Regardless of what The Tuxedo does at the box office, it might well have saved Jackie Chanís life. As the Hong Kong martial-arts expert and comic actor sees it, had he not passed on a project called Nosebleed about a window washer at the World Trade Center who gets involved in a terrorist plot, he might well have been on one of the Towers shooting that film last September 11.
"The studio didnít really like the script of Nosebleed because it was not perfect yet," he remembers. "So my manager said, ĎDonít worry. If you do not like this film, we can do Tuxedo. You will meet with Spielberg to see if you like it or not.í Then I met with Spielberg, and I say I will do Tuxedo, because I trust Spielberg."
It was a career-defining choice in other ways as well. Until Tuxedo, in which he plays a New York taxi driver who dons some souped-up formal wear that endows him with super powers, Chan had shied from using special effects. In fact, he had found the pace, humor, and style of his previous three Hollywood hits ó Shanghai Dawn, and Rush Hour I and II ó alien to his sensibility.
"Even now Iím not sure theyíre good," he says. "Because Iím still in an Asian mindset. Iím making American films in the American way, and yes, they worked in America. But in Asia, Iím right. In Asia, they were a bomb. Nobody went to see them. The comedy they donít understand. The action, terrible. My Asian films make like $50 million in Asia, but Rush Hour made only $10 million. But my Asian films I canít release in the American market. Thatís why I have to think of making separate films for the Asian market and the American market."
Nonetheless, those three American films established Chan as a Hollywood star with the bankability of his role models Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Cruise. So he was willing to push his luck a little further and take a chance on Spielberg and on special effects. Itís a step that has proven difficult.
"Itís very hard. Itís something I donít know. Usually I know the whole sequence that Iím doing in an action scene. In Tuxedo, I have to deal with the director and the director has to deal with the special-effects director and we all have to deal with a green screen. I want to immediately see the results, but itís three months before we can see what was done. But I think they did a pretty good job."
Chan also seems to have misgivings about abandoning the single-take sequences (in which he did his own stunts) that made him a cult figure in such Hong Kong films as The Young Master (1980) and Armour of God (1986), which he also directed. He finds his inspiration not in the f/x-heavy hits of today but in the physical mastery of Hollywood old-timers like Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly. "I tell my son, look at Gene Kelly. Five minutes without editing. Without tricks. Thatís classic. But MTV, anyone can do that. Cut. Cut. Cut. But not everybody can do a Jackie Chan movie."
Life goes on, however, thanks to the intercession of Steven Spielberg and The Tuxedo. Chan already has at least four new movies on the way, including two sequels ó Rush Hour III and Shanghai Knights ó and a remake of, of all things, Around the World in 80 Days in which he stars with Roberto Benigni. He also is keeping in touch with his Asian mindset and audience with the Hong KongĖmade martial-arts cop thriller Highbinders.
But does he see the day when heíll be able to make a film that combines his Hong Kong (and Old Hollywood) sensibilities with his blockbuster aspirations, a crossover hit that Asian and American audiences can both enjoy?
"Iím looking for that script that pleases everybody. Actually, Iím writing such a script. I hope one day I can make a movie like E.T."
The Tuxedo opens this Friday, September 27. Peter Keoughís review is on page 5 of the Arts section, and youíll find theaters and show times in "Film Listings," on page 27.