JET LI GETS PHILOSOPHICAL WHILE JACKIE CHAN SPEAKS HIS MIND
On the biggest reason for taking up Forbidden Kingdom
Jackie Chan: If I were the director, I would not shoot such a movie in China. The story is too bizarre, it incongruent with Chinese culture. But the US studios think that it’s fun to put everything together, such as Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon.
The storyline is very absurd, yet could be created in the West. Though to me, it’s extremely ludicrous, but the US audience can accept it, so I shot it according to the script. The story is a fairy tale, just like a cartoon. I believe the scriptwriter loves Chinese culture, for he could combine Drunken Fist, Jade Emperor, Eight Immortals, Monkey King, etc. together.
Jet Li: I accepted this film purely for fun. Chinese people are too earnest, they have to have something to say in every film. Some films are purely for entertainment. This is a film in which you bring a big cup of popcorns and watch with kids, see how this group of people get into fights everywhere in order to rescue Monkey King. Forget about themes and culture. Too heavy, too serious. Life is already so full of pressure.
In the recent big films from China, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, to Warlords, everyone dies. Each of them is so tragic. My foreigner friends ask me, Why do the Chinese like such tragic stuff; in the West, no matter how sad, how tragic it is, there’d always be a happy reunion, leaving a possibility for sequels, forever full of hopes towards life. Yet, we are so intoxicated with living in painful memories, very tiring. A movie can have many elements, so, I try to shoot a movie with happy ending.
On the reactions of billions of martial arts fans around the globe to Forbidden Kingdom
Jackie Chan: To me, this is but a film. I believe the Asian audience would be bewildered by this film, how could Drunken Master be seen with Monkey King? Why is the Jade Emperor sitting there? Why would Silent Monk enter a teahouse? But, you must know that all these came from the US director and scriptwriter. The Western audience might find it novel and interesting.
So, before filming, I had talks with Jet Li, we were both in a quandary, should we shoot such a film? Eventually, we came to a decision – to shoot a film for the Western audience. So, we don’t tell the Asian audience this would be a great film. You might find that the film defies logic, maybe the young people might like it, might find it novel. The US people would be interested, they are very interested in Chinese culture.
Jet Li: This is a commercial film through and through. Like any commercial films, before filming, they’d had already worked out which types of audiences would be watching. Generally, the audiences would be mostly male, and hopefully, they would bring some female audiences along. The movie would also appeal to kids, and hopefully, their parents would go with them. And if the kids love the movie, they would watch again.
On the relations between Jet Li and Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan: I took up this film on Jet Li’s account. I don’t care about who gets the top billing, and the pay. If I go overseas, I might contend for top billing. But there’s nothing to compete between I and Jet Li. It doesn’t matter, we take half each. I’ve been waiting for years for such a chance.
I remember 15 years back, when I was in Golden Harvest. I called him over for a meeting. We both felt that we should do a movie together. I even wrote the script. However, due to political reasons – both our companies wanted to have the distributions rights, we had to abandon it. About 7, 8 years back, when I met Jet Li in Hollywood, we kept having meetings and discussions, but still, nothing came off. I always have this dream, to collaborate with certain people before retirement, such as Jet Li, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro.
Jet Li: We finally have a chance to work together, of course, I’m very happy. We are already good friends long before making this film. I first met Jackie Chan when I was 17 years old. One day, when I was in US performing, someone backstage cried, “Jackie is here! Jackie is here!”
Everyone was every excited, I met him backstage. I had watched his Snake in Eagle’s Shadows and Drunken Fist. He had brought us much harm, we were all studying his kungfu in the films, our hands and legs were very painful. Kids love to play. Later, we met in Hong Kong and even had an underground affair. I was staying at my friend’s house, he would secretly come to fetch me. We had meals, went sight-seeing, had fun together. Big brother drove very fast, had to hold tight.
Jackie Chan: Everyone thought that this is but our very first collaboration. But to me, we are like partners who have been working with each other for a long time. We have known each other for 20 years. When he first came to Hong Kong, he even brought me a gift – Dragon Sword. We had dinner, after that, we met very often, drinking tea. So, the first day I arrived on the set, I merely said “Hi.”
What surprised me most was our first fight scene against each other. We had such perfect chemistry. For others, we have to keep rehearsing, over and over again. But for us, I did not know why, we looked at each other, and said, “Let’s start!”
