Now playing in limited release, legendary action star Jackie Chan’s new action comedy, Chinese Zodiac, is his most ambitious big action movie to date, and possibly his last. Chan produces, directs and stars as a globe-trotting treasure hunter-for-hire employed by dodgy antiques mogul (Oliver Platt). He’s aided in his quest by his tech-savvy assistants (Kwon Sang-woo, Liao Fan and Zhang Lanxin). The film is filled with Chan’s trademark brand of action, humor, and awe-inspiring stunts including a spectacular opening with him street-luging down a steeply curved road in a rollerblading suit and an aerial landing finale on top of an active volcano.
At a recent roundtable interview, Chan discussed his success and longevity in the action genre, why he dislikes directors with big egos and enjoys directing himself, his thoughts on multicultural casting, his announcement that this will be his last big action movie, his concerns about performing big action stunts at this point in his career, the challenges of finding the right script and adapting to digital filmmaking, the kind of films he hopes to do next, how he wants to be a role model to young people, and why he considers his film legacy a treasure and hopes his work will help promote world peace. Hit the jump to see what he had to say.
JACKIE CHAN: You saw it! You liked it?
Yes, I did. It was very entertaining.
CHAN: Thank you. That’s enough. That’s what I always want, all these years. When I make a film — I direct my own film, I write my own script — that’s what I want to hear from the audience. “Oh, thank you, Jackie!” No matter how hurt (injured) I am.
What made you decide to direct yourself in this film?
CHAN: Actually, I’ve been non-stop directing. I’m talking about Rush Hour 1, 2 and 3, Shanghai Noon, and Shanghai Knights. All the movies I’ve made, on the set, I’m almost half-director. I help them change the script. When you’re an action director, you have to collaborate closely with the director. When I start a fight, it’s like, “Okay, I want to change this,” because I don’t like the fighting sequence, or I don’t like this, or I don’t like that. “That’s too expensive. Let’s change it.” “I want to change the color.” “Can I wear different clothes?” They have to listen to me. They’ll go, “I’ve been doing this…” And somehow they cannot compromise, “No, I want to do this.” Some directors are “Okay, go ahead. What kind of film do you want to make?” Some directors just pretend, “Oh, I want to direct.” I’ve had so many bad experiences. I try to help. Somehow they know that Entertainment Tonight is on the set filming us. Most of the time I’m directing, but then suddenly one day, they go, “Hey! Cut, cut, cut! No! There’s only me.” And then I realize, “Oh, you want to show off for Entertainment Tonight. Okay. Why do you have to have such a big ego? I just want to make a good movie.” Then I back off. After I back off, they set up a meeting with the producers and the director says, “Jackie, I’m an idiot. Sorry, sorry. I cannot do that.” I say, “No, no, it’s okay.” Somehow I have to respect the director and respect the script, but I’m better when I direct myself. When I direct myself, I can draw on all my years [of experience] and I can do whatever I want to do.
The funny thing is, they may say, “Jackie is less educated” or “He talks too much.” But, when you see all my films, you realize that I have something to say as an actor, like I do in this film. On the internet, I see ten girls bully one girl, and they’re young children. So, in the film, I suddenly have a chance to [have one character] say, “Come on, beat him up” and my character responds by saying, “No. That’s a coward. There’s such a thing as a fair game.” Why would I want to say that? It’s because I want to tell the children, “That’s a coward.” In my film, at the end, the bad people become good and there’s respect. Today, you see some people fighting. It’s like boom! Suddenly he’s down. Boom again! But he already fell down. His opponent is still going boom, boom, boom, boom! Why?
That’s why I like Sugar Ray Leonard. He’s my hero. All those years, he went bam, bam, bam, boom! But when the guy is down, then it stopped. He’d tell the judge, “Hey, he’s out.” And the judge would say, “No, continue.” “But he’s out.” “No, continue.” Boom, boom, boom, boom. “Stop.” That’s a hero. Sugar Ray Leonard is my all-time hero. I hate these kinds of things. Have some respect. See the bad guy with me? He respects me, I respect him. I want to [convey that] through my movies, if you understand what I mean. It makes me happy when I do something like that. I hope one day that people will understand what I’m saying.
For example, in the movie First Strike, in one scene I was walking around an old lady watching the newspaper. Look at me standing up, then look at the paper. The newspaper dropped. There are so many ways to make a movie. I’m walking around the camera. I look at her, then I pick up the paper, and I put it in the trash can. Then I walk away. It’s the same thing. Why? I want everybody, especially the young children, to realize, “Oh, when I see something like that, I should pick it up and put it in the trash can.” So, when I’m making my own movie, I can do whatever I like to do.
Besides entertainment and action, I want to educate. You know, as a producer or director, we do have a responsibility to society. When I was young, I didn’t know that. Drunken Master made a lot of money. Drinking, fighting! Drinking, fighting! But at the time, I was growing up. When I watched it again, I realized it was the wrong message. I had to make Drunken Master 2. Don’t drink, don’t fight. I corrected myself, and then I was happy. That’s me.
How was it working with such an international cast?
