There’s no doubt that everyone is proud of the Shinjuku Incident, for it’s a rare sight to see an entire film cast talking about it during a press day at the Sky Lounge in TST’s Nikko Hotel.
In one corner, director Derek Yee sits surrounded by three reporters as he regales them with stories that no doubt revolve around the difficulties of shooting a tri-lingual film in the heart of Tokyo.
In another, Daniel Wu, who plays an integral role in the movie, is busy, posing for photos when he isn’t fending off questions about what it was like to work with Jackie Chan (“Totally surreal because we’ve known each of other for so long now,” he says, before adding “I really respect him as a person and not just the superstar that he is.”)
And rushing around amidst all the journalists, the makeup artists, the public relations executives, the managers, the photographers and even jeweler from Tiffany’s, is Chan himself.
By his own account, the Shinjuku Incident is his 47th film that he has starred in (though he’s been involved with more than 100). It’s also what could be his most unique role ever.
Gone is the need to be the center of elaborate fight scenes (though there are plenty). You also won’t see Chan making wisecracks, scaling or sliding from buildings and saving the day.
The 53-year-old stars as Steelhead, a Chinese immigrant who enters Japan to search for his girlfriend.
After he learns that she has married a high ranking Yakuza member, he decides to stay on in Tokyo anyway, and in a bid to have a better standard of living, finds himself getting involved in illicit acts and Yakuza activities.
In a far-fetched way, it might even be called a Hong Kong version of Scarface (“I’m not sure if I have the balls to say that,” says Wu, when the question is put to him.)
And if Chan isn’t quite Pacino in the role, he certainly has plenty of range. One thing’s for certain: this isn’t Rush Hour 3.
In person, the surprisingly stocky man dressed in white flashes smiles often, flicks his pen with astounding speed and expresses genuine surprise that an audience member did enjoy the film (test screenings have never caught on here).
But a different Chan quickly emerges during a candid conversation – that of an internationally famous film star who wants to expand well beyond his martial arts niche.
At the same time, he’s a Hong Kong citizen who wants his city to act with the same decisiveness that he has taken with his career.
SCOTT: The Shinjuku Incident is a good film that’s surprisingly violent. What are your impressions?
CHAN: I totally left it to the director to make sure that I don’t do Jackie Chan type things. For the last 10 year’s I’ve been trying to change. That’s why I’ve taken on such films as The Myth, Rob-B-Hood, and New Police Story. I wanted everything to be different than before.
I totally left it to the director (Derek Yee) to make sure I don’t do Jackie Chan type things. He respected me, showed me the script and I just did it.
Actually, I didn’t even know the whole script, just the outline. I said ‘Go ahead.’ On the set he would say ‘Do this, do that and I just followed.
SCOTT: Do you like your character Steelhead?
CHAN: Yes. But it’s almost a true story. In fact it is a true story. All I can say is, I try. I really love actors like Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman.
I want this to be an Asian version of DeNiro and prove I can do all kinds of things, not just Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, 3, Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights. I want to be a bad guy, and do more varied roles, even a devil.
SCOTT: Before you said you want to make films that preach good moral values. Are you saying your stance has changed?
CHAN: Yes. I just finished The Spy Next Door in America, a comedy where I’m a retired spy and have to take care of three children to fight the Russian mafia. Then I just finished this one ( Shinjuku Incident ). Strong.
Right now I’m filming, I Don’t Want To Fight. It’s my own production in China, a period film about the Ching Dynasty. Directly translated it’s called Big Soldier but a friend of mine said ‘You should call it ‘I Don’t Want To Fight‘.
The movie is about me as a general who pretends to die. It seems I always pretend to die. After that there will be another big period film. I want to change.
I’m really trying to change what I do. I want to be an actor who can fight. I don’t want to be Jackie Chan the action star. Action’s also good, but being a good actor is better.
SCOTT: What do you look for when deciding on a film? Is it the script, director and/or the funding?
CHAN: It’s the script and the director. If someone like Zhang Yimou or Ang Lee calls me I would go right away. In that case it’s just the director. I never ask the director about the script.
Usually, I only know a little bit, like the outline. When I’m making an American film like the first Rush Hour, I didn’t like the script but the money’s good. So, I wanted to try the first one.
