October 1998
s m u g
feed hollywood
by Brian Thomas

The Sports Page

Love is not a constant. It's been 15-odd years since I first learned about Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan. His first film made by an American studio since that time has opened to record breaking box office and almost overwhelming critical approval. I've seen all his films (save his child star roles), own most of them on video (some in both Chinese and US versions), and I belong to a Jackie list-serv. I try to catch every appearance he makes on TV, buy all the books about him and read his comic-book. Frankly, I'm starting to get a little sick of the guy.

Within the span of a few weeks, Chan has criss-crossed the USA promoting not only the release of his first US feature in years, but his autobiography as well. He did signings at book stores in dozens of cities and was interviewed hundreds of times. His latest Hong Kong movie Who Am I? just debuted on HBO, and several of his earlier films have made their way to domestic video for the first time. At age 44, he still works out for 3 hours per day. Doesn't he ever get tired? Doesn't he ever have one of those days when he just wants to lay on the couch eating Kentucky Fried Chicken and watching old sitcoms with the sound turned off, too lazy and depressed to even scratch his belly or change the channel?

I know I'll get hate mail for writing these things from more recently converted Chan fans, and I can't blame 'em. Believe me, I've been there, but I guess it's just my cranky nature to be suspicious of anyone with so much energy, talent and good will. I swear I can't stand to see one more story about him growing up in slavery in Chinese opera prison, doing all his own stunts (or all that matter anyway), inventing kung fu comedy, being the biggest star in every country that doesn't speak English, or even his possible homosexuality (as evidenced by his bizarre wardrobe). I'm sick of reading articles about how he combines the best attributes of Bruce Lee and Buster Keaton. I'm sick of reading articles about how he's broken nearly every bone in his body. I'm sick of reading articles about how his films are always butchered for American consumption. Heck, I'm even tired of writing 'em.

His big current hit Rush Hour is a by-the-book, cliché-ridden formula buddy cop action comedy that milks not only that cow but the ever-lactating old bossy that gives fish-out-of-water milk as well. Chan plays (surprise!) a Hong Kong cop called to Los Angeles to help an old friend recover his kidnapped daughter. He's partnered with motormouth comic Chris Tucker, who plays an LAPD detective who (get this) doesn't play by the rules and is always in trouble with his captain. When the two are made partners, you'll never believe what happens next: they hate each other, but become best friends and solve the case. And - as an extra layer of originality atop this yummy script/cake, the movie is occasionally twirled around the dance floor to the tune of vintage pop tunes. Jackie and Chris sort out their cultural differences and bond while singing "War"! Good God, y'all!

Enough of my grousing about the plot - the fact is that this project has been bouncing around Hollywood for years now, and every Asian martial arts star and hip black comedian in the world has had his or her name attached to it. It's no wonder the script has more than a few worms chewing on it. Fortunately Jackie, Chris and their director Brett Ratnor tossed aside the script at every opportunity and winged it, with Tucker guiding Chan through the ad lib antics in a manner at once hilarious and thoroughly natural. Wisely, the American crew trusted and relied on Chan's genius at action cinema and let him control the stunts and fight scenes. Luckily, this is one of those happy little films that everyone seems to have had so much fun making and believed in so completely that the audience can only be jealous they couldn't be a part of making it, and have to settle for enjoying it from their theater seats.

The week before putting a smile on my grumpy and cynical kisser with this unassuming and refreshing little entertainment, Jackie was in town to pimp, promote and ballyhoo his projects in the best tradition of showmanship. After signing hundreds of autographs at a book signing that afternoon, Chan agreed to forego whatever rest he had scheduled to throw out the first pitch at a little local celebrity charity softball game. The only "celebrities" recruited to play known beyond the celestial realm of local media, politics, and restaurant ownership were the team captains, champion Chicago Bulls Ron Harper and Steve Kerr. Harper dropped out for unknown reasons, something to do with either a heart attack or a car that badly needed washing. Jackie gamely agreed to take his place, in spite of the fact that he has little knowledge of softball, even the common and ordinary 12-inch variety.

Taking his position behind the plate to catch pitches between autographs, Chan caught the attention of the overweight Nor'westsider beside me. He was there to get his basketballs signed by Kerr and the late Jack Brickhouse, and remarked, "Hey, ain't that what'shisname - da Japanese guy from da karate movies?" Despite smacking a few good ones during the horseplay of batting practice, Jackie only managed a weak grounder down the third base line for his turn at bat. He was called out at first, but followed the instructions of event organizers who told him to stay in and run the bases. When columnist Richard Roeper's line drive drove him home, Chan once again took first base to round the bases again. It may have been much in the tradition of the Black Sox scandal, but the crowd loved it anyway. By the fourth inning, Chan was signing as many autographs and shaking as many hands as he could on his way to the bus waiting to take him to the next day's hectic signings and interviews. Meanwhile, the Nor'westsider's little nephews had filled him in on what the cheery Asian is all about, and Jackie had converted yet another fan. Maybe he ain't no Sammy Sosa or Ron Santo, but everyone got a kick out of Jackie Chan that night.

You gotta love a guy like that.



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