Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Going Through a Phase Right Now: Jackie Chan


When it comes to movie watching, I seem to have not matured past basic high school instincts. Not in that I still like now what I did in High School, but rather that you could easily say "he's just going through a phase right now" on any given day and you'll likely be right. Mostly because, I'm not the most consistent of viewers. It could be this week I'm watching nothing but the latest releases, next month I might spend all the free time I have watching anime, or I could cycle back and rewatch a bunch of childhood favorites. Maybe I'll dive into the foreign cinema or engulf myself in war movies. Perhaps there'll be a director I particularly fancy or an actor I'm in a hungering for.


Right now, for example, I'm on a Jackie Chan kick, going through all those movies of his I kept telling myself I would watch but never bothered to. For now this has mostly consisted of the Police Story series - 1 through 4, will get to 'New Police Story' in my own time - which is one of Jackie Chan's longest running film series (at five as of 2004). It's a fun, off the cuff, over the top series that wonderfully blends that comedy-action genre Chan is so well known for. Though I do fear watching these films has made me a bit nostalgic.

You see, Chan is quite brilliant at slapstick humor. He weaves the humor into the story, effortlessly. From his exaggerated facial expressions to the 'just no luck at all' situations he consistently finds himself in, Chan's characters are often two dimensional, but wonderfully colorful. Factor in that his movies are generally one motorcycle jump short of forever putting Evel Knievel to shame, and you can see why Chan has been so well liked by cinema for so long. No matter how archetypal, he exudes the lovable loser persona wherever he goes.

Not all that different of an on screen persona of another favorite of mine, Jack Lemmon. Lemmon could also handle slapstick and comedic zaniness with the best of them - see The Great Race. Yet, while Lemmon also conveyed an otherworldly charm, he knew how to match comedy for drama just like Chan matched comedy for action. I saw 'matched' because it seems to me Chan - either by age or personal circumstance - has lost that 'loving spirit' (sorry if an image of an '80s Tom Cruise just flashed in your mind and you are now desperately trying to ring that song from the inner workings of your brain).

His American success has been short lived, and uneven at best. While Shanghai Noon/Shanghai Knights and Rush Hour 1 and Rush Hour 2 catapulted him to stardom, people fleed in horror from the likes of The Tuxedo and I may be one of handful people on earth who managed to sit through all of The Medallion (that is most definitely not bragging). Around the World in 80 Days was just stupid, Rush Hour 3 was a frail shell of the original narrative, and The Forbidden Kingdom was depressingly underwhelming. Despite box office success with The Kung Fu Karate Kid remake, Chan was the film's only bright spot, and even that didn't take much. Please, lets not even bring up The Spy Next Door *shivers*.

So I wonder, what the future has in store for Jackie Chan? I'll admit it was a brilliant bit of casting to get Chan to do the voice of the Monkey in Kung Fu Panda, but the crew behind the scenes woefully underused him. If anything he's likely to enter that much frustrating realm of elder actor by which he'll inevitably end up playing in a series of Donald Sutherland specials - i.e. dying early on and being the catalyst for the younger star to carry out their revenge. Not the worst one could do, especially considering the life expectancy of most careers, but a far cry from the charismatic and cheerful Chan persona of yesteryear.

5 better thoughts:

Castor said...

Chan has long complained about not being "allowed" to act and emote and basically being limited to do his particular brand of slapstick. I wouldn't be surprised if he takes on heavier roles (and I think he has) just to prove he can do it.

Holly French said...

I'm a phase viewer too! Jackie Chan hasn't been a huge player for me though. I've only seen Enter the Dragon.

Kirsten Dunst has been in a lot of my recent undertakings. I've always liked her and am gearing up for Melancholia. It's a tad less depressing than a von Trier phase, I suppose. :)

Will said...

First time viewing of these killer Hong Kong Jackie movies is like heroin, you just can't stop once you get hooked. It was exactly like that for me when I started watching these. He's such an amazing performer, but as you mention in the post, his glory days are unlikely to return. He has mentioned that he wants to do more dramatic stuff now that he'd older and can't throw himself through plate glass windows anymore. I'd love to see him move into directing again, because his work as a director and choreographer is easily as impressive as his acting/fighting work.

Univarn said...

@Castor The thing is, and I know this might be mean, but I'm not 100% convinced he could act dramatically - he was much better being fun than somber in Karate Kid. I saw the early teaser for 1911, and I'm guessing that's going to be his hard push for an Oscar/Letters of Iwo Jima style film.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Highly recommend New Police Story, it's got HUGE amounts of action, and a huge budget on explosions, this movie has one of the biggest explosion scenes I have seen on any movie! Really! After it's over your like "wow" did I just watch that? Ha ha!

Im a huge fan of Chan's as well, my favorite one being The Legend of Drunken Master.

If you want to laugh a lot, then check out his film called: Winners and Sinners. This Chan comedy is sooooo underrated!

Looking forward to your Jackie Chan reviews! And by the way, your modus operandi towards watching movies is extremely similar to mine, jumping from one thing to another, depending on whatever interests me at the time.

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