted in this space last week, his then-new action-comedy ‘Rumble in the Bronx’ landed on the January 1996 Sundance Film Festival schedule with Chan introducing the film in person, albeit at a Friday midnight screening in Park City.

 

Chan did interviews with the press the next day and mine was in morning at an empty Park City pub. The subsequent story was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 23, 1996, the day the film had its simultaneous opening in theaters all over the world.

 

You really have to see him for yourself because there is no accurate frame of reference for Jackie Chan.

 

Unlike the brooding, scowling movie heroes who dominate American action pictures — Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal — Chan's screen persona is never threatening.

 

His characters are always easygoing, charming "everymen," though they are self-assured, quite capable — and expert in the martial arts.

 

The distinguishing factor, however, is the humor. Chan's characters would almost always rather be somewhere else when they find themselves in violent situations but their reactions make us laugh.

 

And Chan's comic action scenes — complicated, intricately choreographed stunts performed with equal parts danger and slapstick — have made him a world-renowned legend.

 

If you really want to try and visualize Jackie Chan, think of Bruce Lee crossed with Buster Keaton.

 

Or better yet, rent one of Chan's older pictures — "Police Story," "Drunken Master," "Armour of God" or their sequels. His handiwork is so amazing it really has to be seen to be believed.

 

Chan's death-defying stunts have included a rooftop jump to a rope dangling from a helicopter, hanging from a hot-air balloon, kick-fights on moving trains, falling from trees, dancing on hot coals. … And if you think this all sounds fairly routine, keep in mind that for two decades Chan has been performing all of his own stunt work.

 

No stuntmen, no doubles, no blue-screen special effects — what you see is what you get.

 

And each of his pictures is punctuated with outtakes under the closing credits, showing stunts that went awry and the star's broken bones. In one such outtake, we see Chan being carried on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance.

 

          

 

    Jackie Chan is interviewed by David Letterman in the mid-1990s.

 

During the past couple of weeks Chan has been introduced by David Letterman and Jay Leno on their respective late-night television programs as the "biggest action-movie star in the world" — and they weren't kidding. Chan really is the most popular movie star in the world — every part of the world except North America.

 

And since the United States is perhaps the single biggest moviegoing arena on the planet it's understandable that Chan has long wanted to crack this market. In the early ’80s he tried with a couple of American movies — "The Big Brawl" and "The Protector." He also appeared in the two "Cannonball Run" pictures. But Chan's strengths — intricately choreographed martial-arts comedy — were downplayed, and the films flopped.

 

Now he's back with "Rumble in the Bronx," a Chinese action film set in New York City with English dialogue (some of it dubbed), which is getting a huge push from its American distributor, New Line Cinema.

 

In "Rumble," Chan leaps from a five-story building to a small balcony across an alley, water-skis barefoot, dives into the sunroof of a parked car just before a motorcycle goes over it between his legs, hangs off of a giant Hovercraft as it plows through New York streets and uses appliances as weapons when he battles bad guys in a warehouse. And closeups and long tracking shots without edits remind you that it really is Chan up there on the screen doing all of this himself.

 

The U.S. premiere of "Rumble in the Bronx" was held at the Sundance Film Festival, where a small but vocal core of fans filled Park City's Egyptian Theater for a midnight show and gave him a loud standing ovation — before the film was shown.

 

The next day, Chan did a string of interviews in the Claimjumper Restaurant and he was every bit as charming and self-effacing as his screen persona. Dressed in a turtleneck and sport jacket, Chan bowed as a publicist introduced him.

 

During the interview, he repeatedly apologized for his broken English. Occasionally, he had to ask an interpreter to clarify a question or give him an American word. But he actually spoke the language quite well.

 

One wonders if he realizes how thick Schwarzenegger and Van Damme's accents are. Or Stallone and Seagal's, for that matter.

 

Full of energy and quite animated about the possibility that "Rumble in the Bronx" might actually reach that sizable American audience that has eluded him for 20 years, Chan spoke excitedly about the film and his career.

 

But, surprisingly, he revealed that retirement looms in the near future.

 

"Now I'm 41, so I believe (that in) a few more years I will retire," Chan explained. "If this (`Rumble in the Bronx') breaks me into the American market, then I can find a James Cameron, a Steven Speilberg that will be interested in me. I'd like to try (combining Hollywood) special-effects with my real stunts — I want to see what would happen. Then I would continue for another 10 years.

 

"But without (big-budget) special-effects, I don't think I can continue to do these things for another 10 years. Another three or four years is the best I can do — then I look for another talent. I can still direct — maybe I'll teach (another actor) to fight and put all my dreams into his body.”

 

           

 

Jackie Chan's latest movie, on video next week, was helmed by his old 'Rumble in the Bronx' director, Stanley Tong.

 

He emphasized, however, that he won't do a movie that is all special-effects. "It's the audience that forces me to do this kind of thing. That's why I'm different — there's too many action stars in the world.”

 

Chan said he began his film career as Bruce Lee's stunt double, and reveals that the great martial-arts star had one peculiar weakness — he could not do a somersault.

 

A defining moment for Chan came during that period as he sat in a Hong Kong movie theater, watching the audience cheer Lee and realized, "Hey, that's really me up there." He vowed to himself that when he could make his own movies there would never be any doubt that he was doing the stunts.

 

The idea of employing slapstick came after Chan saw his first Buster Keaton movie. "When I saw Charlie Chaplin, I was smiling. But when I saw Buster Keaton — wow! Incredible stunts! But I couldn't do it because there was a director and a stunt director and I didn't have the guts to say something.”

 

So, he began writing and directing his own movies. Lately, he's been hiring other directors — as with Tong on "Rumble in the Bronx." But Chan oversees all the stunt work, retains the right to override directorial decisions and is in charge of the film's final edit.

 

"When you look at this restaurant," Chan says, gesturing to the darkened booths that fill the room, "you say, `ahh, pretty.' For me, the first thing I do is look around — `Is this good for fighting or not?' Some other director might say, `I want a good shot,' or, `Maybe it should be snowing.' But for me, it's always thinking about stunt-action.”

 

Chan's screen persona has changed rather subtly over the years, especially in terms of comedy. Years ago, he could be sillier, but today he feels as if he must act his age. "I like natural comedy. Now, I try to be natural — I'm not Jim Carrey. I'm 40, not twentysomething now. So, I must change my image.”

 

But Chan still has some trepidation about trying to conquer America. "Sometimes I'm very scared to come to America. Fifteen years ago I came to the American market but I think it was wrong timing. `The Big Brawl' wasn't a success in America, it wasn't a success in Asia — I almost lost two markets.

 

"In Asia I have confidence. But here, my English is not that good and there's too many big stars — and I'm just a tiny one.”

 

This time, however, the stars would appear to be in his favor.

 

EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: Despite Chan’s hopes, he never did get a chance to work with Spielberg or Cameron, but he also didn’t retire and he’s continued to have his action comedies released in this country on a regular basis. True, he’s slowed down some — he is 66 after all — but not much. His latest was ‘Vanguard,’ helmed by his ‘Rumble in the Bronx’ director Stanley Tong, and which played in theaters last November and lands on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming sites next week. What’s more, rumor has it that a fourth ‘Rush Hour’ film is in the works, as well as a third ‘Shanghai Noon’ picture.