Jackie Chan on 'Rush Hour 4' and escaping Bruce Lee's shadow

Academy Honorary Award-winning actor speaks at Red Sea International Film Festival on his early days in Hollywood

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One of Jackie Chan’s first notable jobs in cinema was as a stunt double for the main antagonist in Bruce Lee’s 1972 film Fist of Fury.

The Academy Honorary Award-winning actor said it took a long time for him to emerge from Lee’s shadow when the opportunity finally came him to be a leading name in films.

“After Bruce Lee became a big star, everybody [tried to] follow,” he said on Thursday, during a talk at the Red Sea International Film Festival.

“When he died [in 1973], they needed action stars, but they didn’t care about acting. They only cared whether you could fight — hapkido, karate, whatever.”

Jackie Chan speaks about his early experiences in Hollywood at the Red Sea International Film Festival. Photo: AFP

Chan received his first starring role in the 1973 film Little Tiger of Canton.

As excited as he was to finally get his big break, his enthusiasm was somewhat tempered when he realised the director wanted him to emulate Lee’s fighting and acting style.

“I said, 'No, I’m not Bruce Lee. Nobody can be a Bruce Lee'," Chan said. "He said, ‘You are the second Bruce Lee.’ It was difficult.

“Even when the movie was released, I see a big poster and it said, in big letters, Bruce Lee. I walk closer and see they had written second above. They tried to cheat the audience and the movie bombed.”

From then on, Chan did everything he could to be the “opposite” of Lee, tweaking his fighting style and reactions in contrast to the famous Hong Kong martial artist.

It was from there that his comedy flourished. Many of his idiosyncratic moves, such as his rapid strikes or flapping his hand in pain after a punch, were developed as a result.

“I just did everything totally opposite,” Chan said. “I just tried being myself, slowly, slowly developing the Jackie Chan style.”

After proving himself in Asian cinema, becoming a household name in Hong Kong, China and Japan, Chan set his sights on Hollywood, where again he faced some opposition from directors who found his fighting style quicker than what was the norm.

Chan tried persevering, but he said he soon became unnerved and thought about returning to Hong Kong.

“I spent nine months learning English every day. A, B, C, D. How are you? Good. My name is Jackie Chan from Hong Kong. An action star,” he said.

“I didn’t have time to train. And whenever I’d do an action sequence, I was told to do less, to slow down. It was just a different culture.

"I said, 'No more Hollywood. They don’t like this kind of action'. I said, 'I’d rather stay in Asia and do my own thing'.”

Today, Chan’s fighting and acting style have become synonymous with the man, but in the early 1990s, filmmakers were not so eager to give him a chance … that is, until Rush Hour.

And while the role was specifically written for Chan, he said he was initially hesitant to take it on.

“I was playing police officers from Hong Kong, from Macau, from China," he said. "It was always a police officer.

"Can I do something else? ‘No’, they said. Then my manager said there’s a script called Rush Hour. Hong Kong police. I said 'No'.

"Then I said this would be the last time I try. My manager said you’re not playing an American-born Chinese. You’re a Hong Kong police who goes to America and speaks poor English.”

When Rush Hour became a success, Chan had already flown back to Hollywood when he received a call from his co-star Chris Tucker and director Brett Ratner, telling him the film made $70 million in its first weekend.

“Then we did part two and part three,” he said, before hinting at a Rush Hour 4, saying he was “going to meet the director tonight to talk about it.”

Chan also spoke about being awarded the Academy Honorary Award in 2016, saying when he first got the call from the Academy, he thought they meant he was going to present an award.

“I was filming on set and I couldn’t understand why they told me to keep it a secret for 24 hours,” he said.

“Then, everybody started congratulating me the next day, and I couldn’t understand. It was like a dream. When I went to the Oscars and met the director, I asked, ‘Why me?’

"She said that all 50 of the judges voted for me. The first one where they all agreed. It was really like a dream because I thought no action guy can win an Oscar.”

Chan has appeared in hundreds of films but he has no plans of slowing down.

He has plans to direct a drama and act in a film that he has been writing for three decades, which features just him and a bird. He also said he wants to do more love stories.

“I have so many things. So many scripts in my mind that I hope I can finish in the next 10 years.”

Scroll through images from the Red Sea International Film Festival below

Updated: December 09, 2022, 6:44 AM