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Storytelling

Jackie Chan - Interview With Kung-Fu Legend

Actor/director/producer Jackie Chan’s unique formula of martial arts and impressive nerve—he performed all of his own stunts—with a sense of screwball physical comedy reminiscent of one of his idols, Buster Keaton, created cinematic gold.

Chan was initially an acrobat and a movie stuntman, most notably in Fist of Fury (1972), starring Hong Kong’s resident big-screen superstar, Bruce Lee. For that film, he reportedly completed the highest fall in the history of the Chinese film industry, earning the respectful notice of the formidable Lee, among others. After Lee’s tragic, unexpected death in 1973, Chan was singled out as the likely successor of his mantle as the king of Hong Kong cinema. But he had already decided that he wanted to break out of the Lee mold and create his own image. Before long Chan had become the highest-paid actor in Hong Kong and a huge international star throughout Asia. He exerted total control over most of his films, often taking charge of duties ranging from producing to directing to performing the theme songs.Initially he had little success in Hollywood, but Chan’s profile began a meteoric rise in the mid-1990s when he started to come to the attention of a wider American audience with Rumble in the Bronx, followed later by the smash hit Rush Hour movies.

He’s a household name the world over – even in remote areas of Africa and Asia, where the mention of Willis and Stallone elicits blank stares.

He inspires widespread adoration and admiration which can manifest itself in rather unusual ways. Recently Malaysian born artist Hong Yi used 64,000 chopsticks to create a giant portrait of the action star as a 60th birthday present. “This art installation is a tribute to the life, art and cultural significance of Jackie Chan,” Ms. Hong said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Jackie is also a noted philanthropist whose causes include education, conservation, animal treatment and disaster relief and he has committed to donate half of his assets to charity when he dies.

Transcript

Fergus Hay:
He’s the global Asian megastar, master of the martial arts who created a whole new movie genre in comedic kung-fu. He managed to cross the bridge between the Eastern movie industry and Hollywood, shooting over a hundred movies from the Snake and the Eagle’s Shadow to the Rush Hour series that we all know and love. He’s also the holder of the Guinness Book of Records for the most credits on a single movie. He’s broken every single bone in his body and he’s also a canto and mando-pop legend with one song being downloaded over half a billion times. He’s the dangerous, the dexterous, the electrifying and the seemingly immortal, Jackie Chan.

Jackie Chan:
Wow! Is that me?

Fergus:
I practiced that. Did it sound good?

Jackie:
It sounds good. Sometimes people are just too much. Oh, Jackie, you’re amazing, you’re a legend. No no.. I’m just ordinary people.

Fergus:
In every movie, you’re you. You’re Jackie Chan. It’s almost like you’re not trying to be anyone else. Was there a moment when you realized if I’m just myself, I’m the greatest character I can be?

Jackie:
I think through all those years in the movies, I just listened to the director. In the old days, directors were powerful. You have to do this. You have to do that. Put your arm here, put your finger here. They don’t let you use whatever you use. You’re just like a machine. I said no. Even when I was making a movie with Bruce Lee. On the screen, behind the screen, that’s him. You know when he’s talking, and I was far away looking..oh..that’s Bruce Lee. But in the movies, it’s the same like behind the scenes. Somehow after Bruce Lee died, the director asked me to become an actor. I was like, what,19 years old?!

Fergus:
And you had never thought about becoming an actor?

Jackie:
No, because at that time, anybody, no matter who, as long as you know martial arts, you become a star. You know martial arts? ok. Come. You know martial arts? Come.

Fergus:
What was the moment when you became Jackie Chan and not Bruce Lee?

Jackie:
There is only one Bruce Lee. I said, why don’t we change everything. Be myself. Just me. Jackie Chan.

Fergus:
That takes a lot of confidence.

Jackie:
Ya and also, I really thank the producer. He said, do whatever you like to do. No Bruce Lee. Comedy. Bruce Lee kicked high, I kicked low. When Bruce punched and showed strength, I punched and said ow!..just like a normal human being. When I was young, I was fighting on the street, I knocked somebody down. I knocked another. Then I ran away. It’s the same thing. Everything used in the movie is my real life.

Fergus:
I want to talk a bit about that because you seem to have a determination to get stuff done and to achieve and I read this quote about your schooling when you went to the opera school, you said, “Everyday, we would train from dawn to midnight and anyone caught taking it easy, would be whipped and starved. I draw all my creativity for fight directing from those years of arduous training.” So what is it about that that fueled your creativity?

Jackie:
I think all those years, the teacher trained me in discipline, so when we were doing a routine, he would stop and make us wait for half an hour in that pose.

Fergus:
But was it fun?

Jackie:
It was fun! Now when we talk about the old days it is fun, but at that time, it was really really painful. You know how my teacher hit me? With a piece of thick wood and we were not supposed to yell or have tears. He kept hitting me and I hated him, but after growing up I understood the training.

