Fifty-eight-year-old action star Jackie Chan recently announced his imminent retirement from action movies. Sort of. He left the door open to doing some movies that involve limited action. As he approaches 60, however, retiring from action movies is not only smart, it’s inevitable.
If anyone deserves to retire, even at that relatively young age, it’s Chan. His calling card has been crazy, dangerous stunts that he performed himself. Those stunts not only put him in the spotlight globally, they made him a rich man — and took a tremendous toll on his body. The fractures, sprains and dislocations he sustained in making 100 movies has probably put the children of a platoon’s worth of orthopedists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, surgeons and physical therapists through college.
One article I read quoted him as saying: “It hurts, it really hurts. The shoulder, the ankle, it really hurts. You don’t know because I still look healthy.”
While he was known for his physicality, Jackie Chan was also smart. The late Bruce Lee cast a long shadow in his short movie career with martial arts action movies that emphasized lethality and revenge. He inspired many copycats but no one could really top him. Jackie Chan knew he could not compete with that, so, he created his own action subgenre: the comedic kung fu movie.
It took Chan several attempts to penetrate the U.S. market, but his breakthrough came in 1996 with the release of “Rumble in the Bronx,” which had originally been released in Hong Kong years earlier. Set in New York (actually shot in Canada), it had a Western, urban setting that was deemed helpful in crossing over to new audiences. He was already in his late 30s by this time.
Back in my Feb. 21, 1996 “Into the Next Stage” column, I wrote the following about Chan:
This Friday and Saturday, at movie theaters across the land, when moviegoers vote at the box-office on what they, their friends and their dates want to be entertained by, we will learn if Americans are ready to embrace the person who has been called the biggest movie star on the planet: Jackie Chan.
Anybody who has followed Chan’s many attempts to break into the U.S. movie market knows what a frustrating, heartbreaking road it has been. While Chan’s star has risen worldwide as a box-office draw, director and action hero without peer, as he stepped out of the ‘next Bruce Lee’ shadow into his own persona, the big prize — making it in America — has eluded him. Whether it was because his American vehicles (“The Big Brawl,” the “Cannonball Run” flicks) failed to present him in a manner acceptable to U.S. audiences or the failure for American movie studios and distributors to grasp and then mass market his existing Hong Kong movies to our market, Chan’s latest movie, ‘Rumble in the Bronx,’ is his best chance to win over Americans outside his following in the VCR crowd.
It was, of course, a hit, No. 1 at the box-office that weekend. Ironically, it bumped John Woo-directed “Broken Arrow” from No. 1, making it the first time a movie starring a Hong Kong-based actor bumped a movie directed by a Hong Kong-based director from the top spot.
Since that time, while Chan continued to make movies in Asia, he also had some genuine American-made crossover hit movies: The “Rush Hour” series, the “Shanghai Noon” movies, doing voice acting in the “Kung Fu Panda” pics, co-starring with fellow Chinese action star and rival Jet Li in “The Forbidden Kingdom” and co-starring in the remake of “The Karate Kid.” (There were also some very forgettable movies along the way, to be fair.)
Hong Kong action movies were Chan’s first act. Hollywood action movies were his second act. Now, in what appears to be his third act, Chan says he now wants to emulate Robert De Niro and Clint Eastwood and become known as a dramatic thespian.
Two words to Jackie Chan: Forget it.
Seriously. No one wants to see Jackie Chan in a movie for his dramatic chops. The reasons he became a superstar are he did amazing stunts and he made people laugh.
Granted, Chan acquitted himself well as an actor in the “Karate Kid” remake. But that was still an action movie at its core and his acting was secondary.
Very few people excel at one activity can also excel at another activity, even when it is related. Take Michael Jordan. As a professional basketball player? Yes. As a professional baseball player? No. Jackie Chan as an action star? Yes. Jackie Chan as a dramatic actor? No.
Regardless of how old or infirm Chan gets, he will always have a great pedigree and a name brand. He knows action. What he needs to do is take that which he is known for and parlay it into producing movies. Jackie Chan action star needs to become Jackie Chan movie producer. Sure, he can produce dramas and comedies, too, maybe even give himself an occasional bit part. He can do that as a movie’s producer.
But as a producer, Chan would bring to the table a résumé and bona fide knowledge of action that is second to none. His name would open doors and open checkbooks. Jackie, if somehow this message gets to you, take it from a longtime follower: No one will pay money to watch you cry on cue. Millions, however, will watch a great action movie that you produced.
Like I said, Jackie Chan is smart. After a couple of movies in which he emotes that no one pays to see, he’ll figure it out. Then his third act as a producer will be as successful as this first and second acts as an action star.
Don’t Cry for Curry Dept.: Like everyone else with an Internet connection who didn’t view it when it happened, I watched the video last Thursday of now-former “Today” show co-host Ann Curry saying goodbye to the audience after a year in that position. Yes, it was sad for her and distasteful on the part of NBC, where she had been since 1990 as a part of its news division.
Prior to that, she was here in Los Angeles for six years at KCBS, where I knew her briefly via the Asian American Journalists Association. She was smart, funny, nice and generous with her time. In her 23 years at NBC and NBC News, she definitely paid her dues. That she was finally able to get the chance to be the co-host was a triumph, even though it seemed “Today” gave her the nod reluctantly, having passed her over on previous occasions.
She was kind of like basketballer Jeremy Lin before his breakout on the Knicks: Always there, always passed over and given a chance only when there was no one else on the bench left to step up.
That’s where the Jeremy Lin comparison ends, because ratings for “Today” fell under her tenure. Whether it’s completely or even partially Ann Curry’s fault, it cannot be determined. There are so many factors, but at the end of the day, you get the credit or the blame in that sort of position, regardless of how little of it was on your shoulders. She was the one chosen to take one for the team.
To be honest, I’m not part of the apparently huge demographic that watches “Today,” “Good Morning, America” or any morning TV. I listen to the radio and don’t have the TV on in the background. Those sorts of shows are entertainment-driven fluff, as far as I’m concerned.
So, Curry’s ascent, while admirable, didn’t really affect my life. I do think she got a bum deal, if being owed $10 million on her contract can be considered a bum deal. People, of course, like to leave jobs on their own terms and not get canned, especially on national TV. Yes, it was a debacle, but it hurts NBC more in the long run. They look like cheap thugs.
While she has a right to be unhappy about how it went down, this is an opportunity to turn lemons into a tasty lemon-flavored beverage. The public is on her side, unlike onetime TV news superstar Connie Chung. Ann Curry will bounce back and be bigger and more influential than ever. She might even be on TV during a time when I could, in theory at least, watch her. Better yet, she could follow Tritia Toyota’s lead and get out of that crazy world altogether and do something with more substance.
Don’t cry for Curry. She’ll be all right.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at George@NikkeiNation.com. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2012 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.