Jackie Chan's arms hovered in the air, like a conductor about to begin a symphony. Suddenly his hands moved wildly, one snapping out directions, the other fiddling with a dozen imaginary knobs. His gestures were swift and delicate, but his arms looked like they were made of dense steel cord, the kind that holds up suspension bridges. Jackie barked orders and imitated a variety of electronic and mechanical sounds. Then he leaned back on the hotel couch. This, he explained to me, is what it's like to be director in Hong Kong. "When I look at American directors, they're so lucky, they know so little," Jackie said with a mixture of dismay and admiration. "They don't know camera angles, editing, or lighting. On the set, they just say, 'Quiet, rolling . . . cut.'" Jackie turned to his imaginary technicians: "'Good? Good? OK. No good? One more.' When I'm on the set [in Hong Kong], I say, 'Put the camera here, I want the light like this, move the dolly, ready, rolling, cut—next shot.' We don't have to ask."
starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker
now playing at Meridian, Metro, Oak Tree
When I sat down to talk with Chan last weekend, the opening weekend of his new movie Rush Hour (co-starring Chris Tucker) had just grossed an estimated $25 million to $30 million. That afternoon he signed his entertaining new autobiography, I Am Jackie Chan, at Costco; more than 3,000 people showed up, twice what the publicists expected. Jackie was pleased but cautious: "Eighteen years ago, when I came to Hollywood, I thought I was a big star. I made The Big Brawl—I fell. I almost didn't want to come back to Hollywood. When Chow Yun Fat made The Replacement Killers, I thought, Yes, yes! Let him go first! But the movie did poorly. Finally I thought, do it; you never try, you never know."
Rush Hour suffers from a weak script, but it's an improvement over Jackie's earlier attempts to break into Hollywood. In 1985, he co-starred with Danny Aiello in The Protector; the years haven't diminished his astonishment at that movie. "I was playing a New York policeman! With my accent! They made me pronounce 'Welcome to New York' until it's not me anymore, I'm like a machine. Even now they make me say 'with,' 'yes,' 'ouch'"—Jackie spoke each word with exaggerated clarity—"It drives me crazy!"
The genuine chemistry between Chan and Tucker keeps Rush Hour alive, but the movie barely takes advantage of Jackie's incredibly physical skill. Jackie expressed frustration with doing fight scenes in Hollywood: "They tie me up; I can't do this, I can't do that. They tell me: 'Jackie, you already have your basic audience. What we need is the family audience who doesn't know you.' They want less fighting. They let me choreograph, but it's only two minutes long, 30 seconds." Jackie shrugged. "But I have to trust them. Some of my best movies, like Police Story 1, they won't release in American theaters. Even after dubbing, in theaters it will only make maybe $2 million, $5 million. On the other hand, Rush Hour will do very well in the US, but it won't do well in Asia. Lethal Weapon 4 did $100 million here, only $2 million in Hong Kong. They're very different markets."
Jackie sat at a table and prepared to autograph a pile of books. "It happens so fast. For months, scared, scared, scared; then Friday it opens, boom, wow. So quick. In two days, we know the box office already. My men are so happy, they cannot sleep." Jackie smiled, tired but relieved. "It's not about money. In China, it's all about face. Now, we have face."