He was able to get my rhythm, and responded with his moves. Perhaps, he wished to know my speed, I also wished to know how good he is. The first take, it was very fast. The second take, still very fast. The third take, everyone told us to slow down. So, we had to reduce our speed.
Normally, when I worked with most people, it takes at least 10 to 15 takes. But with Jet Li, we needed just 5 takes. Such incidents occur only when I’m fighting Sammo Hung or Yuen Biao.
On the “iron triangle” dream team: Jet Li + Jackie Chan + Yuen Wo Ping
Jackie Chan: This is probably the most relaxed film I have ever done in my 47 years in the industry. Usually, when I’m an actor, I often have to do the works of director and martial arts director, my stunt team are on the set, waiting for my instructions. I could never have a moment of rest – martial arts training, memorising the lines, choreographing the action, and I even have to teach others how to fight. Really busy.
But, working with Yuen Wo Ping, I’ve had an easy time. We’ve worked together before – more than 20 years back. We did Snake in Eagle’s Shadow, Drunken Master. When I knew the martial arts director was him, my mind was completely at ease. I let him take charge of everything, neither did I want to interfere. I didn’t wish to handle anything, or I’d get very tense. I just did what he told me to. I believe Eighth Master himself was facing tremendous pressure, he had to come up with unique moves for both Jet Li and me.
Jet Li: Everyone knows that Yuen Wo Ping is the most famous martial arts choreographer in the world. So, I did all I could to recommend him. I trust him very much, I told the producer that we must get Yuen Wo Ping onboard.
For more personal project like Fearless, to convey personal thinking, I’d be more active in the development of the story and the martial arts choreography. But for Forbidden Kingdom, I did not contribute much, and relied totally on Eighth Master. I believe Eighth Master and his team would be able to help gain more points for the movie.
On the biggest challenge faced in the film
Jackie Chan: I love playing Old Hop most. I completely imitated Marlon Brando in Godfather, the way he spoke, his gait, and added a bit of trademark Jackie style. Seemed that the director thought it was ok, so I carried on.
But the biggest problem was the makeup on the face. It made me very agitated the whole day, I had no appetite, and neither did I want to talk much. Each day, I had to spent 7 hours doing makeup, 1.5 hrs to remove it. It’s a challenge to my patience.
I had to sit there since 5 am, I was almost dozing off, they treated my face like a pancake, applied glue all over my face, if they did anything wrong, they would remove the glue, and re-apply it. You have no idea how terrible it felt. It was a torture. Sometimes, I really hand it to those actors like John Travolta who could have had makeup on the entire body, playing around with transformations.
Jet Li: Playing the Monkey King, it took me 20 minutes before I could get into my character. And I had to spent 5 hours everyday on makeup. On seeing the golden hair all over my head and face, I did not know how to fight. I almost wanted to resist shooting. So, I have to hand it to Jackie, he could still move with great ease though he sported such long toupee.
The ultimate aim of doing Forbidden Kingdom
Jackie Chan: I hope to introduce the Chinese culture to the West, so that the world would understand us better. We are Chinese, we are the tour ambassadors of China, of Asia, I wish to spread the Asian culture… … I hope to shoot Dream of Red Mansions one day and have it released theatrically in US.
Jet Li: Our culture is very much different from the West, they have shorter history, prefer to be forward-looking, are hopeful of the future, while we are studying history, learning from the past, looking for lessons… … I set up One Foundation mainly to help Red Cross raise funds. I just hope to get everyone to do charity, everyone getting helped by someone, and paying it forward.
On future collaborations between the two martial arts superstars
Jackie Chan: Of course, this has been my dream for 15 years. We’ve always wanted to do a film with heavy action and heavy drama, Jet Li’s Fearless meets Jackie Chan’s Police Story.
On who is the real King of Kungfu
Jet Li: I’ve always felt that the greatest enemy is ourselves, whoever can defeat themselves is the King of Kungfu. Due to culture and our society, we compel ourselves to compare, compete against others, not only against the living, but also the deceased. Doesn’t matter, as long as you know what you want.
Which of my works do I like best? I won’t bother about these. It’s more important to give your all when filming. After having finished filming, let it be history. It was my dream yesterday. Everything, whether happy or not, is a kind of memory. Let go, enjoy life as it is. i-weekly |Photos: Sina