It’s time to start casting Jackie Chan differently


Jackie Chan in THE FOREIGNER. Courtesy of STX Entertainment.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Who doesn’t love Jackie Chan? That’s the first question to ask. Why hasn’t Hollywood let him be in more character-driven films? The second, better question.

Watching him perform makes you think you too can learn to be a kick ass warrior (all whilst knowing deep down you might never get to his level). Listening to him speak thoughtfully about practicing martial arts is like mainlining sunshine and honest wisdom. His eagerness to be the best person he can be from the lessons life has taught him is inspirational AF. Here’s Chan during a press conference, talking about what he learned while making MIRACLES, a box office failure he poured his heart and soul into.

I wanted to show my directing skills. I used MIRACLES to do the best I can with camera movement. After I finished that movie, at that time, I used $90 million Hong Kong – that was a lot. I promised my camera guy, lighting, ‘You’ll get the Oscar.’ That’s my goal. And the movie comes out, the box office was no good. Nobody gets anything. It destroyed my ego. Then later on, I wanted to just make a good movie – that’s all. Then I got best box office – so many things! Later on I learned when you do something don’t aim for something. It ends up you get nothing. If you make a good movie, the result is you get so many things. They come to you. You don’t have to find them.

And about what getting an Oscar meant to him:

I just didn’t believe it. Why me?! I’m just making a cheap action-comedy movie. I asked the chairman of the [Academy Awards], “Why me?” He said, “Because you do so many things – not just acting. You did so many things for animals for charity. We’ve been looking for you. The first time 50 people agreed. Then I realized all those years I never thought I could get anything. Making a movie is like gambling. I just follow my dream and do the best I can – every movie I make enriched my life. I never thought I’d win something. In the old days, I’d try to come to Oscar, so many years. Then I gave up. Then now, they came to me.

Yet, for some reason, the studio system has pigeonholed his talents into one specific genre – but that needs to change. Director Martin Campbell’s THE FOREIGNER takes a step in the right direction in order to do so.

Sure, we all love to see him perform those wild, incredible stunts. His skills in the field are unparalleled. We’d never want to see that disappear. In Campbell’s revenge-thriller, Chan, playing a man with nothing left to lose after a terrorist attack robs him of his teen daughter, is able to find a sufficient balance. Not only is he able to give his fans a little of what they want to see in “A Jackie Chan Movie” (like the bed and breakfast escape), but it also allows Chan to show his dynamic emotional range.

At the film’s recent Los Angeles press conference, he said he took this job in hopes to ease himself into different kinds of roles.

I’d been playing my career so long. As I looked at the history, an action star’s life is very short. I want to be an actor. The audience always treats me as a comedy-action-star. In Asia, I’m already tough to slowly change. But the last 20 years, my fans in Asia are slowly accepting it. ‘Wow, Jackie is an actor – not an action star!’

But in Hollywood, I receive so many script: police from Hong Kong, police from China, secret police from Hong Kong, secret police from China. I always look at so many American movies. I say, ‘That’s suitable for me! But why nobody hire me to do these kinds of movies?!’ Not like LA LA LAND, but kind of like LA LA LAND. I said, ‘Yes! Why not me?!’

As it would turn out, someone, THE FOREIGNER’s screenwriter David Marconi, had only envisioned Chan in the lead role, writing the part specifically for him. Chan later added,

A couple years ago I got a call from my manager about a script – THE FOREIGNER. And they told me the story and I said ‘Yes.’ Then he said the screenwriter said, ‘Only Jackie Chan. Nobody can act..’ I had been waiting for years. Everything combined. I’m so happy to do it.

Being on this project also taught the superstar a lot. Chan explained,

The only thing I prepared was English. I had a dialect coach to teach me. I also had to understand what Pierce’s speaking, because he has a very different accent. On set, the director taught me, ‘Jackie, move slowly. You are not ‘Jackie Chan.’ You are Quan.’ Some times when I’d turn around and move things, he’d say, ‘Jackie, too quick. Slow down.’ He made me so old. Even the fighting – ‘No breathe!’ That’s what makes the movie works.

Regardless of THE FOREIGNER’s potential box office take or critical reviews, it’s important that we keep Chan’s wishes to see him cast in more diverse offerings at the forefront. There’s no reason we should impose limits on his artistic integrity – nor should we ever stop utilizing legitimately great artists in off-beat ways. Basically, Hollywood: give this man his LA LA LAND!

THE FOREIGNER opens on October 13.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.