He is already the biggest movie star on the world’s most populous continent. He has already broken nearly every bone in his body. He has even already won an MTV Lifetime Achievement award. But none of that is enough to persuade Jackie Chan to slow down. In the course of two decades and almost 40 action films, Hong Kong’s Chan — whose Rumble in the Bronx opens in 1,500 U.S. theaters on Feb. 23 — has hung from a helicopter high above Kuala Lumpur, dangled by an umbrella from the back of a bus, roller-skated underneath a speeding truck, and dived from a cliff onto a hot-air balloon. Leaping from a bridge onto a hovercraft for Rumble, he broke an ankle. Other falls have left him with hearing loss and a permanent hole in his skull. Yet Chan, 41, who admits that every stunt he performs scares him beforehand, discounts the physical toll. ”I get hurt,” he says, ”but the movie gets released for hundred years. Okay, I broke my leg three months.”
Chan’s films — a carnival blend of spectacular stunts, balletic martial-art sequences, and frequently hilarious, self-effacing comedy — travel a different road than Hollywood blockbusters. ”When I see American films,” he explains, ”okay, they do big things. They can jump 20 buildings. That’s special effect. Even walking they think about special effect. Me, I never think special effect. I think only about what’s humanly possible.”
American film stardom may yet prove impossible, but the man who drew on Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd to tip the kung fu flick toward comedy is giving it his best shot with the Hong Kong-produced Rumble, having tried doing things Hollywood’s way. In the 1980s, he starred Stateside in The Big Brawl and The Protector, nonstarters by directors who ignored his advice and wasted his potential. (He also landed a forgettable role in 1981’s The Cannonball Run.) But on Rumble, as on most of his productions, Chan has control as star and stunt director, reportedly earning about $4 million per picture. A plot-light romp that topped the Asian charts last year, Rumble was filmed in Vancouver with characters speaking Cantonese and English, then reedited and dubbed for U.S. release. The star’s manager, Willie Chan (no relation), describes this latest U.S. foray as ”sort of a last try.”
But Jackie Chan, who from childhood trained as an acrobat and singer, then turned to stunt work and got tapped to be the next Bruce Lee, has lived with the vagaries of showbiz for a long time. When Cannonball Run premiered in Japan, his name topped the marquee. In the mid-’80s, a love-struck female fan committed suicide over him. This led Chan to hide, until recently, his marriage to Taiwanese actress Lin Fung-chiao and the existence of their 12-year-old son. ”I know I have a responsibility for all the fans,” he says, sounding baffled by their passion. ”I keep my private life as private as possible.”
And his professional life as daring as possible. Broken Arrow director John Woo, who says he gave Chan one of his first action roles, speaks of the star with awe and heartfelt concern. ”I really don’t want to see him risk his life every time doing the incredible action,” Woo says. ”But it seems to me he’s got the spirit of a mountain climber who just keeps climbing higher and higher.”
Since making Rumble in the Bronx, Chan has injured his back in a fall — and finished two more movies.