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The Karate Kid - Jackie Chan interview

The Karate Kid, Jackie Chan

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MARTIAL arts legend Jackie Chan talks to us about his delight at the revival of The Karate Kid and the filmmakers’ decision to set the movie in China.

He also talks about what martial arts mean to him and why he wants to use it for good, and why he wants to become Asia’s Robert De Niro.

Q. How proud were you to take part in a film that celebrates China so much?
Jackie Chan: I’m very proud. I really thank Will Smith and his family, and Sony Pictures, for choosing their locations in China. I can introduce my culture and my locations, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall and especially our martial arts because I remember a long time when The Karate Kid was famous that so many people learned martial arts, and karate. Even myself.. I was learning southern style, northern style… because after Karate Kid I thought I should learn some karate. But later on I found out they were basically all the same. Right now, I think a lot of people are learning martial arts, and a lot of people are going to China. Thank you Will Smith, because I’m a tourism ambassador [laughs]!

Q. Did you notice comparisons with this story and your own introduction to Hollywood in terms of feeling alone and having to rely on your skills in a different culture?
Jackie Chan: It really happened to me like that when I came to Hollywood, I spoke no English – except nobody bullied me [laughs]. Every day, I had nothing to do except training in English, to keep talking. And then when I started doing the film people taught me how to fight. I asked if I could do this [demonstrates a martial arts movement with his hands] and they said: “No, you’re too fast!” I asked why, but they told me to slow down. I had to do every punch like that [exaggerated slo-mo] and was really frustrated at that time. I thought I should forget Hollywood and go back to Hong Kong. I’m so lucky that finally Hollywood accepts my comedy fighting.

Q. There’s a lot of scope for acting in this remake. Do you see this as opening the way to more emotional roles for you in Hollywood?
Jackie Chan: Yes. Yes, definitely yes. I’ve been asking myself how long I can keep doing action and stunts. I see so many action stars who are a few years gone, a few years gone. The action star’s life is very short. Back in Asia, I can do whatever I want to do. I’m the producer, I’m the director, I can do so many things, but in Hollywood any time I present a script they say: “No, no, no, Rush Hour 3, Rush Hour 4.” I say I’m not young any more. I want to do some serious things. I say there’s no way I can do this and then I say: “OK, forget it!”

Q. So was the emotional content something that you found particularly appealing?
Jackie Chan: A few years ago I was in Japan, I was eating Japanese food and someone said: “You know what? Will Smith is outside…” I said: “Is that right?” And I opened the door and I saw him and we hugged each other and I said welcome, and before we parted he said: “Let’s do a movie together.” I said: “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” But in Hollywood everybody does that. Stallone, the Mayor, Schwarzenegger, everybody does that: “[Gestures leaving, turning around and saying] Let’s do a movie together!” You’re used to it, so you say ‘yes’. Then, finally he called me and said: “Let’s do The Karate Kid.” He told me to see the script first. I thought I was [going to play the] kid, but then I asked who the master was and they said I was. I forget how old I am [laughs]! So, I looked at the script, saw that it happened in China, it’s not karate, it’s a martial art, and I said ‘yes, because they trusted me with the action and with the acting. I really appreciated that. Now, it proves I can act, because I want to be the Asian Robert De Niro.

Q. How do you balance success in your career with success in your personal lives? Does faith play its part?
Jackie Chan: When I was young and making movies, I didn’t care about education, I cared about money… box office really. Certainly, we’re very lucky when movies are a success and they travel around the world, not only in Asia. Whenever I travel in Bangkok, China, wherever I go people watch and copy from me all the bad things that I’m doing in the movie. Then slowly, slowly I get involved with charity, and then I remember education and how important it is. Then, after that I decided to correct all my bad things in movies. Right now, the box office is not important. I want to do something meaningful like Karate Kid.

In Drunken Master, I taught people how to drink, how to fight. Later on, when I grew up I realised that was wrong so I made Drunken Master 2, because I wanted to correct myself and tell people not to drink, not to fight. So, slowly I corrected my old things. I’m not God, I do bad things but from all those years I’m learning. Now, like with Karate Kid, I don’t know how much the box office is but people call me, they send me the newspaper reviews. They say: “Jackie is good.” You cannot buy that. So, that’s what I’m going to do in the future, to do something meaningful because it’s not about money.

Q. Does the understanding of kung fu reach a new level with this movie? And what image do you want to build through movies about Chinese kung fu?
Jackie Chan: I want to build up my philosophy… my philosophy with kung fu is to respect people. When I was young I trained a lot. I trained my mind, I trained my eyes, trained my thinking, how to help people. And it trained me how to deal with pressure. When I was a young stunt guy the director would say: “You’re useless…” But I wanted to be the best, I wanted to be a super stunt guy. That’s how I built myself, because of martial arts and everything.

When I look at young kids today I just don’t believe it, parents take away the Gameboy and they’re suicidal. They cannot take the pressure. I think every young child can learn through any martial art. They would then learn to respect their life, respect their parents, respect their country, and respect the whole world. That’s how I want to promote martial arts – and actually karate and everything else comes from kung fu, so this is why basically it’s the same.

Read our review of The Karate Kid

Will Smith interview