Monday, September 28, 2020

JACKIE CHAN: The Man who brought humour to the marital arts.

Martial arts films had no appeal for me, but stumbling onto a Jackie Chan movie found myself laughing.  A documentary film "Chop Socky:  Cinema Hong Kong" (2003) narrated in part by Jackie  explained a little of the film history with respect to martial arts.  The Beijing Opera had choreography practices including acrobatics,that were passed on to films.  Martial arts became very popular.  Wu xia became a popular form where movements are greatly exaggerated.  Some methods were to film backwards, to use trampolines and wires and to careful camera angles.  The Hong Kong film makers borrowed from the Japanese.  To save time fight sequence filmed once, but with different cameras simultaneously and then edited for optimal effect.

When Bruce Lee died there were a number of potential successors and Jackie thought hard how to differentiate himself.  He realized he was in the entertainment business and one of his unique qualities was a sense of humor and a detailed sense of planning.  His decision opened up the genre to humor and innovation.

Jackie was born in 1954 in Hong Kong.  His family migrated to Canbera, Australia where his parents  worked in the American Embassy, but when Jackie performed poorly in school his father sent him back to Hong Kong where he was enrolled in China Drama School, part of the Peking Opera schools.   He excelled in acrobatics, martial arts and singing.  As a youngster he admired Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.  He performed in a traveling troop and also visited his parents in Australia, but struck for the movie industry in Hong Kong.  He took some minor roles including two in Bruce Lee films.  With the untimely death of Lee,  Jackie was elevated, but he had a different style of fighting and acting.  Hong Kong churned out films quickly to take advantage of interest in martial fighting films.  Filming often included one shot takes that required planning. 

Jackie's big breakthrough came with "Drunken Master" (1978), followed with his first directing job with "The Young Master" (1980).  A few attempts to break into the American market directly faltered.  By this time he had developed perhaps the most exciting martial art sequences in Hong Kong.  Again tackled the American market in with "The Protector" (1985 ) but felt not understood by Americans.  He toughened up his image for "Police Story (1985) that finally hit the mark.

A big American breakthrough was with "Rush Hour" (1998) co-starring Chris Tucker.  Lots of humor.  Two sequels have been produced with rumors there might be another.

Jackie combined with another martial arts hero, Jet Li for "The Forbidden Kingdom", mostly filmed in China, but really was an American teenager fantasy transporting a boy not only across the ocean, but also through time.  Good fun with lots of Jackie's trade mark fighting.

Like many actors who dislike being type cast Jackie reached out for a chance to prove he can act seriously.  "Shinjuku Incident" (2009)  proved to be a much more serious movie (about illegal Chinese immigrants in Japan) and Jackie came through as very competent.   The violence is repulsive in small sections while martial arts is not emphasized.  It was considered too violent for China and the producers decided to abandon Chinese market.  There is a brief sex scene (Jackie has mostly been a chaste kisser at best).  Mandarin  is spoken by a Taiwanese gang that detests the new Cantonese illegal and work with the Japanese Yukza.  Jackie is excellent.  Derek Yee, the director admired by Chan had wanted to offer Jacki serious role taking 10 years to research

"The Karate Kid" (2010) has had several versions.  Jackie may have waited until he was older, but took the opportunity to shift action to China.  One of the few films allowed in the Forbidden City.  The film was sort of a project of Will Smith's family with both parents doing producing and Jaden was the lead character who mentored by Jackie who also helped off reel.

"The Spy Next Door" (2010) was another of many working with young children.

"The Foreigner" (2017) had Jackie as a grieving father seeking revenge.   In this serious film he was believable, but this time innovative martial arts plays a key role.  Filmed in Britain with Pierce Brosnan as the antagonist.  Jackie gets involved with Irish terrorism.

He has been a UNICEF Good Will Ambassador and has campaigned against animal abuse and pollution and assisted with disaster relief efforts with for the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

He does his own dubbing to English and to Mandarin taking it seriously.  He makes it time consuming as he feels it makes a better impression to be as precise as possible.  I have generally favored subtitles over dubbing, partly because it doesn't seem natural, however having heard Jackie's dubbing into English from Chinese it does sound natural especially as his voice is recognizable.  Recently I was lured into a Netflix series, "Borgen" that promised new dubbing and it seems not quite flawless, but more natural.   Possibly since most Danes speak English they used some of the same actors meaning their voices match better and if great care is given the final product is easier to understand.

Surprisingly (to some) is that Jackie sings and has since his youth. Sings in many of his movies and has many albums.  In short Jackie is an entertainer in the truest sense of the word.  Here is an example of singing in a duet

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