Jackie Chan is, unquestionably, a living legend. Over the course of his 52-year career, he’s appeared in more than 150 films, his own TV show, video games, and even become a bonafide pop star across Asia. Even now, at the ripe old age of 60, he shows no signs of slowing the pace.
We were lucky enough to secure tickets for Empire’s exclusive Q&A screening of Chinese Zodiac (CZ12) at the Prince Charles Cinema, Leicester Square. Packed out with die-hard fans (some of whom had been queuing outside for hours already), we were in good company as we watched his Guinness world record-breaking film, released on DVD and Blu-Ray on the 11th.
The Q & A gave rise to some interesting revelations from Chan about what we can expect from him in the next few years. For one thing, he wanted to make sure that we knew he had not finished with action movies. For the next five years, he’s apparently sticking with them (even if he has to be a bit more careful doing so). He’s just wrapped on a particularly awesome-sounding movie called Dragon Blade, an ancient epic co-starring Adrien Brody and John Cusack as two rival Roman generals whose fight for supremacy takes place during the latter’s attempted invasion of Chan’s Western Chinese territory. Beyond that, there were some tantalising suggestions on offer.
Firstly, Chan is apparently working on a script with Sly Stallone. Yes. A double-headed feature may be on the way that features Stallone and Chan kicking butt for two hours. It’s early stages yet, but we can’t help immediately fantasising about the epic stunts this combo would require. Demolition Man meets Drunken Master? Yes please.
Secondly, a reunion movie featuring Chan’s long-time collaborators and sparring partners Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao could also be a possibility. While the three have not appeared in a movie together since 1988, their iconic relationship and appearances in the likes of Wheels on Meals and Project A cemented their place in martial arts movie history. Hopefully this is a pipe dream that comes to fruition.
What else? Well, Chan’s preoccupation with the moral impact of his work is clear. Speaking about his achievements to date, he acknowledged that the message from some of his earlier films may not have been ideal, but says that his newer material aims to promote more child-friendly principles. It’s not a surprising announcement, but it’s one delivered to frequently, and so vehemently, that it feels like this is the most prominent principle guiding Chan’s movie-making choices.
There was also a surprising revelation about the inspiration Chan took for writing movies of his own. Apparently it all comes down to Richard Gere’s 1982 romantic classic An Officer and a Gentleman, which he credits with teaching him that there must be a gripping story, in order for action sequences to have any impact. While in Chinese cinema of the time, twenty minute-long fight sequences would barely register with the uninterested audience, the strength of the story in An Officer and a Gentleman was so much that a single punch being thrown was enough to have the crowd out of their seats, cheering.
While it was over far too soon, the Q & A session was truly enlightening, and a chance to see what a charming, funny man Chan is off-screen, as well as on. He seems driven by a genuine desire to make a positive impact on the world, an admirable sentiment, and one that gives his films that family-friendly sheen he’s so known for. A fantastic evening in the company of a fantastic man.
And what about the movie itself? For anyone already familiar with Chan’s work, the light, slap-stick comedy style and heavy-handed morals that dictate much of Chinese Zodiac’s plot will of course come as no surprise. A semi-reboot of his successful Armour of God franchise, it’s a rip-roaring adventure movie in which Chan’s questionable motives as an international art thief are ultimately put to the test when he is asked to track down the legendary lost Chinese zodiac head statues, to go on sale abroad.
As with The Legend of Drunken Master, the issue of national antiquities being taken and sold elsewhere is central to the story. However, probably more importantly for everyone here tonight, the fight scenes are as brilliantly choreographed as ever. From kicking and rolling his way down a treacherous mountainside, to an epic kung-fu battle in mid-air over an active volcano, it’s one of his most ambitious films to date.
This ambition isn’t just confined to his on-screen antics; while these saw him earn the Guinness World Record for ‘Most Stunts Performed By a Living Actor’, his hard work behind the camera meant that he also secured the record for ‘Most Credits in One Movie’. Not bad going for someone well within his rights to start slowing down a little.
While the morality of the film swerves dangerously close to ‘preachy’, Chinese Zodiac is so relentlessly entertaining, it’s hard to take it too personally. The jokes land as perfectly as the high kicks, and there’s even a sly little nod to The Young Master in an epic piece of furniture-based choreography. Definitely one of his best movies in recent years, and proof (if any were needed) that he’s a truly legendary talent.
If you love Martial Arts as much as we do, then why not check out our 15-track collection ‘Wuxia Themes’, including music from the soundtracks of Police Story, Enter the Dragon and Fist of Fury, plus many more.