Date: 9th January 2003

Chan follows suit

Jackie Chan built his reputation by doing his own stunts -- until now.

Jackie Chan may have a hole in his head from a miscalculated leap -- "Touch it!," he says, placing my hand on his scalp -- and he may play the affable stooge on screen, but he's nobody's fool when it comes to his appeal.

He knows his public wants to see him, not some stunt double, falling from high places, jumping between speeding buses, narrowly avoiding Ninja death blows.

"When I do a stunt there's so many problems now," says Chan (he prefers to be called Jackie, no one calls him Mr Chan), in San Francisco talking about The Tuxedo, a secret-agent spoof that opens in Sydney today.

"Security guy on the set. Safety captain. Two insurance men. Sometimes I do a stunt; sometimes they use a double and just cover his face."

On DreamWorks' $70 million The Tuxedo -- starring Chan as a meek chauffeur who gains superpowers when he dons the suit of the title -- there were at least seven stunt doubles and lots of razzle-dazzle cutaways and sound effects to make it seem as if the star were taking a punch.

Chan, who once promoted himself as the only action hero to do all his own stunts, is somewhat embarrassed by this. He understands how fans might view this as a cheat.

"But what can I do?" he laments. "I don't have final edit on my stunts. The director and the studio do. That's the American way."

Such is the dilemma when you're the world's reigning action hero, a martial-arts legend who combines the agility of Bruce Lee with the timing of Buster Keaton.

He's huge in Asia, especially his native Hong Kong. But since going Hollywood with the Rush Hour buddy comedies, he's had to contend with unions, insurance agencies and increasingly elaborate pyrotechnics and sound effects.

The closest Hollywood has come to making a true Jackie Chan movie -- with the star himself frequently risking life and limb -- is the upcoming Shanghai Knights.

"On that one, I had almost total control. But on some of the other movies I do here, I get really angry. Of course the audience, they don't know. I say, 'Why you use that angle? That's the wrong angle'."

Chan likes to improvise. His best gags, such as the chair fight in First Strike, grow out of the setting and situation. That's OK when your budget is less than $3 million. But when it's $70 million to $100 million (the projected budget of Around the World in 80 Days, his next movie), everything, down to the positioning of an ashtray, has to be agreed upon in "meeting, meeting, meeting, meeting ... MEETING".

"I have two audience -- one for Asia, one for American market," he continues. "They are so proud of me in Hong Kong. They force me to go to Hollywood. 'Go, Jackie, go!' But they don't like my Hollywood films. They go to them but the reviews are always bad. They didn't like Rush Hour. Too slow. Nobody understands the jokes. That hurts me. But what can I do?"

Chan's solution: make two big studio movies, then two smaller Hong Kong movies. The former pay the bills (he's rumoured to command upward of $20 million), the latter provide artistic control.

The irony, not lost on the star, is that smaller, often poorly dubbed movies, feature his best stunts and sight gags. In one bravura sequence in last year's Hong Kong-produced Accidental Spy, he's chased from bathhouse to street market, where he snags whatever's handy to cover himself. It's funny and charming, i.e. classic Jackie Chan.

"That's situation comedy -- running around with the towel," he says. "When I see that, I think, 'I'm a genius to create this kind of thing'. Sometimes I'm proud of myself for choreographing this kind of action. Stunts are easy. Everybody can do it. Choreographed action is difficult."

The Tuxedo, which is bound to please his young fan base, was shot after a movie about a window washer who foils terrorists at the World Trade Centre, called Nosebleed, was delayed for script revisions.

With Nosebleed on hold (it'll be shot next year in Chicago), Chan was free to do The Tuxedo. "Steven Spielberg called me up. We had a meeting at DreamWorks. He told me the idea, then I give him the feedback. He just sat there laughing then he stands up and says, 'Make this movie a first priority'."

Though slicker and more heavily plotted than the average Chan vehicle, The Tuxedo does occasionally place the star in harm's way.

He battled for the right to slide down a 40m-silo and then dangle from a bridge. He wound up with the worst hamstring pull of his career. "I do it by myself. But for the wide angle, where you don't see my face, they use a stunt double."

The Tuxedo opens in Sydney today

The Daily Telegraph

Source: Press Release