Pulling new punches

Updated: 2012-12-17 05:36

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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 Pulling new punches

Jackie Chan (third from left) leads a group of young actors in his latest film Chinese Zodiac 12. Provided to China Daily

Jackie Chan realizes he isn't getting any younger and is searching for young talent to replace him as Chinese action film's new icon. Liu Wei reports in Beijing.

Jackie Chan was on the set of his latest film Chinese Zodiac 12. He was supposed to jump through a picture frame hanging from the ceiling but got stuck. He crashed to the floor and injured his waist.

The crew was shocked into silence.

Before anyone moved to help him, he said: "I'm not dead. Don't be so quiet."

He slowly got up and walked toward the corner of the room, blood oozing from his back.

Chan recovered soon after. But the incident made him think.

"I told myself I can't be so lucky every time," Chan says.

"I have to admit, I'm not a young man anymore. That was when I decided Chinese Zodiac 12 would be my last major action film. That means I will still make action films but not on this scale."

Chinese Zodiac 12 is also Chan's 101st film. The danger of filmmaking is frightening but fascinating at the same time, motivating the 58-year-old to write, direct and lead the action comedy to be released on Dec 20.

"You may not believe it, but I still panic before shooting actions scenes," he tells China Daily.

"But not many people have the chance to have an entire road blocked for them to fly above. And when shooting Police Story, I fell off the roof of a building. When I was descending, I saw surprised girls standing in front of the window with their mouths wide open. It was fun."

He also enjoys innovative choreography.

In Chinese Zodiac 12, he wears a rollerblading suit in a chase scene filmed on zigzagging mountain roads, tries to fly without an engine and rides a log that tumbles downhill.

Everyday objects, such as sofas and paintings, become weapons.

Chinese Zodiac 12 won Chan two Guinness World Records. One is for the "most stunts by a living actor". The award notes: "No insurance company will underwrite Chan's productions in which he performs all his own stunts."

The star formed the Jackie Chan Stuntmen Association, training stuntmen and paying their medical bills out of his own pocket.

The film also earned him the record for the "most credits in one movie". Chan assumed 15 roles in the film, including director, producer, actor and choreographer.

The star has no plans to retire. He says the best way to end his career would be to suddenly die on the set.

"Think of Bruce Lee and James Dean - the way they died made them eternal legends," he says.

"I really can't think out a better way to end my life and career. I don't want people to see a weak and frail Jackie Chan onscreen. But I don't want to quit filmmaking, either. So, the best thing is to die suddenly while I still look strong onscreen."

Chan finalized his will 15 years ago. He'll leave his entire fortune, estimated at $340 million, to his wife and charity but not his children.

The kung fu star is known for his unconventional views about life and death.

He was devastated by his father's death but doesn't visit his tomb or burn paper money (a Chinese mourning tradition).

"What matters is how I treated him when he was alive," Chan says.

"What I do after his passing is pointless. I know he can't receive the paper money."

He doesn't celebrate Valentine's Day, or his wife's or son's birthdays.

Chan was angry when his son, Jaycee, called him on Father's Day.

"I told him, don't only call me on my birthday and Father's Day. Pay more attention to me on regular days. I got his calls twice a year before, and now I get none," he says, jokingly.

He does not worship the sky or sacrifice pig heads, as most Hong Kong filmmakers do before filming. He curses the heavens if it rains when it's not needed for the scene.

"Call me anti-tradition, but I am not superstitious at all. I believe in real efforts," he says.

He leads a group of young actors in the film, performing the same stunts as them and more dangerous ones.

As with most of his films, there are few special effects.

He has nothing against technology, though, he says.

Actually, he wants to act in films like Batman or Superman because it's easier, he explains.

"Putting on a mask, posing in front of a green screen and getting the same pay - who wouldn't want to do that? But we can't compete with Hollywood in terms of visual effects. We can't fly in ways more dazzling than Batman or Spiderman. What we can really excel at is still real kung fu performed with fists and feet."

Chan hopes to find a younger version of himself but realizes this is something he can't do on his own.

"People would like to invest 150 million yuan ($24 million) in a film starring me but wouldn't put up 100 million yuan for one starring three young actors," he says.

"They only believe in big names."

So he has been casting young actors in his films, including Daniel Wu, who starred in many of his movies, such as New Police Story and Shinjuku Incident.

In his 2010 film, Little Big Soldier, he cast Xu Dongmei, a total newcomer who stood out from Disciples of Jackie Chan, a TV competition Chan initiated to find potential action stars.

"It would be pathetic if, many years later, Jackie Chan is still Chinese action films' most famous icon," he says.

Contact the writer at liuw@chinadaily.com.cn.

(China Daily 12/17/2012 page20)