Hollywood It Isn't

by David Kehr

New York Times, February 21, 2003

For many fans of Asian film, the great mystery of the last five years has been, what happened to Jackie Chan? Hong Kong's greatest martial arts practitioner after Bruce Lee, and one of the world's best physical comedians since, well, Buster Keaton, Mr. Chan has lately been flying with clipped wings. In most of the films he has made in the United States since "Rush Hour" was a hit in 1998, he's been playing a somber straight man to motor-mouthed American comics like Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson. Now, he's in theaters with "Shanghai Knights," reteamed with Mr. Wilson in a sequel to their comedy-kung fu-western of 2000, "Shanghai Noon." The new film, which received some good reviews, has done well at the box office, taking in $35 million as of Monday.

"America is our ultimate target, but for Jackie it's a bit hard," said Willie Chan, Jackie's longtime manager (who is no relation). "There are a lot of staunch Jackie supporters who like his Hong Kong movies better. And none of them feels stronger about it than he himself. So what I'm trying to do is two Hollywood movies, and then mix it up with a Hong Kong-style production, so he can get his balance.

"American moviemaking really frustrates him sometimes," Willie Chan continued. "Everyone has his own specialty, and in Hong Kong he's used to controlling everything, from the script to the choreography to grip work, the camera. It frustrates him when the film does not come out the way he expects it to. Of course, he throws a lot of heart and soul into the fight choreography, but American producers think differently.

"I always find myself telling him, `If you want to be in Hollywood, you have to accept the Hollywood system.' You can't say they're wrong because Hollywood has been Hollywood for so many years. They must have their good points."

Coming up next for Mr. Chan and his client is a remake of "Around the World in 80 Days," in which Jackie will play the part of Phineas Fogg's valet, Passepartout. Fogg will be played by the English comedian Steve Coogan ("24-Hour Party People"), and the director will be Frank Coraci of "The Waterboy." But then, Mr. Chan promised, Jackie will go back to Hong Kong, probably for a film to be directed by Stanley Tong ("Supercop").

But in the tradition of Keaton and Chaplin, to which he definitely belongs, Jackie Chan has always been his own best director. Any chance of that happening again? "I don't know," Willie Chan said. "Sometimes I think it's good that he's not the one directing the whole thing because he tends to get out of schedule and over budget so much. He's too much of a perfectionist."