CHAN: It’s coincidence. Kwon Sang-woo wanted to get into the Chinese market. There’s no way you can get in. Because we’re good friends, he said, “Jackie, help me.” Then I signed him as a manager. Now, he’s under my management in China. Then I said, “Okay, you’re in.” (laughs) I just put him in. That’s all. The story happened in Paris. You have to go to Paris for a French actor. It’s all kinds of natural things like that. When I was casting the pirates, they brought up all black guys. I said, “No!” I want Japanese, Thai, everybody. I want to show the whole world that there are good people and bad people everywhere. It’s not only black people. If you remember Rumble in the Bronx, it was the same thing. They were casting all the black people. I said, “No, I want Chinese, black people, Filipino, French.” In Rumble in the Bronx, with my first punch, I beat this Chinese person. Boom! Then I fought some other French guy and a black guy. Why do you always [look for negative stereotypes]? I don’t know. I don’t like these kinds of things. Japanese are not all bad. There’s good Japanese, bad Japanese, good Chinese, bad Chinese. That’s my philosophy. That’s why when I’m making a movie, good people and bad people are everywhere.
It’s been rumored that this will be your last big action film. Is that true?
CHAN: Wrong message again! You all know I’m not young anymore. (joking) I’m 40… I’ve lost count. (laughs) Next year, in seven more months, I’m going to be 60. Okay? I did this movie because I wanted to prove something to audiences, and even to some journalists, who say, “Oh, Jackie doesn’t fight anymore, he’s getting old. Now, he only makes 1911, Karate Kid 2, and he does less and less stunts.” Actually, I’ve heard this so many times. I was secretly writing this script when I was doing Rush Hour 3 and The Forbidden Kingdom. I was writing the script for six years. I wanted to prove by doing this that I could still do a big action movie for audiences. That’s the one. But when I was doing this one, it was really, really painful. It’s not like it used to be. Me, I want to do it, but my body tells me to stop. And after I had an accident, my back really hurt. Then I sat down on the side, thinking to myself, “How long can I keep doing this?” I have no reason to stop doing action things, but sometime maybe I will break my ankle again. That’s the reason. Then it takes two months or one year [to recover]. The dance totally stops. Now, I’m still doing [big action] when I should stop. I don’t want to end up in a wheelchair in my life. So that’s why when I finished the movie and it was really tiring, I announced in Cannes, “That’s my last big action movie.” But so many people forgot the “big.” I said, “That’s my last big action movie.” I should have said, “That’s my last *big* action movie.”
Are you going to do smaller action movies or will we be seeing you do drama or little independent films in the future? What kind of projects are you looking for now?
CHAN: Films like The Karate Kid and 1911. I’m talking about kicking and punching and rolling over the table or the chair. That’s easy. But not jumping off a building or over a car or motorcycle. No. I might use a double or more face-replacement. Somebody can do it for me and jump, but use my face. I think the audience already knows I can do it. In Hollywood, it’s difficult to find a good script for myself. These last couple of days I’ve sat down and heard, “The idea is you and Chris Tucker, you know?” And I say, “Okay.” Then we meet another screenwriter: “A good idea, you and Owen Wilson.” I go, “Okay.” Then I go to the Warner Bros. studio and see two writers: “You and Chris Tucker would be so…” Then I say, “Can I do something like Kramer vs. Kramer? You know, slow motion on the beach, singing the song, The Sound of Music. Do something!” There’s no way I can pick up a script here in Hollywood where everybody associates me with action. But if I go back to my home in China, I can do whatever I want to do – things like 1911 with less action. This is why I always thank Will Smith who picked me up for The Karate Kid. No action. Wow!
I want to be in Avatar. I want somebody to hire me to be Superman, a Chinese Superman or Spider-Man. I just move a little bit, and then from here to there, it’s all cartoon. Then I just go to the building like this. It’s so cool and so good. Why don’t I do it? I just don’t have that kind of talent. I don’t know special effects. I don’t know computers. I don’t even know how to type. I only know the stupid way, the traditional way, using film. I really jump from the window. That’s all. They say, “You’ll learn it.” But I say, “No! I’m 60. I don’t have time to learn computer graphics. I know what I do. I’ll continue to make this kind of film.”
So you prefer to shoot with film rather than digitally?
CHAN: Yes, I’m still shooting on film. When shooting a special action sequence stunt on film, it used to be I used three or four cameras on the set and 22, 25, 75 speed. I would be standing on top of a building and I was scared. My heart was pounding. “Rolling!” Nothing. I was just like this (standing motionless). “C’mon, are you ready?” “Are you rolling? Okay.” I just don’t have the energy. For example, in Police Story, I jumped from the ledge. There were 15 cameras and 600 people on the set, and it was quiet. I stood there for almost two or three hours thinking, “I’m going to die. It’s too high and there’s nothing under me.” Yes. I was shaking. But somehow I just did this. One of my stunt team saw me. I said to him, “When I nod my head, we’re rolling.” Every time I’d go [to do it], I’d think, “Oh God, I’m tired.” I’m really scared. I’m not Superman. And somehow I just got up like this and said, “I’ll just do this,” and they said, “Rolling!” and I just wanted to say, “No!” But you have 15 cameras rolling. If you’re not going to jump, you have to change the film again. That’s 400 feet gone and it’s very expensive. In Police Story, I’m just yelling. Why am I yelling? I’m just screaming and then boom, I jump, and I’m so happy. But I know, for the future, it’s all digital. That’s the reality.
This is a film about treasure hunters. What is Jackie Chan’s greatest treasure?
CHAN: My treasure? I want to keep all my films for another 50 years or more, so that 100 years from now your grandchildren will be like, “Wow! That’s Jackie Chan!” You open it and you see all my movies. It’s just like you collect something and it’s me. I collect the films of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Akira Kurosawa, and I sit down and go, “Good film! Yes!” I want one day for people to remember me like that. That’s all. That’s enough. I’ve broken my finger and I’ve broken my ankle. Enough! There are too many things going on [in the world today]. I want to make people laugh and I want to try to encourage world peace.