Jackie Chan leaps into prominence Stuntman: The Hong Kong movie star hopes his brand of good-humored mayhem will put him into the American pantheon.

March 10, 1996|By David Kronke | David Kronke,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jackie Chan is plotting his escape from this interview. The room is essentially empty, save for two chairs, one lined up behind the other; Chan sits backward in his chair, facing his inquisitor in the other chair. He sizes up the situation.

"I'm handcuffed, and you're the bad guy, just sitting there," Mr. Chan says -- hypothetically, of course. "I'm sitting here," he continues, rocking his chair playfully, an impish expression on his face. "And you're reading a newspaper, and then I get up." He gets up, and starts innocently dancing around the room, humming a deceptively happy tune.

"And you say, 'Shut up! Sit down!' and I sit back down in the chair facing you. And then suddenly I'll " And here Mr. Chan makes a dramatic sound effect (his conversations are routinely peppered with percussive sound effects) of something getting smashed -- in this case, his captor's feet. He slams his chair down, the chair's back actually just missing said feet, and rolls over the chair back with a somersault.

"And you're going, 'Aauuugh!' Then comes one kick, and then another kick!" From the ground, Mr. Chan feigns kicking the jaw of his interviewer with one foot snapping near his foe's face, quickly followed by the other.

He rises from the floor and mimes removing his handcuffs. Satisfied with the imaginary carnage he has wrought, he smiles and says, "That's reasonable."

This is simply the way Jackie Chan thinks. Average people would walk into a room or through a shopping mall or down a city street and ignore almost everything around them. Mr. Chan scans the same area and asks himself, "How can I use this stuff to create mayhem?"

Mr. Chan, Hong Kong's premier action star, is touted as the most popular star in the world -- his movies may make less than, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger's, but thanks to the way they blanket Asia and other areas, they're seen by more people. He's so revered by fans in Asia that he tries to keep his private life extremely private, though it is known that he's married, with a 12-year-old son.

He has a cult following in the United States that he hopes will broaden significantly with the recent release of "Rumble in the Bronx," a breathlessly frenetic action comedy (with Vancouver standing in unconvincingly, but gorgeously, for the New York borough) that finds Mr. Chan scrapping with a gang of largely ineffectual thugs, then uniting with them to battle a crime lord.

Mr. Chan, 42, exudes an easygoing, boyish charm in his movies, but the chief reason for his appeal is the fact that he choreographs and performs all his stunts, frequently outlandish and even foolhardy exploits of acrobatic derring-do. Fans cherish and respect his meticulous attention to action sequences as well as his sheer bravura when it comes to putting his life in danger to capture an exciting cinematic moment. Put it this way: Mr. Chan is probably the only person on the planet who has been smashed into by a land-bound Hovercraft and an airborne helicopter.

"Maybe I'll get hurt, but we'll say, 'But it's a good shot!' and we'll continue from there," he says.

"When other filmmakers do stunts, they'll cheat a little," he says. "In my films, there's an explosion, and then we'll jump, but others will have them jump before the explosion. It's safer, but not as exciting. Now, we have a reputation -- we're the Jackie Chan Stunt Team. It's not easy, but we don't do anything to ruin our image after all these years."

Forget special effects

Likewise, Mr. Chan has no use for actors who won't do at least a little stunt work and is appalled that directors leave some action sequences to second-unit directors. He disdainfully dismisses the opening sequence from "Goldeneye," the latest James Bond movie: "From the first shot until [Pierce Brosnan] opens the door, all a [stunt] double," Mr. Chan says. "This is 007, he should at least run or jump or do something.

"Why, in Hollywood, don't they have this kind of style anymore?" he asks. "It's all special effects nowadays. They don't try to improve the stunt work. Nowadays, all they improve is the computer.

"When I was younger, I learned a lot from American movies -- action, reactions, everything. Now, everyone learns from me." He smiles broadly. "I'm so happy."

Mr. Chan became the heir to Bruce Lee's throne back in the '70s, but only after failing with a series of chop-socky movies that wanly aped the martial-arts legend. Success wasn't ensured until he melded his balletic battle choreography with healthy dollops of humor in 1978's "Drunken Master"(about a young kung fu fighter who is only at full power when he's inebriated; a recent sequel went the responsible route and decried alcohol consumption).

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