erik lundegaard

My Jackie Chan (成龍) Retrospective

The remake of “The Karate Kid” opens today, starring Will Smith's son. Second-billed is some guy named Jackie Chan, with whom I have something of a history. At least I keep writing about him:

How big of a fan was I? Not enough to like “The Medallion,” or “Around the World in 80 Days,” or “The Spy Next Door,” but in the mid-1990s I was actually a member of the Jackie Chan Fan Club—the only fan club (officially, Salma!) I‘ve ever been a member of:

Hell, this is a dream I had back in 1994—back when I used to write down my dreams:

Jackie Chan and his entourage are on an old “Mike Douglas Show” from the 1970s. They are the main guests of the day. Jackie is so enthusiastic he comes across as clownish. He’s depicted as “the wacky stuntman/actor from Hong Kong.” There's a musical number as well, with another actor (his co-star from “Armour of God”?) singing, then sprinting towards the camera, then over the camera; one imagines him sliding on his knees toward the audience. It's so cheesey I’m embarrassed. Jackie, meanwhile, is in the background, sometimes clowning, sometimes playing an instrument. Nobody gets the talent that’s there, but they’re not exactly demonstrating it, either.

1994 was the year I tried to get anyone in America to publish anything on Jackie Chan. No one was interested. “He's the biggest movie star in the world,” I'd say, “and we don't know who he is!” They preferred not knowing because they couldn't tie it to anything being sold. The one pub that did publish something was The Stranger, an alternative weekly here in Seattle, and they did it because something was being sold. The Varsity Theater in Seattle was holding a retrospective on Hong Kong cinema in general and Jackie's cinema in particular, so they gave me 1,000 words. It was called “Fightingest Man Alive” (not by me) and appeared in September 1994. Excerpts:

I‘ll cut to the chase. Jackie Chan is the greatest action star making movies today. He may be the greatest action star in the history of cinema...

What action stars do we admire? Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. What do they do? Not much. They look strong and hold guns and  enunciate (just barely) bad puns as they blow away bad guys. What does Jackie do? He fights, yes, but he also runs away. He is self-effacing. He clowns. ... His physique is the result of his training. For Stallone and Schwarzenegger, their physiques are the reason for their training. There’s a difference and it shows...

Inanimate objects become animinated in his hands in a way that has not occurred in the movies since Fred Astaire danced with hat-trees. Give Arnold a wooden bench and what does he do with it? Probably hits someone over the head. (“Have a seat.”) Give Jackie a wooden bench and it becomes not just a weapon but a thing of beauty...

Even a western star with a martial arts background like Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn't compare. In Project A (1983), Chan is fleeing his enemies, riding a bicycle through narrow alleyways, when a bad guy blocks his way. Unable to turn around, Chan puts his weight on the handlebars, plants his feet on the opposing walls, swings the bike like a weapon and knocks the guy down. A second later he continues his flight, not realizing his bike seat has fallen off. Cue grimace. This is the essence of Jackie Chan: the extraordinary followed by the farcical. Van Damme, in comparison, may use his legs to suspend himself between two walls, but the way the camera lingers on this talent is narcissitic, and, in the end, duller than spit. In the time it takes, Jackie could have fought past 10 henchmen and continued his lurching flight to safety.

That was a long time ago. I'm glad he's still rolling. I hope “Karate Kid” does well for his sake. Hsie hsie ni, Cheng Long...


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Posted at 07:12 AM on Fri. Jun 11, 2010 in category Movies - Foreign  
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