Make the money or do the stunts? Jackie Chan finds a way

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 Jackie (no one calls him Mr. Chan), in San Francisco to promote "The Tuxedo," a secret-agent spoof that opens 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 Jackie 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. Jackie, 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," says Jackie in heavily accented English. "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."'


Jackie 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!"


Jackie Chan, left, confers with director Kevin Donovan on the set of "The Tuxedo."

"I have two audience � one for Asia, one for American market," continues Jackie, a still-boyish 48. "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 always bad. They didn't like 'Rush Hour.' Too slow. Nobody understand the jokes. That hurts me. But what can I do?"

Jackie's solution: Make two big studio movies, then two smaller Hong Kong movies. The former pay the bills (he's rumored 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.

"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. Choreographed action is difficult."

Putting on 'The Tuxedo'

The PG-13 "The Tuxedo," which is bound to please Jackie's young fan base, came about when a project called "Nosebleed" was delayed for script revisions. He was set to play a window washer who foils terrorists at the World Trade Center.

With "Nosebleed" on hold, Jackie was free to do "The Tuxedo." "Steven Spielberg called me up. We had a meeting at DreamWorks. He tell me the idea, then I give him feedback. He just sit there laughing � ha-ha-ha � then he stands up and says, 'Make this movie a first priority."'

Though a lot slicker and more heavily plotted than the average Jackie vehicle, "The Tuxedo" does occasionally place the star in harm's way. He battled for the right to slide down a 120-foot 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."

Hollywood's favorite leading men � John Wayne and Clark Gable, among them � often relied on stunt doubles, but they were instructed to lie about it.

"No, no, no � when I do the stunt, I do the stunt. I don't say I do a stunt if I don't. Why would I lie to my fans?"

And when it comes time to back off from the really dangerous stuff, he'll be open about it. He's already thinking about less-risky adventures and romantic comedies, maybe even straight drama. This is where "Around the World in 80 Days," which could star Hugh Grant, and a proposed "Pink Panther" movie come in.

"Sometimes I watch a movie like 'Indiana Jones' and I say, 'I should be the one in this.' When I see James Bond, I say, 'Yes, I should be the one who's the Chinese James Bond.""

Jackie's dream collaborator? Taiwan's Ang Lee. Jackie went out of his way to meet with the director before he did "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." "But then he calls me and says, 'I think we better not because this is a woman's movie. I'll think of another movie for you.' It's strange. He wants to do action; I want to do drama. Totally opposite."

Jackie can also see himself in something like "Spy Game," "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Gladiator." But parents needn't worry: Jackie won't do R-rated movies. He takes his position as role model very seriously and continues to turn down lucrative liquor and cigarette endorsements.

"No dirty jokes. No dirty words. No gunfire � BOOM! � where the eyeball comes out and blood around. I see this in American movies. I hate this kind of movie. Only positive things in Jackie Chan movies. I do this, I say, 'OK, I've done my job."'


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