Jackie Chan is not the easiest man to talk to. Warm and amiable on the one hand, Chan’s broken English and speedy demeanour always make for an entertaining audience with this master of physical acrobatics. Ironically, while he loves entertaining the press, he is not a fan of his American films, putting it mildly.
He barely tolerates his latest film, The Tuxedo, and clearly loathes earlier Hollywood films such as the two Rush Hour films that really catapulted him to a mainstream level of stardom. Chan is only too aware than to retain a broad visibility he must succumb to a Hollywood sensibility. “It’s important to do at least one American film a year,” he argues. The Tuxedo is as mainstream as they come, a somewhat screwball action comedy, a James Bond spoof that casts Chan as a former taxi driver who discovers the powers of a tuxedo owned by his current boss, a playboy agent now out of action.
Chan teams up with Jennifer Love Hewitt on the trail of a madman out to poison the world’s water supply. When asked why this film, as one of a plethora of projects he gets to choose from in Hollywood, Chan is not a man who comes with simple responses. “Why this film? Why this picture? Because, because…Spielberg. Definitely Spielberg. A few years ago, I told my manager I wanted to do something different. I’m tired. You like it, but I’m tired of doing Rush Hour 1, Shanghai Noon, a Hong Kong film, Police Story? I want to do something different. I like action, but I try something new. I fly to New York to find Ang Lee and Ang Lee was doing something, writing a script. Then I fly to China, Zhao Yimou, I want to do something and Zhao Yimou says, I’m writing. Right now I’m doing something.’ The latest is I’m flying to Taiwan to find younger talent that’s doing the same thing. The best way is: Rush Hour 1? the second movie should be like cream over the cream? pure drama. Then Shanghai Noon, boom, comedy-action. Then, Spy Game. Then, Rush Hour 2? then, Gladiator! Then Tuxedo. Now, February, Shanghai Knights. See? Different characters. I’m tired of Rush Hour 1, Rush Hour 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…I’m tired.” Yet as tired as he is of doing Rush Hour, that doesn’t stop Chan working on another one. “Yeah, right now we’re talking 2004 for Rush Hour 3. After Rush Hour 3, we’re talking about Shanghai Dawn. Shanghai Knights is the best American film I’ve made so far,” he says laughingly of the Disney sequel to Shanghai Noon.
Chan has been a huge star in his native China for some three decades since 1977’s Jackie Chan’s Bloodpact. Hollywood would eventually come calling and reluctantly agreed to shoot the first Rush Hour. “Something I don’t like? Rush Hour. I make the movie,” he recalls as he comically makes a disgusted face while miming the reading of the script. “I tell my manager, ‘See? I told you? I never make these kinds of movies.’ Rush Hour 1? Ugh. Then I go back to Asia and make an Asian film. They call me. Big hit and success! My manager says: ‘they’re talking about Part 2! Lot of money! $20 million’. What happened??? Okay, so we make Rush Hour 2. I hate it, worse than Part 1! Now, I slowly, slowly realized? I have a Chinese mind. My hometown mind. Oh, yeah, that’s American culture. That’s American dialogue. Okay, now, from that time, I really listen. Whatever Owen tells me to say. Whatever Chris Tucker tells me to say. Okay, I say it funny! Everything I think is not funny is funny. “What’s up, nigga, huh?” For example.”
Watching Chan and laughing hysterically as he tries to imitate his co-stars, one realises that Chan lives to entertain, despite cultural differences. Chan has difficulty understanding American vernacular, which is why he finds it unfathomable that his films make money here – in China, his Hollywood films flop. In The Tuxedo, there is an amusing reference to Love Hewitt’s breasts with the code name ‘Rice Rack’ used. Chan admits he had no idea why that was remotely amusing. “No, I don’t understand. With Asian films, I’m right. Rush Hour was released in Asia and bombed. Nobody went to see it. Only $12 million. My movie, I make a Hong Kong film, $50 million. You see the difference? If Rush Hour wasn’t starring Jackie Chan in Hong Kong, I think, half-million? That’s all.” This is why Chan ensures that he goes back and forth between the two continents. “Right now, I’m making a film for the American market, but every year, I go back to make a film for Asian market, so right after Rush Hour 2, I go back to make The Accidental Spy and Gorgeous. Now what am I doing? Next movie after I do Around the World in 80 Days I go back and make Titanium Ring. It’s a Hong Kong for the Asian market. But Asian market can’t be released in American markets. Only direct-to-video even though I think The Accidental Spy is ten times better than Rush Hour 2.” In fact, he says laughingly and with much pride, “Even my nude scene is better than Rush Hour. I have an extended nude scene. Brett Ratner looked at Accidental Spy and went, ‘I want to make the massage parlour’. I have the massage parlour scene in Accidental Spy and I do the scene totally naked, fighting the whole thing. Be sure to see it! You don’t see anything because I’m covering up with a cup. Compare Accidental Spy to Rush Hour 2, and tell me which one do you like better,” he says emphatically.
While on Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon, he works with male partners, on The Tuxedo, he shares the screen with the beautiful Jennifer Love Hewitt, but concedes that he had no idea how sexy she was till well after the film wrapped. “She so crazy,” he says laughingly. Everybody said, “Oh, you’re working with Jennifer. She’s sexy.’ That? She’s sexy?’ I never found out she’s sexy. Nothing. She’s just there. Of course, better than Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson. Every morning, we wake up. Look. Five o’clock. Sometimes you’re haggard. But then she’d put on her music and I tell her to Shut off what you’re playing! ‘But that’s my new album!’ Oh, God. I don’t want to hear anymore! You’ve been singing again and again and again. She wanted to learn kicking and punching. She jumped on my back. I’m only full of energy on the set. She? On the set, always lazy. Yesterday, somebody said, ‘Jackie, look at these? Rolling Stone.” I looked at them. “Oh, yeah, nice.’ ?ou know who she is?’ ?o, I don’t know.’ ‘Jennifer.’ WHAT? WOW! Let me see her again! Tonight, I’m dating her! NOW she’s sexy!” he concludes laughingly.
Chan may not be a fan of his own work, but audiences continue to lap them up and there is no sign of them abating.