Candid Chan
Action star Jackie Chan takes on students' questions

By Adam Webb
MAELI POOR - The Flat Hat
Martial arts star Jackie Chan speaks to the crowd at the Hall.

To wrap up a weeklong Jackie Chan film festival, the man himself stopped by the College last Saturday for his first public address to a college.

About 3,200 people turned out for the question-and-answer session in William and Mary Hall, according to Karen Dolan, the Reves Center office manager. The estimate is based on the number of tickets distributed, Dolan said. Chan's conversation was impromptu and candid. He admitted that he was nervous because he had never spoken at a university before.

"I'm really nervous," Chan said. "I do a lot of difficult action. I'm never scared But there are two things in my life that scare me. The first thing is a needle. The second thing is a speech."

Chan was also concerned that his English wasn't good enough for public speaking. However, he only needed to ask an interpreter for the English translation of the few words he didn't know.

Chan discussed his use of traditional kung fu and mixing various fighting styles, unlike Bruce Lee, who he said used a kind of kung fu that is typically taught to women for self- defense.

He went into detail about the differences in attitudes of Eastern and Western action filmmaking. In Hong Kong, directors such as Chan are more concerned with whether or not they get a good shot than of the welfare of the stuntmen. According to Chan, in Hollywood an action sequence takes a long time to film due to the many safety precautions to which a director must adhere. However, Chan prefers to "just do it," so you can see the beads of sweat on his face at the end of a lengthy fight sequence.

When asked who his heroes are, Chan cited his school master and silent film stars such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. He said that he admired directors such as Steven Spielberg, despite what he considers Spielberg's overuse of special effects. Chan prefers to be his own special effect for his movies.

As an example of his moral code in filmmaking, Chan told of his receiving a script for "Rambo IV" from Sylvester Stallone. In the role for which Stallone wanted him, Chan would have to play a drug dealer. However, since that goes against his image, Chan declined.

"He spoke about being a role model, which I thought was very interesting. He makes sure that his characters don't smoke and that he tries not to use guns and things like that in movies," junior Dave Ely, a literary and cultural studies concentrator, said. According to Chan, he also avoids using swear words, gratuitous violence and sexual situations. Chan mentioned that the blooper reels at the end of his films are meant to be humorous as well as cautionary to impressionable children who want to mimic Chan's moves.

When asked about future projects, Chan discussed a sequel to "Rush Hour," which will be filmed in many locations, including Hong Kong, San Francisco and Las Vegas. He said he looks forward to co-star Chris Tucker's visit to Hong Kong, which he called his "hood."

However, when asked to sing the song "War," which was featured in "Rush Hour," Chan declined, saying he couldn't understand the song's lyrics because they were said so fast. Instead, he sang the slower-paced "Can't Help Falling in Love" and "You're Always on My Mind," to audience cheers.

Chan also provided a brief clip of his next Hong Kong film entitled "The Accidental Spy," part of which takes place in Turkey.

Chan spoke about his lack of education growing up and stressed the importance of education in today's world and how people should strive to accomplish what they want to do in life.

While at the martial arts school, Chan was given the chance to be a child actor. He enjoyed the change of pace that acting allowed for him. He could get up at 8 a.m., as opposed to 5 a.m., and could eat alone in peace.

Chan said that he earned $10 a day for doing stunts, but only got to see 60 cents a day because the rest of the money went to the master of his school. It took four months worth of this meager salary to buy a single pair of Levi's. At age 17, Chan left school and found small roles in films.

After that, Chan was an extra in two of Bruce Lee's films "Fist of Fury" and "Enter the Dragon." When Lee died, Chan was expected to assume his mantle. Chan was billed as Sing Lung, which translates to "Becoming the Dragon." Chan starred in Bruce Lee-esque roles in films like "New Fist of Fury" but didn't like being stuck in Lee's shadow. Chan was finally able to break loose in his own style in the 1978 film "Snake in Eagle's Shadow."

Chan wrapped up his 90-minute talk by repeating the advice he said his father told him a long time ago - avoid drugs, gangs and gambling.

However, Chan added that he enjoys gambling, despite his father's warnings.

After the session, several students had the opportunity to meet Chan in a more personal setting.

The Reves Center for International Studies and the Charles Center sponsored the event, which was the culmination of a weeklong one-credit course about Chan's films.

"It [the one-credit course] was a good job by the literary and cultural studies department. It provided the opportunity to study something unique and different. It was an opportunity to study something from a cross-cultural standpoint," Ely said. The five films that were screened were "Armour of God," "Police Story III Supercop," "Drunken Master II," "Dragons Forever" and "Crime Story."

"I thought it was informative, but not rigidly academic," Ely said about the class. "I learned a lot about Jackie Chan, but it wasn't universally applicable If it had been about Hong Kong industrialization, it would have been more informative, but for what it was, it was well implemented."

According to Ely, he liked the one-credit course format.

"I'd like to see more one-credit classes that are on varied topics," he said. "It allows you to do something but not consume a whole semester on it."

Dan Miller and Lisa St. Martin contributed to this story.