Actually, when I made the first one the money wasn’t very good but I wanted to try. Then everyone says I should do the sequel so I said ‘Okay. If it doesn’t work, I won’t make any more American movies.’ Boom! Success. But I didn’t like the sequel.
SCOTT: You’ve been quoted as saying that you didn’t like Rush Hour 3…
CHAN: Yeah! I didn’t understand the humor and I didn’t like the fighting! I wonder sometimes that they’re doing during American productions. They want to be on budget and on time. That’s their only concern. Don’t they want to make a good movie?
Then I realized that they don’t care about the movie. That makes me angry. I want to make a great movie.
‘Shall we do this?’ I would ask. ‘No, we’re behind schedule two day’s.’
Give me two day’s and I can make it much better. If we change a little bit in the script we can make it much better. If we put in more comedy, we can make a great movie. ‘No, no time’ they would say. Done.
That makes me crazy. But when the movie comes out it’s huge at the box office. In the sequels I was absolutely in it for the money. US$20 million.
SCOTT: Did you like working with Brett Ratner (Rush Hour series director?
CHAN: Yes, I did. Maybe not on the first one, but I did on the second one. I definitely did on the third one. He’s a young boy so he learns so quickly.
Also, he’s open, not like an old director. A long time ago if I suggested something the directors didn’t listen to me. And if I ask them ‘Do you know fighting?’.
They don’t know fighting! How can you teach me fighting? I’ve made 47 movies and spent most of my life in the film industry!
SCOTT: Going back to the subject of the Shinjuku Incident, what was it like working on a trilingual set? Exciting? Frustrating?
CHAN: ‘The first few weeks it was frustrating because you have a lot of translating. And the Japanese work differently. They want a lot of meetings even for small things.
Let’s say I want to give a pen to you using the one I’m holding now. They’ll want to write that down. Now, I’ll give the pen to you. Then the lighting will follow.
In Hong Kong it’s go! POW! Go! But after a few weeks we understood. After meetings they move faster. Now, I want to use the whole Shinjuku crew for my next film in China. They are so good, so professional. They never ask anything. They just do it.
The cameraman even becomes the dolly man. They help each other. These days, Hong Kong and China is becoming like America. ‘I’m the cameraman; the prop guys move the dolly.’
SCOTT: Sounds like the can-do spirit is gone…
CHAN: (nods) The Japanese crewmembers will all move the dolly. ‘Hurry up! The sun’s going down!’ Even the DP (director of photography) moved the props.
I like this kind of family system. It’s completely different when I was in America the first day. When I went to move the dolly they’d yell ‘Don’t move the dolly!”
There are 20 people around and nobody moves it. We have to wait for the dolly guy. On film sets in America, nobody runs. They walk. That drives me crazy.
SCOTT: In your autobiography (I Am Jackie Chan) you reportedly said that you never got your work/life balance right. What are your thoughts now and what are your life lessons?
CHAN: Now I enjoy my life. I enjoy my work. I live working on my own films in China because I can do whatever I want. In America they will never let me do a range of films like The Myth or Rob-B-Hood.
They only think about Rush Hour 4, Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Night, and Shanghai Dawn. What’s my next step? I don’t know.
I just do whatever I can to help people when I’m not filming. I just started another Jackie Chan Foundation in China and I’ve already made money to put into it.
When I was young I wanted so many things. When I got rich I bought so many things. Now, I have so many things. But now I realize all of those things are not precious.
SCOTT: So now you’re caught by them. They own you.
CHAN: Yes, I’m caught by them. I had to buy a loft to collect it all and I forgot I owned some of the stuff I have. When you’re young you just want it all, but now I want to give it all away.
This June I’ll sell everything in China. All of my friends are ready with the money. For one of my watches, they’ll offer one million dollars. For some of my furniture and artwork, they’ll offer 10 million dollars. The money won’t go to me, but to a charity to help China.
My philosophy right now is that when I die, I don’t want to have any money, nothing. That means my collection, offices, home, everything. I have three offices. I have five lofts all packed.
I’ve already forgotten what’s inside, but everything you pick up is valuable. When I travel around the world I buy things. I’ll buy something; it gets packed and arrives here in three months.
