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30 March 2009 | 1500 HRS Equinox Swissotel The Stamford

Jackie Chan would have you know that Shinjuku Incident is very different from all the other movies he’s made throughout his long illustrious career.

In this latest movie, his character is an illegal immigrant who becomes the head of the Chinese triads in Shinjuku by shooting and killing his opponents. That’s quite the transformation especially if you consider the squeaky clean characters he has always been playing. Not to mention that he has an intimate scene too- though he reassures you cheekily that it’s not as audacious as “Lust, Caution”.

It’s certainly a breakthrough for me but it’s also a tryout,” Jackie Chan said candidly. “All these years, audiences have been seeing me as Jackie the action star. I’ve always wanted to do something different but I’ve never had the chance. This time however it was Derek Yee who gave me the opportunity.”

But it was not an easy decision to make for the actor who’s well aware of his popular wholesome image. Meeting the press for the launch of his groundbreaking movie Shinjuku Incident, the veteran action star said that he felt conflicted even while he was shooting the movie.

“On one hand, I knew I couldn’t be filming Police Story 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or Rush Hour 1, 2, 3 all the time. On the other, I was also aware that my films have always been family-friendly for both the young and the old so I was worried how receptive they would be to this movie.” And the dilemma was even greater, given that he was also the producer on the film.

What convinced him was his determination to have a breakthrough in his career. He said, “If audiences were able to accept me in this role, then I would have the freedom to play a greater variety of roles in future. They would come to watch Jackie Chan act, and not just to fight or get injured.”

Of course, it didn’t hurt that Derek Yee was the director of the movie. Indeed, Jackie Chan jumped at the opportunity to work with the critically acclaimed director, saying ‘yes’ even before he had seen the final script.

“He [Derek Yee] is a very versatile director... and I’ve always wanted to work with him,” Jackie Chan said. “All I needed to know was what my character was going to be like. I didn’t ask how much I was going to be paid, or how he was going to film the movie. That’s how much trust I had in him.”

Jackie Chan is also all praise of the Japanese crew that he worked with on the set. “I was very impressed by how dedicated and helpful they were on the job. So the camera people would help the lighting people, and the lighting people would help the makeup people and so on,” he said. “I like things on the set to be disciplined and that’s exactly how it was with them.”

Filming in Japan was certainly an eye-opener for the actor who admits that it was the first time that he visited Shinjuku. He recalled “the royal treatment” he received when he went to visit the area to get a feel of the place before shooting began. In order to film there, they had to get the permission of the local triads who were in charge of the area.

“When I arrived, the whole street was filled with people dressed in black. I felt as if I became the local triad leader! Everywhere I walked, people would bow when they saw me. The whole place was cordoned off just for my visit!” he exclaimed. “In the end, I couldn’t see what the place was like, or the people were like, because they had cleared almost the whole street.”

 Nevertheless, one suspects that because of the respect that Jackie Chan commanded, there were no incidents while they were filming on the streets of Shinjuku. But like Jackie Chan himself reflected, his fame has not come without a price. Indeed, listening to him talk about his career, one can’t help but empathise with the star who’s conscious of how he is perhaps a victim of his own popularity. 

“Hollywood only sees me as an action star. What else could I do in Hollywood?” he said very matter-of-fact. “That’s why I still come back to Asia to make movies. Asia will always be my home. Here in Asia, I can have the freedom to film what I want, like Shinjuku Incident. Hollywood will not let me film this kind of movie. They will just look for Robert De Niro.”

Still, one does detect a sense of apprehension and worry that even his loyal Asian fans may not accept the new Jackie he’s presenting in this movie. In case this makeover doesn’t turn out successful, Jackie Chan has already lined up a sure-fire crowd pleaser at the end of the year. It is a movie that he reassures you is what you’ve come to love and expect from all his previous movies.

Ultimately, he has no illusions how important this step in making Shinjuku Incident is for him. “If I am an action star, I think I’ll probably have to start retiring in one or two years’ time. But if I’m more than that, if I’m an actor, I can be like Clint Eastwood or Robert De Niro and still be acting when I’m 70 or 80 years old.”

Shinjuku Incident opens 2 April 2009

Interview with Daniel Wu

Interview: Gabriel Chong | Video: Richard Lim Jr | Photos: Linus Tee
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