Jackie Chan's latest film, The Foreigner, is based on the Stephen Leather novel The Chinaman, revolving around a humble London restaurant owner (Chan) who seeks justice after his daughter (Katie Leung) is killed in an IRA-linked bomb attack. With no one left in his family and nothing left to lose, the grieving father pursues former IRA member turned politician (Pierce Brosnan) for the names of the terrorists—unraveling a convoluted web of politics, buried pasts, and hidden agendas.
Touted as a Taken-esque action thriller, The Foreigner's fight sequences are explosive—as expected from a film starring the international action star, and directed by GoldenEye and Casino Royale director Martin Campbell. But the highlight is Chan's vengeful and stone-faced performance as Quan.
For many, it'll be unfamiliar to see the 63-year-old actor appear in a dramatic Hollywood role—he's best known for his action-comedy movies—though according to Chan, this has been decades in the making. And he still has a ton of ideas for his next big project, using our interview as a mini-pitch session.
That's not to say that he's completely giving up on action-comedies, however. I talked with Chan about how he's been preparing America for the kind of films he wants to do, why he believes that The Foreigner has a message of peace, and why it's finally time for Rush Hour 4—but not Shanghai Dawn.
VICE: You've said before that you want to be known as an actor who can fight, not a fighter who can act. Why is this difference important to you?
Jackie Chan: I watched history. All my friends who are action stars, after a certain age, they're gone. How many action stars are still around in the film business? There's always a new action star coming again, and again, and again. When I was 30-something, I knew already.
So I've been preparing what I'm doing for my future. In the last 20 years, if you follow my movies in China and America, you can tell: different characters, different scripts, different action, different kind of acting. I've been preparing for so long—slowly, slowly, letting audiences accept me, "even if Jackie isn't doing action or comedy movie, we still get to see him."
It takes a long time, and it's very challenging; it's like gambling. Shinjuku Incident, Heart of Dragon—good movies, but box office no good—the company immediately goes back to make action. It's wrong. In this day, I no longer care about box office anymore. The critics are very important to me. Forty years ago, I was already like, "box office win, we win." That's wrong. You have to let the people remember the movie—that's a good movie. I want to do something people will remember.
Do you think The Foreigner was a movie you could have done earlier in your career, or only with experience?
I think it comes with experience. Earlier, it doesn't work—I pick up the script, and I write my own script that's suitable for my age. How old am I, what kind of thing can I do? Back then, I used to be able to do so many funny faces [contorts his face, and then chuckles]—but I cannot do it anymore, because I'm not young.
I'd rather do something like Taken or American Sniper. There are so many American films, why can't I get those kind of scripts? Why don't directors hire me to do these kind of movies? Pierce [Brosnan] can do Mamma Mia 2 now! I love Mamma Mia! If Pierce can do it, I think I can do it too—with fighting, action, dancing, singing. I hope in Mamma Mia 3, they invite me to do it.
A lot of people still see Asians as outsiders or foreigners. When you look at movies like Rush Hour or The Karate Kid, it seems that Hollywood still prefers to see Asians as being nice or the sidekick. Do you think your role as Quan might play into that "outsider" fear?
No, I don't think so. It really depends on the script. Anybody is a foreigner, even American people are foreigners. Nobody is an American. In the movie, besides talking about terrorism, we still think about love and unity. We tell the bombers, "Look, you killed so many innocent people, it is wrong." So that's why I desired to do this movie.
As a filmmaker, producer, or director, you have to do something for society. There are so many natural disasters, but now humans create disasters everyday. Whatever I do, I'm promoting peace and love. If everyone do a little bit, then I think the whole world will get peace.
I thought we might not ever see Rush Hour 4, since you've said you were trying to move away from big action movies. What made you want to go back to the script?
[When] I receive the American script, it's always: Hong Kong police, Chinese police, Hong Kong CIA, Chinese CIA. Every time they gave me a Rush Hour script, I always throw it back. Fake money, Mafia—I don't like it. Just something I don't like. Even Shanghai Noon, they wanted to make Shanghai Dawn—Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Knights, Shanghai Dawn—but the script is terrible! Kidnap the last emperor, Owen Wilson's father is selling guns in China, I go back to help the last emperor, then I find out I have another son who is an imperial guard. Then I just throw [it] back.
One month ago, Brett Ratner threw the idea to me. I said, "Yeah, it might work. Show me." Last week, they showed me the first page. Then I agreed. At least, I accepted that there's something new. There's no fake money, and Mafia, and opium, those kind of things.
Can audiences expect the same or different Lee and Carter?
Same team, different story, different area, different place to film. Why did I accept it? Because I have The Foreigner. Then, the next American film, I hope will be a comedy. Then, maybe after Rush Hour 4, I hope to have Karate Kid 2. Of course, I [also] hope I can be one of the Avatars or Kingsmen.
How do you hope people will see and remember Jackie Chan?
I hope people will remember me as a good actor who can do so many things. I've proved already that I'm a director, writer, singer, stunt coordinator, action star—and also, I'm an actor. And I'm a good teacher. And that I'm just another… good person.
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