This week Jackie Chan, now 56, eases out of starring roles and buddy pictures into a new role, that of the venerable mentor. I haven’t seen his first stab at such a role, the 2008 fantasy The Forbidden Kingdom, but with The Karate Kid it’s possible this role might serve the aging action star better than Hollywood’s previous attempts to shoehorn Jackie into established templates and formulas.
I drew this cartoon for an ESL book I illustrated back in my publishing days. I always wanted to see what Jackie could do with an ironing board. In The Medallion, an ironing board practically fell on him in a fight scene. It was director Gordon Chan’s opportunity for greatness. He blew it.
Jackie has always been a great talent, but he has never made great movies, and Hollywood never knew what to do with him. Saddled with directors like Brett Ratner and Tom Dey (perpetrator of this past weekend’s Marmaduke, coincidentally) weaned on the type of Hollywood misdirection employed to make Hollywood stars look like action heroes, Jackie’s unique moves were subjected to the same sort of fast cutting and close-ups that keep us from seeing that, say, Keanu Reeves can’t really move like Jackie Chan. As a result, we can’t even see that Jackie Chan can move like Jackie Chan. Brilliant, guys. Think of what a director like Buster Keaton could have done with Jackie in his prime (Jackie’s prime, not Keaton’s). It’s almost enough to make one weep.
I first laid eyes on Jackie 15 years ago on an episode of PBS’s “Sneak Previews” as Michael Medved and Jeffrey Lyons reviewed Rumble in the Bronx. I was hooked. No, I was floored. I had never seen anything like it, and I knew I had to see more. The flick was far from perfect — some nasty violence amid the fun — but there in the middle of it, using a refrigerator door and a shopping cart in ways nature never intended and no one but maybe Tex Avery or Chuck Jones would even have thought of, was a talent like no other. And the speed of it! Any thirty seconds of a Jackie Chan action sequence was like all the punchlines from ten “Road Runner” cartoons one after another, with no set-up or filler.
A couple of years later Jackie Chan’s First Strike opened, and it was even better. First Strike remains my favorite of all Jackie’s films, and the one I would first show to Jackie newcomers. Drunken Master II, AKA The Legend of Drunken Master, is more technically astounding — it may be the best kung-fu movie I’ve ever seen — but First Strike is the Jackie movie I will watch most often again. Maybe I’ll write a quick review this week.
In the meantime, why do I love Jackie Chan? Here is why.