Why Jackie Chan Returned to China

Jordan

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Screenshot: Rush Hour, New Line Cinema

Since dominating the action film scene as an actor and stuntman in Hong Kong, Jackie Chan has always been a performer that pushes the limit far more than any other.

What has always set Chan apart since his earliest days has been his commitment to getting the shot right. He’ll shoot 600 takes of a single kick if that’s what’s needed to make a shot perfect, and he isn’t afraid of getting hurt.

Chan’s unique brand of humour mixed with action and Kung Fu is what landed him his first Hollywood action blockbuster in 1999, officially bringing him to the US and exploding him onto the scene.

From there, Chan went on to make a smattering of sequels for his first hit Rush Hour, and a lot of other films including The Spy Next Door and a remake of Karate Kid.

But despite Jackie Chan never losing any of enormous fame, he hasn’t been seen in many Hollywood films in recent years. But where did he go? And why? The reasons may be a lot more complex than you think.

Unsatisfying Scripts

When speaking to Mexican film site Filmilier, Chan discussed the scripts being offered to him in Hollywood. He said that he’s always being offered the role of “Hong Kong policeman” and never anything new or interesting.

He said that he wants the world to change their perception of him, and see him more as an actor who does action, rather than as an action star.

Chan said that he’s an actor who knows how to act, yet no-one in Hollywood ever expects it of him. They’re only happy when he’s kicking someone in the face, so it’s all they offer him. So while Chan is still living in the US, he has become unhappy working there, and instead makes Chinese films.

Chan is still a bankable star in China as much as he is in the US, except in China he’s offered meatier roles. Chan can have just about anything he wants in China, so is far happier to commit to these films instead.

At the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Chan talked about action films in another way. Instead of saying that he was bored of them, he admitted that he was getting too old. Chan said “I will ask my body how long I can go... I am not young anymore. So part of the answer may not be that he's bored of Kung Fu, he may just be unable to pull off the death-defying feats he was once famous for.

But there's a lot more to the story than just roundhouse kicks and jumps off a moving vehicle..

Embracing the Dragon

Another reason Jackie Chan may be less involved with Hollywood and more involved with the Chinese movie scene is because of his political affiliation.

Chan has made no secret of the fact that he sides with the Beijing Government, and believes that Chinese people are better off under communist rule.

Said Chan, “I’m not sure if it’s good to have freedom or not. I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled.”

While Chan may have said this 11 years ago, it has drifted to the surface over the last year because of the protests in Hong Kong. The more that Hong Kong fights for its independence, the less Western countries can relate to Chan’s political viewpoint.

Chan actually spoke out against the pro-democracy protests last year, asking Hong Kong to “return to peace.”

Since making these statements and signing his name to petitions that support the new security law imposed by Beijing, Chan lost a lot of good will in his native Hong Kong, and anywhere else that supports the cause of protestors.

Supporting the Beijing Government is the right decision to make if your aim is to further your career within mainland China, but not if your aim is to succeed anywhere else.

So while Chan could be snubbing Hollywood for their lacklustre scripts, they may be snubbing him right back for his politics.

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Photo by Yu Kato on Unsplash

Did we cause this to happen?

Jackie Chan is an incredible performer who is unlike anyone else. He’s the only action star who can blend comedy and action in such a unique way, while always coming across as likeable and relatable.

Rather than filming action films that interject kicking with comedy, Chan is always able to make the action funny by giving himself a disadvantage, and stylising the fighting perfectly with stunt performers who can actually fight, actually take a hit, and actually land a joke.

Rather than filming with glamorous actors who can look pretty but have never landed a punch in their lives, Chan is the real deal.

But as he gets older, Jackie Chan’s standard for scripts is getting higher. He doesn’t want to play the “Hong Kong policeman” anymore, instead he wants to be cast in real, deep acting roles.

Unfortunately for him however, Hollywood just doesn’t see him that way. Whether it’s because they don’t see him as a ‘real’ actor, or because of systemic racism in America, Chan can’t seem to get the roles he wants. This is actually a sentiment shared by many other actors of Asian descent in the industry, so the problem may be a lot more widespread than people think.

Regardless, Chan has decided to make a name for himself in the Chinese film industry, where his wishes carry a lot more weight, and he can choose from a far wider variety of scripts.

In China, you can catch Jackie Chan in a drama and never see him kick anyone even once during the entire film. His characters have depth, and rely on dialogue and emotional stakes rather than Kung Fu. This is what Chan has always wanted, but at what cost?

Jackie Chan is now the face of communism for many people, which has been heartbreaking for many of the citizens of Hong Kong. Chan, who was once their hero, is now the enemy for many people.

As Chan continues to succeed in Mainland China, he continues to speak out in favour of policies set forth by the Beijing government. While this strategy ensures his success in the mainland, it alienates him to the rest of the world.

So what are we left with? We’re left with a lot of questions. Did we drive Jackie Chan to Mainland China by not giving him the roles he felt he deserved?

Was he right? Would he have pulled off deep dramatic roles if we’d just given him a chance? Did we miss out on seeing an entirely different side to Jackie Chan? Given the incredible amount of work he puts into action films, the answer is probably that we did indeed miss out.

But lastly, is this the plight of all Asian actors in Hollywood? Is anyone of Asian descent getting what they deserve? Are we pushing them away at a time when Chinese cinema is offering them fame and fortune, but at a price?

Will we lose more great actors to China before we realise what we’re doing?

We’d better figure out the answers to these questions, and fast. Or else we may lose a lot more of the talent we’re currently taking for granted.

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I’m a well travelled writer who loves nothing more than a well polished video game, an expertly crafted sandwich, and a hot mug of Milo.

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