Jackie Chan, the star of over 150 martial arts movies, is set to receive an Oscar. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this Thursday that the 62-year-old actor will be given an award for ‘Lifetime Achievement’.
For a man who hates how Hollywood works, this is perhaps the olive branch from Los Angeles.
Chan defines the ‘franchise star’. As early as the late 80s, he followed up some of his biggest blockbusters with even bigger sequels. Armor of God, Police Story, Project A, Drunken Master — almost all of these films had Chan climbing walls with a single bound, smashing into chairs, crashing a Mitsubishi and lots and lots of Kung fu. Moviegoers worldwide were thrilled by the action and Chan went on to become one of the most recognised faces of cinema. And all this from the man whose parents tried selling him to a British doctor who helped deliver him for $26, in 1954.
But after seeing what Chan’s movies were doing to markets in Asia, Hollywood execs shot off telegrams to the star asking him if he was interested. They wanted a new Bruce Lee but mostly, they wanted a Kung fu-spewing super-villain.
Sylvester Stallone was one of the first to make Chan an offer. Stallone invited him for Demolition Man only to be met by a polite no. Chan didn’t want to be the bad guy and wrote back explicitly stating he wanted to export his “own style” to America. In a sidenote, Chan said he’ll never be the bad guy for Hollywood and those were his conditions. Plus, he sought complete creative control.
The execs agreed to both terms. In 1995, Chan entered North America with Rumble in the Bronx and a year later followed up with Police Story 3. Both movies made millions and their successes proved an ancient Chinese, ‘Just let Jackie be Jackie. The rest will be okay’. The actor once explained why he had turned down three requests from Stallone. “Well, I didn’t refuse, but I said, ‘Sly, can’t we just do you and me? Not just a bunch of people and me only coming out for five minutes.’ Because then the audience is, ‘Oh!’ And then I’m gone.”
Jackie’s problems with Hollywood were two-fold. He wanted “real action” and he had trouble catching Hollywood humour. “Even if I do films with geniuses like George Lucas or Steven Spielberg, no way will I be famous in America. Look at Jurassic Park. Few people know the names of the main actors; they remember the dinosaurs and that it was a Spielberg film. But in Asia, everyone comes to see Jackie Chan in a Jackie Chan movie. It doesn’t matter what the story is about. Only Jackie Chan can do it."
About his famous dislike for the smash-hit Rush Hour (his first movie to break $100 million at the U.S. box office), Chan once said: “I felt very disappointed because it was a movie I didn’t appreciate and I did not like the action scenes involved. I felt the style of action was too Americanised and I didn’t understand the American humor.”
Hollywood though, really, really needs Chan and his celebrity because they are the keys to Asia.
You see, the world’s markets and cultures are merging and Hollywood is increasingly looking East — to feed the region’s growing entertainment demands. In this fight for dominance, having Jackie Chan by your side is advantage.
Because in 2015, when Forbes released its list of highest paid actors, Chan was second only to Robert Downey Jr with earnings of $50 million and unlike the others on the list, his wealth doesn’t come from films alone. He has single-handedly managed to build brand ‘Jackie Chan’, owns a chain of cinemas and even has a Segway dealership. Across half-a-dozen countries, his name is synonymous with ‘martial art cinema’. Grady Hendrix, co-founder of the New York Asian Film Festival, once famously said: “Jackie Chan is basically the Mickey Mouse of Chinese culture, a celebrity who is so omnipresent that his name has become shorthand.”...