Jackie Chan --- Block Buster
Jackie Chan --- Block Buster
by: Simon Braund
Article source: Empire Magazine UK(Aug 97)
The most striking thing about meeting Jackie Chan is how ridiculously, almost comically un-hard he looks. Far smaller than he appears in his films and bouncing around an empty hotel function room, he gives the impression of a hyper-active 12-year old rather than a major international movie star and martial arts expert. And although there is evidence of a compact and powerful physique beneath his garish sweatshirt and alarmingly naff stonewashed jeans, it's the word "impish" that springs to mind rather than "fearsome". It's also disappointing that he declines to smash the table in half with one hand -- even when Empire offers to pay for it.
Of course, this is a major constituent of Chan's appeal, and his screen persona -- the little man whose triumphs over adversity are only achieved when, under provocation, his geeky exterior gives way to the pugilistic mighty atom within -- has won him a loyal cult following. And an enviable slice of the world video market. In sharp contrast to, say, the preposterous Van Damme or the laughably stoic Seagal, Chan is never afraid to appear vulnerable, and by injecting the martial arts movie with a streak of self-deprecating humour he neatly punctures its pretensions. Recognising the limitations of Hong Kong chopsocky cinema, Chan has broadened its appeal by dispensing with the indomitable kung fu superman, thereby single-handedly revitalising an increasingly marginalised and risible genre. Too short to be the new Bruce Lee, he chose to be the new Charlie Chaplin instead -- not too outlandish an assertion when you consider Chaplin's downtrodden, heroic tramp and the balletic, beautifully choreographed violence with which he dispatched his assailants. And in Chan's insistence on doing his own stunts (the perils of which are celebrated in the montage of bonecrunching out-takes that accompanies all his films' end credits) there are echoes of both Keaton and Harold Lloyd. "The stunts that Buster Keaton did were amazing," agrees Chan, "especially for that time: no safety, no nothing. When I look at Chaplin, when he acts he doesn't have to speak and I'm crying; when he changes his facial expression, I'm smiling. He was so natural. I love to see Gene Kelly dance, too. I try to bring all that together in my movies." A lofty ambition. Sadly, as is evidenced by Rumble In The Bronx, Chan's fifth US outing to date, it is hampered by creaky sets, sophistication-free plots and sniggersome dialogue. But for Chan aficionados, these are all very much part of the fun. And, to be honest, his films are no better than they need to be: stylised, interchangeable backdrops against which Chan's astonishing talents shine. In Rumble, he plays a Hong Kong policeman on vacation in New York who is forced to defend his uncle's convenience store against the Mob. It's featherweight stuff, but the fight sequences are small works of genius.
"For years I watched other action stars," says Chan. "I thought that once I knew what they were doing I could be better. After a time I realised that everything they did was the same: kicking/punching; kicking/punching. All the same. In this movie you see a lot of different things; I show you real fighting -- kicking and punching -- and I show you fantasy fighting, like in the warehouse where I use the pinball machine and the refrigerator." Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Chan's fight scenes is how he uses props. In a seamless blur of motion he transforms every inanimate object into a lethal weapon. "I usually think of the props first," he says. "Then I tell the art director what I want and he puts them in the scene a refrigerator, a pool table, golf clubs, whatever -- and I work out how to use them in the fight." Rumble In The Bronx also showcases some of the most outrageous stunts of Chan's career. In one white-knuckle sequence he leaps from an eighth floor rooftop to the balcony of an adjoining building -- a drop of 43 feet to a invisible tiny target 26 feet away. He did it in one take without a safety harness and only a rudimentary airbag to break his fall if he missed. Amazingly, he does not count this as the most dangerous stunt he has ever performed. "In Police Story I jumped from a seventh storey supermarket roof to a chandelier one storey down. There were a lot of explosions going on, too," he grins. Chan's training at the notoriously brutal Chinese Opera Research School (where he learnt dance, acrobatics and martial arts, while enduring 19-hour days and regular canings) and his early work in the Hong Kong film industry as a stuntman were excellent preparation. Even so, you can't really prepare for jumping off a building, swinging from a hot air balloon, water-skiing barefoot behind a speeding hovercraft onto which you've just leapt from a bridge, or, as he does in Rumble In The Bronx, standing at the end of a blind alley while members of a street gang throw bottles at your head. And when, as often happens, things go wrong -- he fell 45 feet to the ground while filming The Armour Of God in Yugoslavia -- Jackie Chan doesn't bounce any better than the rest of us. Does he have any idea how many bones he's broken over the years? "One, two, three, four, five," he counts to himself, under his breath. "Six, seven, eight, nine ..." He trails off. "Not every bone, I think, but a lot .. ."