By that time I’m already some place like the Czech Republic filming. Then I buy more things and send them back. When I’m back here I don’t even have time to open up the boxes.
When I go to my loft now, I look at things and think ‘What the hell is that? Oh yeah, I remember.’ But there are so many boxes that I get scared.
SCOTT: So you want to simplify your life?
CHAN: I want to get rid of everything! Just have myself. Over the last 10 years that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve donated so much money and I want to donate more.
But with money comes problems too. You see on TV shows the families who have a family member die. The mom’s is suing the daughter. The daughter’s is suing somebody else.
Half of my money has already gone to charity. Half to my wife. If something happens, it goes to my son. If not my son, it all goes to charity. Now I’m trying my best to sell all my furniture, my costumes, my saddle, the movie things, my shoes, everything.
SCOTT: That answers that. Now let’s jump around from topic to topic. How did it feel to carry the Olympic torch?
CHAN: (big smile) Oh you are not only carrying the torch. It’s also your country.
There’s one point three or four billion people and I was one of them. I was really, really honored. I’m not only carrying the torch for my country. I’m also carrying peace.
I’m carrying a spirit. At that moment (long pause) wow! But I will sell my torch this month for charity. I have two. I will sell both. One’s from Athens, one’s from Beijing.
SCOTT: Let’s pretend you are the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Are you happy with the city right now?
SCOTT: What would you do to change it?
CHAN: Today I just told the press, please ask the government to be strong. Don’t listen to so much baloney. The Hong Kong government appreciates this side. I want to appreciate this side. When China’s
Government does something, everybody is yowling. I just want to say ‘Come on Hong Kong government. Be strong.’
SCOTT: If you could do something specific, what would you do?
CHAN: I’d do whatever I’d like to do.
BENIN: If you were Chief Executive…
CHAN: There’s a strong way to make things come back. Otherwise, with so many politics. I’d rather be under British rule.
SCOTT: That’s a big statement. So you’re frustrated?
CHAN: Right now? I’m really frustrated. China’s government and Hong Kong’s government have tried to do some good things, but there’s always a side that says ‘No, we don’t like this.’
Ok, we have to listen because China’s government is trying to prove that they are an open one. But there are so many parties fighting back. It’s wrong. I think it’s wrong.
SCOTT: If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about the Hong Kong film industry, what would it be?
CHAN: Now? That’s difficult. Slowly, we don’t have one. It’s all about China. That bothers me and it also excites me.
Hong Kong is such a small place so we don’t have a big studio or a lot of land or something to support people like us.
China has big schools – music and art schools – and there are just so many people. It’s a big shame. We’re supposedly the Hong Kong film industry but slowly, there isn’t one. In 1997 a lot of families sent their children away.
After 10 years they came back. They’ve grown up. ‘They’ve learned. They drink coffee. By the way they talk, it seems like they don’t like Hong Kong culture. They’d rather learn about Chinese culture and history.
But Hong Kong is a multi-cultural city. There are so many nationalities here. So what’s Hong Kong culture? It’s fast money, quick. Fast food. Money, money, money, money, money. ‘That’s what young people are about right now.
I also think the government should control some of the media. Today, people were asking me about Edison Chen. I told them that Chen’s case is nothing compared to what’s happening with the economy right now.
People are losing their jobs and wondering about their next meal. Edison’s story is shit, nothing! Gone! Don’t report it.
But everybody’s asking me about it. Why should people be forced to watch such news? But the media thinks people like it – and people don’t! Report on good things.
Let people’s confidence come back. It’s not good to always say that the economy is bad and a lot of people lost their jobs. Next year it will be worse and people will be gone! There won’t be any confidence.
SCOTT: Nearly a decade ago your autobiography I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action was released. Do you plan on doing a sequel?
CHAN: A woman from India – a lawyer – is a big fan of mine. She wants to follow me for the sequel but I don’t know. I’m not sure if it’s the right time to do one. She might have to wait a little bit.
SCOTT: Will the remake of Karate Kid happen?
CHAN: Yes it will, in June.
SCOTT: Are you excited? You get to say Wax on and wax off a lot.
CHAN: (smiles) Hmmmmm. I love Will Smith!
SCOTT: Thank you.
CHAN: Thank you.