Fergus:
But do you think your creativity came from that discipline?

Jackie:
I think both my talent and I was growing up in the movie set when I young, as a child actor, I saw so many things and in the end I said, I want to be a stunt co-ordinator. That’s my final dream.

Fergus:
But you were more than that though, because you had a quote that I’d read, I researched you quite a lot and it says, “You cannot be singular to survive. You must know everything.” And I know you learnt the cameras, sound, the lighting…

Jackie:
Because you just don’t know how difficult survival was in the movie industry in HongKong in those days. I was 18, the youngest stunt co-ordinator in HongKong and I come to the set and say ok. The cameraman asked me what lens and I knew I had to learn it.

Fergus:
It was the same message right? You wanted to prove to him that you can do it.

Jackie:
Yes, I learnt everything. I’ve been in the film industry for 53 years. You ask me lighting, sound, camera…I’ll move the camera, I’ll use all kinds of things. All those years, I had people on the sets saying can you do that? Yes. I bought an editing machine in my house and chose the shots and edited them. I used the waste film and I cut it. I showed the editor I can do it and later on, I edited myself, even the dubbing, the music, ..I gave a list of sounds for the actions.

Fergus:
So you write the music before you do the choreography?

Jackie:
Yes.

Fergus:
And you’ve always done that?

Jackie:
Yes..but now, it’s already in my mind.

Fergus:
I want to talk about how you put together your fight sequences. I want to understand your creative process in doing that. How do you even start thinking about it?

Jackie:
Every movie, I try to do it differently. You know, this movie, Rush Hour 1, we do it in this area, I can use a chair..I can flip over and kick and flip the chair under..all kind of things. We can fight all day. From these kind of stupid things, I slowly changed it to fast movements. In the old days, you just did things you believe you can do. I could jump up and do three kicks, but now, I can do just one kick.

Fergus:
What do you mean kick? Jumping?

Jackie:
Yes, I can jump towards the sky and do four kicks.

Fergus:
That’s incredible. So you do like a four kilometer running up and jumping?

Jackie:
No no. Just kicking at one shot. From 4, I’m down to one. But the audience doesn’t see and say that Jackie’s getting old. No. “Wha..I think he’s still fit.” Because I can use the technique.

Fergus:
How do you feel when people copy you?

Jackie:
I’m happy. It means I’ve succeeded.

Fergus:
But it always pushes you too right?

Jackie:
And also pushes me yes. When I do comedy or action. I say, ok, how can I do it differently? Okay, I do a dangerous stunt and nobody copies me.

Fergus:
Because that one’s crazy.

Jackie:
Yeah. Jackie, you do that and then I continued doing dangerous stunts. Now, when I make a movie, I make it for myself not whether people like it. If this movie could give out a good message, I feel satisfied. When you see famous people, you don’t know what’s behind their story, how tough they are. People just see my movies but when everyone’s asleep, I’m still in front of the mirror practising and I’m up and on the set by 6 o’ clock. Go back and train again when someone comments the moves look beautiful.

Fergus:
I want to talk about how you introduced comedy into Kung-fu movies. You made it much more entertaining and light-hearted.

Jackie:
Because I like action but I hate violence. When you’re doing an action sequence and put in comedy, the audience forgets the violence and through action I learnt so many things from the audience about where dirty things is always comedy.

Fergus Hay:
And you enjoy doing that..

Jackie:
Ya. They’re all laughing..but there are so many ways to make a movie. So all those years, I learnt from the public, the audience..

Fergus:
So you listen to them? How? Did you go to the cinemas and watch them watching it?

Jackie:
Yes.

Fergus:
No! Really?

Jackie:
Yes.

Fergus:
You’d sneak in?

Jackie:
In the movies, I sneak in and see the audience. If it’s comedy and the audience is calm, you lose. For comedy and action things, the audience has to move and that’s success.

Fergus:
Right! It’s been fantastic. Thank you so much for doing this!

Jackie:
Thank you so much.

Fergus:
Jackie Chan was amazing to spend time with, amazing energy, clearly very focussed, really really vibrant and charming and intelligent and funny. Underneath it all, he has loads of discipline and I think that underpins his focus and dedication completely. However the bit that makes him stand apart from everyone else is his view on creativity. He sees it as stripping away the complexities and complications of the world and staying very  true to who he is, what he believes in. He then tests that with audiences by checking how people react to his movies and his creative ideas. That’s how he stays original, stays true to himself and away from his competition and he’s permanently re-inventing himself against those principles. He is a creative disruptor but not by relying on others but looking at what his natural skills are.

There are 3 comments

Add yours
  1. Bhavna

    I think the biggest learning that comes from this is that of ‘Discipline from creativity’. Both cannot be separated.


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