Jackie Chan had every reason to be pleased with himself at the Television Critics Association meeting last week. His animated series, Jackie Chan Adventures had just gotten a greenlight for a second season by the Kids WB. As far as he was concerned, this was better news than the recently announced sequel to his western epic Shanghai Noon.
'When I was very young,' Chan started, in his heavily accented English. 'I watched a lot of--do you know?...Beep Beep!..,' obviously imitating a well-known animated character.
'Roadrunner,' a monitoring WB exec cuts in.
Chan concurs enthusiastically. 'And Popeye,' he sings the sailor-man's
theme song, '...later on it was Batman and Superman. When I was growing up, I was in martial arts school. I really wanted to be Batman. Superman is too much. Nobody can be Superman. But Batman? Yes. I wanted to don a mask at night time and go help people. That's how the martial arts teacher taught us, like Robin Hood. Batman influenced me a lot.'
But this isn't the only reason why Chan is pleased with his 'toon series. Quite frankly, the martial arts star will be the first to tell you that he has maybe five more years in the H.K. arena, and then he wants to quit. On the other hand, the animated version of Jackie Chan can keep on going for quite a while longer.
'People ask me how much longer I can keep doing this,' Chan admits about his live action work. 'Right now I'm pretty lucky because I'm doing the sequel to Rush Hour. We are shooting the big fighting scene and I'm choreographing all the action. Because I'm doing all the choreography, I know how far I can go and how to protect myself. Still, I only give myself another five years. That's one of the main reasons why I'm making the cartoon.'
'If you do cartoons right, you can go on forever,' Chan says. 'It's not about money. It's my dream to always be a cartoon character because as a character I can't hurt myself. Even after I retire (from live actionEditor) the cartoon show can still go on.'
As it stands, Chan is taking the second season pick-up as a very good sign. The extent of the deal should give any actor reason to be cheerful.
'When we started the show a year ago, I didn't have the confidence I have now,' says Chan. 'I didn't know if the audience was going to like it or not. Now I'm sure. The reason I'm sure is not only have they taken my second season, but it will be on six days a week instead of Saturdays only.'
Anyone who's had a chance to see Jackie Chan Adventures would concur that it's a heck of a lot of fun. The basic plot features Chan as a cross between his standard everyday hero character and an Indiana Jones-type adventurer. He's aided and abetted by a hot-headed young niece, Jade, as well as a zen-master uncle, called Uncle, pulled out of the pages of Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.
The fundamental plot line of the first season has revolved around Chan
unintentionally uncovering a conspiracy revolving around a dozen different talismans. Each of these mystical talismans has a symbol of the Chinese Zodiac on them, and as such, gives the bearer a power appropriate to that symbol. For example, the Ox talisman makes its owner incredibly strong. The Horse talisman gives on the power to heal. Another gives the power of flight while a fourth gives one power over others' dreams.
Of course, the series wouldn't be complete without stock villains. The main one is a mandarin wizard so nasty his soul has been trapped inside a statue for millennia. Attempting to release the wizard is a master thief named Villanche, who runs two major organizations. The first is a group of thugs called the Black Lotus. The second, and far more deadly, are a band of hyper-powered ninjas called the Shadow Khan. Throw in a man-mountain named Toru who has a particular thing against Chan and his allies and you have a pretty colorful cast of characters.
But that isn't enough. As produced by those wondrous guys at Sony Entertainment--also the home of such entertainment as Max Steel, Men In Black and Big Guy & Rusty The Boy Robot--the series has an incredibly sharp wit about it. As written by animation vet Duane Caprizzi, the puns fly about as sharply as the kicks. Also, producers Jeff Kline and
Richard Raynis had done their homework. The action sequences can stand up there with some of Chan's better live action films, right down to our hero taking out a series of thugs with nothing more than a pair of windshield wipers or racing down the side of the Eiffel Tower in order to escape too many Shadow Khan.
No Masterpiece Theatre
What's even smarter is the team at Sony seems to instinctively know that Chan's English isn't going to get him any roles opposite the likes of Kenneth Branagh, and work around that liability smoothly. All the characters are drawn in a personality animation style of the highest order. Chan is as incredibly expressive as a cartoon character as he is in person. No small feat when you consider a TV animation budget.
'You want me to do Kramer vs. Kramer?' Chan asks rhetorically. 'I even have someone come in and do my voice for me in the cartoon. It's too hard for me. About the only voice things I do are the fighting things... the 'AAAAAAHHHHSSSS!!!!' and the pow, pah, pows! and 'Ughs!'--that I do better and makes the director's job easier.
'About the only thing I can do is action films. With my English, how can I do serious dialogue? I'm learning, but in the mean time the best I can hope for is good action. I know some parents say that all action is violent. To them all I can say is I'm sorry, I'm doing my best. Then again, you compare my action against American violence, and mine would come across as nearly zero.'
'It's all self-defense, the cartoon. It's not a violent, aggressive cartoon that way. It's much more stunt-oriented. Jackie runs up the sides of buildings. That kind of thing. When you see the action in the cartoon, that is real Jackie Chan. All the movement. Of course, in the live action movies I can only jump twenty feet while in the cartoon I can jump 40!'
Chan breaks out in a laugh over that. Then again, comedy is an even more important element to his work than violence. Chan's type of action comes from a much deeper source, the physical humor of silent superstars such as Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and especially Buster Keaton.
'I like comedy because it makes people laugh,' Chan admits. 'I don't like it too serious. Also, children can watch more comedy.
'About 10 years ago, some fans sent me my first Buster Keaton videos,'
Chan recollects. 'I looked at it and thought, 'Wow! That's so good without all the violence and without dialogue!' I then started to watch more Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin. I still collect all their films.'
'I want to make films for everybody, so I put in more body language. In the old days, all my movies ever were about was some guy coming up to me and saying 'Why you looking at me' and we fight. Then another guy would come up and say 'Why you looking at me' again and we fight. No reason. Someone drops water on my pants and I throw them off a building.
'But now I understand scripting. Around the film First Drive I
started to change. In my latest film, Gorgeous, I've gotten to the point where there's no ashtrays in the entire movie because I don't want kids picking up cigarettes.'
In the meantime, Chan is hard at work on the sequel to his movie Rush Hour and added the sequel to Shanghai Noon will probably be called Shanghai Night.
'I really don't want to do the sequels,' Chan admits. 'It's the audience. It's the companies. They want me to do them. Chris Tucker says a lot of things I just don't understand, and therefore can't think of as funny. I remember one time he just went up to me and asked 'What's up [N word]?' and everyone around started laughing. I had to ask him what was so funny about it. I didn't know. Then I saw it in a theatre test and everyone started laughing. I remember sincerely thinking that after Rush Hour I came out that I probably had just done my only American film, ever. Then the
movie turned into a big hit.'
As it stands, it appears Chan likes working on the more cowboy-oriented Shanghai movies better.
'We had a round table last night,' he admitted. 'From the looks of things we will start shooting in April. If the box office is still good, then we will do another Shanghai sequel.'
Meanwhile, production is well underway for the second season of the
animated Jackie Chan Adventures. It's tearing up your TV