Jackie Chan goes yoga

The action star and his director talk about their latest collaboration

With over 200 films under his belt dating back to the 1960s, Jackie Chan needs no introduction. The popular stuntman, director and actor -- whose long career recently earned him an honorary Oscar for his "extraordinary achievements in film" on Nov 12 last year from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the first Chinese in history to receive the award -- is back with his latest film, Kung Fu Yoga, a Chinese-Indian production set for Thailand release today.

Together with Stanley Tong -- the Hong Kong director who has worked on numerous films with Chan, from Police Story 3: Super Cop, Rumble In The Bronx and Police Story 4: First Strike -- Chan recently made a stop to greet Thai fans at Siam Paragon, where he also took part in the local Cut for the South charity event, and donated HK$500,000 (about 2.4 million baht) to aid the disaster-stricken flood victims. His generosity is well-known, especially because Chan has a special bond with Thailand, having spent two years living in Bangkok's Chinatown when he was nine years old.

Kung Fu Yoga is the story of a quest for lost treasure that takes Chan and his Indian co-stars -- Aarif Rahman, Dasha Patani and Miya Muqi -- from a Tibetan cave to India and Dubai. Life sat down to chat with Chan and Tong to talk about their new film.

How does it feel to be welcomed so warmly by your Thai fans?

JC: [The fans] are exactly why I keep risking my life to work so hard making movies. It's all for the fans.

Every time I come around, they're just so happy. [My team and I] are actually very tired this week, but the moment we see the fans, it's just ... wow! The energy is always infectious.

Kung Fu Yoga is the first of three planned movies to be produced with joint funding from the Chinese and Indian governments. This year you've had another film coming out, Railroad Tigers. So it's been a busy year for you.

JC: Before, I used to do similar movies in succession, like Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, Rush Hour 3 and so on. These days, I try to change it so the audience's expectations won't grow stagnant. One year I'll be working on something like Dragon's Blade, then Skip Trace, Railroad Tigers and now Kung Fu Yoga. So, you see, my character changes back and forth between movies.

I want the audience to know that Jackie Chan isn't an "action star", but a star who can fight and do action. They're very different things.

That's how I've managed to remain on the top when it comes to action films. But now I'm 62, and I don't care anymore about the box-office figures or what some people think about my films, as someone who likes Railroad Tigers may not like Skip Trace. Americans may love Rush Hour, but the Chinese may not like it. It's very difficult, in my opinion, to make a movie that will be liked all around the world all the time.

Later this year, I'll be starring in a film called The Foreigner, which is a very heavy film where you can see a different kind of Jackie Chan. So you can watch a funny Jackie in Kung Fu Yoga, then a more serious Jackie in another film.

What are your expectations when starring in a film these days? Do you still expect success, after having starred in so many films?

JC: Used to be, yes. A long, long time ago, every movie I made had to be a success. That's why early in my career, I liked to keep doing the same things: Drunken Fist 1, Drunken Fist 2, so on. I always wanted to be number one at the box office.

However, I knew that if I continued to work exclusively on those kinds of films, my career would be dead very soon. Everyone wants me to keep risking my life to do stunts, as my fans expect it. But I can't stay young forever. One day I'll get old, and what would I do then? That's why [in more recent years] I always try to show my audience that I'm an actor, that I can change. When my fans start thinking I'm getting old and can't do action, I do Chinese Zodiac to show them I can, then I do a drama. Then I go back to action again, then drama. I've been doing this for 15 years.

Tong, how has your working relationship with Mr Chan changed over the course of your collaborations? Did you feel pressure working on this film?

ST: Every movie we do with JC is a lot of pressure, since we are required to do five to seven action sequences starring Jackie that have never been done before anywhere else -- not in other Chinese action films, not in Hollywood, nothing -- so that means that in every single film, you have to figure out a bunch of different, original action sequences that also fit in the context of the story.

With this movie, especially, I've felt quite pressured, as fans continue to ask for more and more. So now, Kung Fu Yoga has a total of 10 of these action sequences. Now, when I first worked with him [on Police Story 3, in 1992 ], I considered 5 of these sequences to be a tough challenge. Twenty-five years later, I've now doubled the amount of sequences, which take place across four countries and eight cities.

Jackie, How do you keep fit at your age?

JC: First, I exercise a lot. Most of the time I'm walking -- even on escalators I like to walk. And I'm also very happy with my work. As I'm on the set, working, I actually feel young. Every once in a while I'll try to do a double kick on set, only to end up doing just one kick. It's only during moments like these that I remember I'm 62 years old.

Working makes me young. If one day I'm not working anymore I'll probably just give up and let myself go completely.

You've worked on numerous kinds of films in your career. Are there any kinds of films that you want to work in but haven't yet?

JC: A love story, though I don't think anyone will ever write a love story for me anymore unless I do it myself, and I don't know how to write love stories. Another genre I'd like to do is a very heavy drama, which you'll actually get to see in the near future. Will Smith is actually writing a very good script for me.

You generally tend to star beside relatively new actors. Do you have any involvement in their casting?

JC: No. In the past, actors I cast myself would often end up not being right for the role, which is why in Hollywood they have casting directors. They'll look at the script, then pick the right person for that role. No matter how famous they are, if it doesn't fit, it doesn't fit. That's why even in Chinese Zodiac [which Chan directed], I didn't do any of the casting.

Tong, what are some of the qualities you found most captivating about the younger cast members?

ST: In this movie, we have Aarif [Rahman], who actually hasn't ever done action before, though he was willing to spend time with us and the Jackie Chan Stunt Team to learn how to fight, so we like to give these young people chances whenever we are able.

There's Zhang YiXing from the EXO group, who wasn't even an actor, though he showed humour and comedic timing. Finally there's Miya Muqi, who was actually a yoga teacher, not an actress at all. But she was very talented at yoga, so I was willing to give her a chance.

As Chan agrees, with our experience and success, we should give back to the younger generation. It's our contribution back to industry, as we both also started when we were young.

Jackie Chan in Bangkok recently. Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul

About the author

columnist
Writer: Kanin Srimaneekulroj
Position: Reporter