Jackie Chan in TIME magazine
Date: Wed, 8 Feb 95 21:08:28 PST
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Jackie Chan in TIME magazine
[In case you've missed out on these unselfconsciously crazy films and don't
know who/what Jackie Chan is, this will give you a hint... -psl]
Forwarded-by: email@example.com (Daniel Steinberg)
Do death-defying stunts! Break all his bones! Reign as Asia's No. 1 star!
BY RICHARD CORLISS
Some movie stars measure their worth by how many millions of dollars they
make. Jackie Chan, Asian action-star extraordinaire, measures his by how many
of his bones he has fractured while executing his films' incredible stunts.
Let him count the breaks: ''My skull, my eyes, my nose three times, my jaw,
my shoulder, my chest, two fingers, a knee -- everything from the top of my
head to the bottom of my feet.'' Chan broke an ankle while jumping onto a
moving Hovercraft in his new film, Rumble in the Bronx, which opened in time
for Chinese New Year last week. Fans queued up around the world.
So who is Jackie Chan? In the U.S., only a figure with a small if intense
cult. His volcanic comedies are not shown on the pay-movie channels, not
released in theaters except for the rare showcase, like the ''Super Jackie''
retrospective now at New York City's Cinema Village. But back home in Hong
Kong -- throughout Asia, in fact, and in South America and Australia -- Chan
is movie-action incarnate. He has made 40 films since 1976, when he was
promoted as the new Bruce Lee. Now, at 40, Chan is that and more: the last
good guy and, arguably, the world's best-loved movie star.
In American terms he's a little Clint Eastwood (actor-director), a dash of
Gene Kelly (imaginative choreographer), a bit of Jim Carrey (rubbery ham) and
a lot of the silent-movie clowns: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold
Lloyd. Says Chan fan Sylvester Stallone: ''Jackie has elongated a genre that
had grown pretty stale. He's infused films with humor and character-driven
story while giving audiences these extraordinary stunts that are unparalleled
anywhere in the world.''
In Hollywood, special visual effects define the action film. In Hong Kong,
stunts -- the human body spinning and bending without a computer's help --
define the Chan film. By displaying his death-baiting acrobatic virtuosity,
he has returned the action movie to the actor. ''Audiences know that if they
want special effects, they go see Schwarzenegger,'' he says. ''If they want a
tough movie, they go see Sly. If they want an action movie, they choose
Jackie Chan -- because I do a lot of things that normal people can't do.''
To cross a busy street, normal people might go to the corner and wait for the
green. Not Jackie. Standing on a balcony in his Police Story II, he jumps
onto a truck going one way, onto a double-decker bus going the other way and
then through a window into the second floor of the villain's headquarters.
In his biggest hits (Drunken Master, Project A, Police Story, The Armour of
God) and their sequels, Chan has scooted across burning coals, eaten red-hot
chili peppers, swallowed industrial alcohol. He has bounced down a hill
inside a giant beach ball and leaped from a mountaintop onto a passing
hot-air balloon. As weapons he has used bicycles, rickshas, chairs, plates, a
hat rack, a ketchup dispenser, overhead fans and Chinese folding fans. Bad
guys have depantsed him, strapped a ton of tnt to his body, doused and
scalded him, set him afire, dumped him down a well, hanged him naked in the
town square. There's a truly masochistic resilience at work here: Jackie
takes a licking and keeps on kicking.
Chan -- whose Chinese screen name, Sing Lung, translates as ''becoming the
dragon'' -- is so fearless as to seem, by mere human standards, senseless. In
Police Story he hitches a ride on a speeding bus by running up from behind,
hooking an umbrella handle onto a window ledge and hanging on while fighting
off a brood of bad guys. (Gape in envy, Keanu Reeves!) In The Armour of God
II: Operation Condor he drives his motorcycle off a riverside pier and leaps
off in midair to catch onto the net of a passing mechanical crane. (Page your
stunt double, Mr. Seagal!) In Project A, improving on the clock-tower hanging
scene from Lloyd's Safety Last, Chan falls from the sky-high tower through
two awnings and crashes to earth -- on his head. (Tiptoe away, Lloyd's of
The Asian audience gasps at these scenes but never doubts them, because
everyone knows Jackie does his own stunts -- including some (the coals, the
peppers, the industrial alcohol) that suggest Method acting taken to the edge
of madness. Lest doubts linger, his films provide instant replays from
different angles. Under the closing credits are outtakes showing blown
stunts, with comic or near tragic results. Executing a fairly routine jump in
Yugoslavia for The Armour of God, he missed a tree branch, hit his head on a
rock and almost died. Chan has a memento of the accident: a thimble-size hole
in the right side of his head. If you ask nicely, he'll let you put your
finger in it.
That's pure Jackie -- an engaging presence offscreen and on who, unlike other
cinema studs, projects no roiling torment, no existential grudge against the
world. He seems a contented guy. And why not? A movie actor since he was
seven, stunt man in a Bruce Lee movie at 18, and now Asia's No. 1 star, he is
in total control of his films: supervising the stunts, singing the theme
songs and, on 11 pictures, directing.
As a visual stylist, Chan can be brisk or suave. His 1989 Miracle (also known
as The Chinese Godfather and Mr. Canton and Lady Rose), a kind of remake of
Frank Capra's Lady for a Day, revels in supple tracking shots, elegant
montages and a witty use of the wide screen. An American viewer may find the
slapstick interludes overdone, but they are no harder to take than the scenes
between dance routines in Astaire-Rogers movies. And it's in his production
numbers -- those double-time, intricately designed ballets of fists and feet
-- that Chan is unique, as star and auteur.
Chan's study of the silent masters taught him the universal language of film:
action and passion, humor and heart. His movies are so simple, so fluid, so
exuberant that they are easily understood by people who don't speak
Cantonese. Just ask the Jackie fans who track down his movies in the
Chinatowns of U.S. cities or visit specialized video stores. ''Jackie Chan's
work is as popular with our customers as anything by Orson Welles or Francis
Coppola,'' says Meg Johnson, buyer for Videots, a smart Santa Monica outlet.
Finding a Chan film under its multiplicity of titles is one challenge.
Another can be watching it, in washed-out, nth-generation dupes with
indifferent dubbing or Japanese subtitles (or none at all) and with the sides
of the wide-screen images lopped off.
Chan regrets the situation: ''The video rights are handled by Golden Harvest,
the distribution company I work for. They don't really concentrate on videos
in America.'' But even in this video murk, Chan's personality shines through.
He has a star quality that doesn't get lost in translation.
Hollywood is missing out on a great thing: an ingratiating actor who makes
hit movies and speaks better English than a few action heroes we could name.
In the early '80s Chan gave U.S. films a try (in Burt Reynolds' Cannonball
Run capers and two other wooden showcases), then returned to Hong Kong. For
Chan there's no place like home. ''In Asia I'm kind of like E.T.,'' he says.
''Everybody comes to see my films. There are billions of people in Asia, and
they're my first audience. If I get an American audience, O.K., that's a
bonus. If not, that's O.K. too. I'm very happy.''
If Jackie Chan can keep that thrill machine of a body in fine working order,
his fans will be happy. And no bones about it.
Reported by Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles
Copyright 1995 Time Inc. All rights reserved.
© 1995 Peter Langston