Interviews


Jackie Chan


Occupation: Actor, Director, Producer, Screenwriter, Singer, Stunt choreographer
Date of Birth: April 7, 1954
Place of Birth: Hong Kong, , China
Sign: Sun in Aries, Moon in Gemini
Relations: Wife: Lin Feng-Chiao, a.k.a. Lin Feng Chow (separated; actress); son: J.C. Chan; father: Charles Chan (retired cook); mother: Lee-Lee Chan (domestic)
Education: Chinese Opera Research Institute

 

BEFORE Rumble in the Bronx took America by storm, Jackie Chan was probably the biggest box-office star you'd never heard of: with more than a hundred movies to his credit, he had already become the leading box-office draw in Asia. Now, with a handful of American-made ventures to his credit and a host of agents lining up at his door, Chan has become a genuine international action hero.

Chan's success did not come without struggle. He claims that, at the time of his birth in Hong Kong, his domestic servant parents were so impoverished that they offered to sell him to the British doctor who delivered him because they could not afford his 26-dollar medical bill. The deal did not go through, however, and the family eventually found work in the U.S. embassy in Australia. When Chan was six, his parents sent him back to Hong Kong to be indentured for ten years at the extremely strict Chinese Opera Research Institute, where his life consisted of rigorous training  from 5 a.m. until midnight every day  in dancing, mime, singing, acting, martial arts, and acrobatics. He has said that the threat of being caned always hung over him: "We are learning by the stick. The stick tell me jump, the stick tell me kick. The teacher say, 'Jump over the table,' I say, 'I can't.' 'You can't?' Well, as soon as the stick comes up, I jump two tables!"

Chan's training was not wasted. In 1971, he found work as a stuntman in Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury (The Chinese Connection), and made a name for himself by successfully completing the highest fall in the history of Asian cinema. After a string of bit parts, Chan landed his first big role, in The Little Tiger of Guangdong, and in 1975, he appeared in an early John Woo film, Hand of Death. The untimely death of Bruce "The Dragon" Lee led many to assume that Chan would fill the void. Director Lo Wei bestowed the name Sing Lung upon Chan, which means "to become the dragon." He went on to star in six kung-fu movies directed by Wei, none of which were very successful. Chan and Wei eventually parted ways, and Chan made up his mind that he was not going to be the next Bruce Lee: "I look at Bruce Lee film. When he kick high, I kick low. When he not smiling, always smiling. He can one-punch break the wall; after I break the wall, I hurt. I do the funny face." Instead, Chan modeled himself after his idols, comedian Buster Keaton and dancer Fred Astaire. He also developed a formula for his movies: 1) he would play a reluctant hero  someone who would just as soon run from a fight as face it; 2) there would be a young woman or small child in jeopardy, somehow caught up in conflict between rival gangs; 3) he would always perform his own stunts.

Chan's formula worked like a charm, and films such as Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, The Drunken Master, and The Fearless Hyena were huge hits. He signed on with Golden Harvest, Lee's former studio, and he not only became the highest-paid actor in Hong Kong, but he also assumed complete artistic control over his films. Chan had conquered Asia, and by the early eighties, he had set his sights on America. Success did not come easy. In Big Brawl, his first American film, a neophyte stuntman was hired to show the veteran Chan how to fight. He did not fare much better in Burt Reynolds' Cannonball Run. To publicize the film, he was booked on the Today show, but upon arrival was told his English wasn't strong enough for him to be interviewed. He was only allowed to give a kung-fu demonstration.

Chan's enormous popularity in Asia has added endless confusion and anxiety to his personal life. One time, after mentioning in an interview that he was dating someone, a Japanese woman threw herself in front of a Bullet train. In another incident, a woman arrived at his office, announced that she would have his baby, then drank a vile of poison. "I'm very scared," Chan says, "because I have a responsibility with all my fans. I cannot say, 'Now I have a girlfriend, now I getting married, now I have a son.' How many people die? So all those years, my private life, I'm very secret. Very hard for me, but I'd rather hurt one person, one girl. I don't want to hurt many fans." In general, Chan's work and family life priorities are a bit unconventional: "Maybe my philosophy different from some other people. Today, most important is work. Relationship with all my staff because they help me. Girl, wife, son, doesn't help me. So I do everything for public first."

Chan's career has taken a physical toll as well: he claims that he has broken nearly every bone in his body, and he has a permanent hole in his head from one stunt that didn't go quite as planned. Chan believes it's all in a day's work, although some of his former stuntmen don't agree. While filming Police Story, so many stuntmen were injured that soon no one was willing to work with him. He formed his own stuntman association, which fit in nicely with his modeling/talent agency (Jackie's Angels) and production company (Golden Way). He even sings his movie's theme songs. Chan is virtually a self-sufficient movie-making machine.

In 1994, MTV honored Chan with a lifetime achievement award for his movies (it's rumored that Quentin Tarantino threatened to boycott the ceremonies unless Chan received the award), and the time seemed right to try America once again. Rumble in the Bronx, a joint effort between New Line Cinema and Golden Harvest, had all legendary Chan elementsand this time America bought it (although a marketing push that included appearances on Letterman and Leno didn't hurt). The film took $10 million in its first weekend, making it the No. 1 movie in the country. Chan was primed to take on America full-throttle. Miramax released two Chan movies in 1996, Crime Story and Drunken Master II (they were filmed before Rumble in the Bronx), and the fall witnessed the debut of the Jackie Chan comic book series. Chan kicked off 1997 with the release of Jackie Chan's First Strike, in which he played a Hong Kong police officer contracted by both the C.I.A. and a Russian intelligence organization to recover a stolen Ukrainian nuclear warhead. The following year witnessed a turn in the disappointing Mr. Nice Guy, in which Chan portrayed a cooking-show host who gets embroiled in a drug war between rival gangs. His turn as an exchange-program Chinese policeman paired with a fast-talkin' Los Angeles cop (played by Chris Tucker) in Rush Hour, released later that same year, received a far warmer welcome from critics and Chan fans alike. Considered by many to be his most enjoyable Hollywood outing to date, Shanghai Noon, released in 2000, successfully teamed Chan with the likewise scene-stealing Owen Wilson.

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