Monday, January 18, 2010

jackie chan: the spy next door

here's the story i wrote of my interview with jackie chan...

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The 'spy' who makes movies for fun
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent
(The Philippine Star) Updated January 18, 2010 12:00 AM

“It was fun but it was so tiring!” Jackie Chan told this writer during the junket for his latest movie, The Spy Next Door at SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. The Chinese superstar took part in the Pasadena Rose Parade last Jan. 1 and spent more than three hours waving to the crowd. He was not complaining though. In fact, he was still wearing the rose pin on his lapel during our interview!

He could just have employed the light “beauty queen wave” (the one where only one hand moves) but he insisted on waving both his arms to everyone on the parade route who wouldn’t let up in screaming his name. “How can I resist when people are like, ‘Jackie, I love you… Jackie, over here!’ They were so great, they were there for two nights!” he said.

This is one of the reasons why Jackie is considered a rarity in the entertainment business. He has the longevity in movies seldom enjoyed by action stars. He makes movies in China and Hollywood and fans from all over the world continue to flock to the cinemas to catch him. He has this charming personality that easily wins him affection from fans.

Even youngsters, who are just discovering his movies, can’t resist his charm. On the day we had the interview, this writer was surprised to discover that among the nine other journalists with me at the round table was this cute and smart 12-year-old girl named Mariam El Hasan who represented Scholastic Kids news. Apparently, she won a contest to interview Jackie and she couldn’t contain her enthusiasm as she gushed about being a big fan of Jackie. And when her idol finally entered the room, I looked at her and she was clearly mesmerized!

Jackie has been making movies for decades and yet he shows no signs of ever slowing down. “I make movies for fun,” he said. “If I continue making Rush Hour, it’s not fun at all. Every movie is different. I do an American movie now and I do a Chinese movie next. I don’t do the same movies consecutively.”

And he insisted that there would never be another Rush Hour movie. “If it happens, it’s a miracle!”

He continued, “Every day it’s a different challenge. It’s very fun and people pay you a lot of money. You know what’s boring?” he asked, barely containing a smile. “Your job!” he teased us and the room erupted in laughter. “You know why? Because you may write about different actors but you are still just writing. But in my case, I am in a movie in Hollywood now but tomorrow I am in Beijing.”

Indeed, he is right. But interviewing celebrities is not really boring especially when you get to meet superstars as grounded and as candid as Jackie Chan. This year, the Asian superstar has two Hollywood movies: The fun and hilarious The Spy Next Door and the remake of the Karate Kid movie with Will Smith’s son, Jaden Smith.

In The Spy Next Door, Jackie stars as Bob Ho, an undercover CIA super-spy who decides to retire and finally settle down with his next-door neighbor and girlfriend, Gillian (portrayed by former supermodel Amber Valletta).

But there is one hitch: Gillian has three kids who extremely dislike Bob Ho. When Gillian suddenly has to leave town, he volunteers to babysit the children in an attempt to earn their approval. But when one of the kids mistakenly downloads a top-secret formula from his computer, terrorists move in for the attack, forcing Bob to juggle the roles of spy and prospective stepfather in the most challenging mission of his career.

The movie is a fun and riotous ride for the entire family. Jackie’s fans will definitely not want to miss the thrilling action stunts that only he can do so well. He is also at his best doing his own brand of physical comedy.

But it was neither the action stunts nor the comedy that he found most difficult to do. English was.

“English is so difficult, especially when the children do not follow the dialogue. They just speak so fast!” he declared. “And my dialogue coach wanted me to speak all the “H” words also. Sometimes, in conversations, it’s okay because you don’t care about it but in the movie it’s difficult.”

He demonstrated the particular problem he had enunciating the word “with” to the delight of everyone in the room. On the set, he would say “with the children” with the emphasis on the “T” instead of “H” at the end of the word “with” or pronouncing “D night” instead of “the night.” The director would always correct him. “It is very difficult. The more you emphasize it, the more it drives me crazy! Stunts are easier — it’s choreographed! I have been doing it for many years.”

Jackie also shared how his face turned red on the set one day when he was slapped numerous times during a scene with Amber. “I don’t know why the director wanted to have so many takes! ‘This side, that side, all sides…’ no other actor can stand this kind of pain!” he jokingly complained.

In most of his previous movies, he seldom gets to have romantic scenes with his leading ladies. In this movie he shares several kissing scenes with Amber. “First time, huh?” he said smiling. “In my movies, we don’t have a lot of kissing or love scenes. Personally, I don’t like these kinds of things. I don’t think my audience would like to see Jackie Chan naked and making love.” He also considers the children who watch his movies and the effect those scenes would have on them.

“When I go to Africa, to Egypt, I see children and they do this…” (He stood up and struck a martial art pose)… “and they learn from me. I have to think about the children before I do dirty moves on the screen.” He doesn’t use the “F” word anymore and his characters are not seen drinking alcohol or smoking on screen anymore. He wants to educate his audience as subtly as possible.

It is a far cry from the time when he did the first Drunken Master movie where he transforms into a fighter every time he has a drink.

“In First Strike, I was a wanted man. There is a scene where someone throws a newspaper with my face on the cover. I pick up the newspaper and put it in the trash can without seeing myself on the cover. I hope the audience recognizes what I am doing, if not, it’s okay, it is still entertainment. If they do, I am really happy.”

For someone who found fame brandishing his martial arts skills on screen and killing bad guys with a single strike, Jackie has carefully toned down the violence in his movies. Of course, his trademark martial-art moves that have endeared him to his fans are still on display in this movie but are considerably less gruesome and because The Spy Next Door is a wholesome family movie the fight sequences are tame but still visually exciting!

Jackie lamented, however, how martial arts in the US has evolved into a violent spectator sport like the bloody spectacle provided by the ultimate fighting championship tournaments. “I don’t like to watch it,” he revealed. “As a martial artist, I find it too violent. They put the challengers inside a cage and at the end it’s not martial arts anymore. Martial art is all about respect. When somebody is knocked out, you stop! That’s the spirit, it’s not like ‘Oh, you’re down’ and you go on continue beating the guy. We learn martial arts as helping the weak. You never fight the helpless.”

Aside from educating his audience, Jackie is also actively involved with his Dragon Heart foundation. He has built 24 schools all over China. He plans on building two more schools this year and he is sending 50 volunteers to document what is going on in his schools. “I just don’t want to build schools and leave them. I care. I want to know what’s broken, what needs to be repaired.”

There is a certain charm and genuine goodness in Jackie that is quite tangible. It is true, indeed, what others have said that anyone who gets to meet him couldn’t help but be drawn to him, impressed by how seemingly grounded he seems to be despite his superstar stature yet still be surprised by how candid, frank, and at times wickedly funny he can be.

The Spy Next Door, released by Viva International, is now showing nationwide.

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