With his killer martial arts skills, Jackie Chan would make a great villain, but he has resisted taking criminal roles in order to be a positive role model for his son and youth around the world.
He continues that good-guy tradition in his latest action film, the swords-and-sandals Dragon Blade, in which he plays Huo An, the commander of the Silk Road Protection Squad in a story that is inspired by historical events.
The setting is western China, 48 BC, when corrupt Roman leader Tiberius (Adrien Brody) arrives with a giant army to claim the Silk Road (an ancient trade route). Huo An, who was trained by General Huo Qubing, his adoptive father, desires for coexistence and peace, but nevertheless teams up with warrior Roman general Lucius (John Cusack), along with soldiers from 36 ethnic nations, to fight Tiberius. The result is nothing less than an epic battle.
Obviously, if you're hoping for some laughs, like in Rush Hour or Shanghai Knights, Dragon Blade doesn't provide them. It is a different kind of Jackie Chan movie. But the warrior epic still features the amazing fight choreography and cinematography that only Chan knows how to design.
"Today's audiences also want emotion, and, in fact, having a strong plot helps the action sequences develop much more naturally," Chan tells Bio. "We tried our best to tone down the fancy fighting styles that you normally see in Chinese action films because this film is about ancient Romans with their own fighting traditions. For the Romans, fighting is all about force; about brute power."
Dragon Blade took seven years to get made from the time that Chan first met with writer/director Daniel Lee (Black Mask), but it was time well spent, as working together turned out to be a great collaboration for the two men. Producing and starring in the film was Chan's way of broadening his range. And even though he's done sequels for a few of his more popular movies, he doesn't try to repeat himself too often.
"I would like audiences to consider me as an actor who can do action, not just as an action star," he says. "And I really look forward to trying more dramatic roles. In the future, I will still continue to do action comedy, but also other new genres, too."
When Chan entered the film industry, the go-to-guy for action was Bruce Lee and his jeet kune do style of martial arts that incorporated elements of kung fu, fencing, and boxing. When Lee died, Chan knew he had to develop his own style to be successful in the martial-arts film genre.
"I deliberately shifted my fighting style to be the opposite of Lee's: Where Lee kicked high, I kicked low; while he beats vigorously and without mercy, I would show my pain after beating others," says Chan, who at 61 still performs his own stunts, knowing it's what audiences expect of him. "I want to create the image of how an ordinary man would fight, so that others can relate to him. That's why I always used any objects near me in a fight: tables, chairs, staircases."
On the set, Chan takes his producer credit seriously. He sees everything as his responsibility, including cleaning the studio along with the crew, recycling empty bottles, vacuuming, tidying up the common room, and making sure that everyone is happy with their accommodations. A self-proclaimed "neat freak," Chan laughs when his friends jokingly proclaim he has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
Outside of work, Chan's good-guy image is just, if even more, evident. He supports a variety of charitable causes including conservation, animal abuse, and disaster relief efforts. He has served as UNICEF and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador and created the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation to offer scholarships to students in Hong Kong, as well as the Dragon's Heart Foundation to help children and the elderly in remote areas of China. He's also worked on behalf of Save China's Tigers.
"Me and other celebrities like basketball player Yao Ming have been trying to raise people's awareness on [conservation]," he says. "For sure, there has been great progress in the last ten years, and I have confidence that new generations will take such concerns seriously. I think we're already seeing that in the youth in China."
Dragon Blade opens in theaters and Video on Demand on Sept. 4th.