A few years back, it seemed Jackie Chan had aged out of action. He’s now 61, and even five years ago, with the “The Karate Kid” remake, Chan was away from the fighting, content to play mentor to Jaden Smith. But he’s still got it, and is still willing to do it, if not to the extremes of his “Drunken Master”/“Police Story”/“Armour of God” days. In “Dragon Blade,” a $65 million Chinese production, Chan plays a disgraced Han Dynasty-era patrol commander who teams up with a disgraced Roman commander (John Cusack) to take on an evil, hammy consul (Adrien Brody). Chan was reached over email, and his endearing goofiness is apparent even in the printed word. The exclamation points were left in for posterity’s sake.
“Dragon Blade” is more reliant on story than your past films, which frontloaded the action. Is that a reflection of you getting up in years or of something else?
My action style has changed as the audiences’ expectations have changed. When you look at my previous films, I was fighting from the opening credits to the closing credits. But now the audience is much more sophisticated and wants a story. With a strong story even a single punch can make the audiences cheer the house down. All those years, I was jumping off tall buildings and leaping off moving buses. So stupid!
“Dragon Blade” has moments of tragedy but also moments of comedy, with you sometimes making funny faces for during fights. How do you work to combine those two tones?
Now audiences around the world are different. They love not only action but also a film's story. They want emotion! In fact, having a strong plot helps the action sequences develop much more naturally. So I’m learning to combine drama and action, not just comedy and action. But I’m still making action comedies.
This is a case where American actors come over to China to make one of your movies. How did you integrate them into the production?
Both John and Adrien were really nice and hard-working. Many Chinese actors should learn from them. Adrien is a world-famous, Oscar-winning actor but he has no assistant with him! Can you believe that? He came to China by himself. He even carried his own luggage. I feel that’s a bit too low-key actually; at least he should have brought a translator with him. I assigned one of my own people to him.
One curious thing is that John and Adrien don’t like to have people around them when they’re acting. They can’t perform at their best when there are hundreds of people around them. They need to concentrate. But actually, when I have to do an emotional scene, I’m the same. How can you act sincerely when there are people all around you? So I think I’ve learned something from that that will make me a better actor.
I read there were difficulties with how hot it was on set. Did you suffer from extreme heat?
Intense heat and heavy armor are a terrible combination. So that our armor didn’t cut us, we wore it over cotton-padded jackets. When we started shooting it was winter, so it was really comfortable. But then we moved to the desert and it got hotter and hotter every day. Later, we cheated and used armor made of plastic. We got smart. But then we had sandstorms to cope with. It was really painful, with the sand getting into our eyes while we were fighting.
Are there stunts you’d still like to do in the future?
It depends on the film, on the story. It's true that I'm no longer doing those crazy stunts from my younger years. But I still want to satisfy my audience, who always expects authenticity from me. My next film is set on the railway tracks in 1930s Manchuria, so I’m sure you’ll see me going one-to-one with locomotives. That’s going to be a challenge and I think it will give audiences something new again.
Do you see yourself doing more drama in the future? Your performance in “The Karate Kid” remake is more of a serious role, barely requiring action.
Yes, I want to try many different kinds of genres in the future. I hope that people consider me as an actor that does action rather than just an action star. So you can expect to see me in many different roles in the future.