Not many actors are brave enough to reinvent themselves at a ripe old age of 60, but for international action superstar Jackie Chan, that isn’t a choice. Once a daredevil who would not stop to think twice before jumping off a building or running up a wall, Jackie’s every move carries a newfound caution. Indeed, he’s not afraid to admit that he gets a younger and more agile stuntman to try out a move before he throws himself into it.
“I’ve felt complete temporary paralysis twice in my career - the last time that happened was when I rolled down the volcanic slopes in Vanatu while filming ‘CZ12’.” says an evidently circumspect Jackie. “I remember lying there thinking if this would be permanent and just feeling helpless while I waited for the feeling to return to my lower back.” He adds, “I think about my family a lot more now too, so I am a lot more careful when I know I’m going to be doing something dangerous.”
Back in Singapore for the promotional tour of his latest movie, ‘Police Story 2013’, Jackie isn’t afraid to admit that he is therefore taking his career - and his movies - in a different direction. His latest is one good example; while audiences may expect the kind of dangerous stunts from previous ‘Police Story’ instalments, Jackie tells you that this chapter belongs in a whole different league of its own - or to put it simply, this isn’t the ‘Police Story’ of yesteryears.
“The emphasis here is really on plot and character instead of the action,” says Jackie. “There are much deeper themes of family, greed, and motivation that are new to the series.” He compares it to an ‘onion’, citing how there are multiple layers to the story which greatly intrigued him when he first read it. “It’s hard these days to find a good script, especially one that I felt was innovative and challenging to me as an actor, so I decided after reading it that I would not only star in it but produce it as well.”
This isn’t the first time he is working with Mainland writer-director Ding Sheng; the pair had first clicked on the set of ‘Little Big Soldier’ where Jackie starred opposite Taiwanese singer-actor Wang Lee Hom. Jackie revealed that the genesis of their most recent collaboration arose from a treatment which he wrote and offered to notable directors such as Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Teddy Chan and Stanley Chan, all of whom declined as they felt that they would not be able to crack it. Then came Ding Sheng, who did not reject him but counter-proposed his own story that eventually is the stuff of ‘Police Story 2013’.
Not only for Ding’s scriptwriting talents, Jackie is in fact full of praise for the young director. “He is dedicated, focused and multi-talented,” Jackie effuses, “How many directors do you know can in fact do the editing and compose the music for their film at the same time?” Indeed, it was Ding who came up with the tune for the movie’s theme song ‘Rescue’ which Jackie performs, the lyric composition and musical arrangement of which was later done by musician Sun Nan.
So proud of the song is Jackie that he doesn’t mind humming the chorus for you even without any musical accompaniment, and he adds that he is also tapping on Ding Sheng to develop yet another idea he has in his head about a movie that revolves around the work that firemen do. Asked why he doesn’t take to directing his own ideas, Jackie shares that he chooses the best directors for his projects, and isn’t therefore over-protective of his own creative thoughts.
“My next project is with Daniel Lee, who has done quite a couple of period action movies so I think he’s in a good position to direct this latest,” explains Jackie. “If I direct all my movies, I won’t have time to make as many of them as I would like to!” Instead, he chooses those which he thinks he is most qualified to direct - an example of which would be last year’s ‘CZ12’, a throwback to the kind of action comedy which the Jackie Chan brand used to be synonymous with, and the kind which he knows he is more qualified than anyone else to be at the helm.
Nonetheless, Jackie is clear that his ‘CZ12’ days are numbered. In fact, the movie which sits atop the local box-office charts for being the highest grossing Asian film (excluding local titles) was supposed to be his last big-scale action comedy event. He wants his fans to take him seriously as a dramatic actor, and not just an action star, which explains the change in tone and pace of his latest ‘Police Story’ as well as for that matter his subsequent movies to come.
Age has also made him passionate about other pursuits. He shares a lot more about his family, in particular his son Jaycee. He knows he hasn’t been around Jaycee’s life a lot in his childhood days, but he is prepared to be more of a father now. “I used to look at Jaycee and wonder why he wants to behave like an American,” remarks Jackie. “He would have these hand gestures like a rapper and his music was just so Americanised.”
“I told him straightforwardly that he would not be able to survive in the entertainment business if all he wanted to do was to copy what the Americans were already so good at,” adds Jackie. “I think he is beginning to understand where I am coming from. You can tell from his later compositions that he is putting that rapping aside and focusing on becoming a more mainstream Chinese singer.” Ever a proponent of Chinese culture, Jackie is gratified that his son is finally getting in touch with his roots as a Chinese and embracing his own culture.
Speaking of culture, Jackie himself has also been spending time preserving that - or to be more accurate, his own legacy. He reveals that he is currently assisting with the setting up of a Jackie Chan museum in Shanghai, which will have on display exhibits drawn from his costumes and props of his iconic movies. More than that, the museum will also house a training centre for his JC stunt team, and enable him to train and uncover more martial arts talents like himself to ensure that the legacy of the Chinese filmmaking industry remains very much alive.
There is no denying his passion in the matter. Jackie shares how he would like to start his own Action Star Movie Awards one day to honour the stars whose contributions are hardly recognised today. Having recently attended the Huading Awards in Macau where ‘Avatar’ star Sam Worthington was crowned the Best Global Action Movie Actor, Jackie said that the Australian actor had been ‘terribly ashamed’ after seeing him receive the award. “He kept saying ‘I’m so ashamed’, and repeated a number of times how I should be the one who gets the prize,” says Jackie.
But even as Jackie takes himself and his career in new directions, he isn’t ruling out giving his fans a treat now and then. When pressed if he will make a sequel to ‘CZ12’, he says that he is waiting for the right idea to come before he does it. Similarly, and on a more general note, he hasn’t yet sworn off action comedy. He hints of a Hollywood movie coming up that will be just that, as well as possible sequels that will have him return to the kind of stuff that he has built his name and his following on.
Till then though, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised - or more than a little disappointed - at the reinvention of Jackie Chan, as those who have seen his latest ‘Police Story 2013’ can already attest. .
Text by Gabriel Chong | Photos by Linus Tee