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A man of many hats

In front of the camera and behind the scenes, Jackie Chan took on many roles for his latest action extravaganza, 'Chinese Zodiac'

Hollywood has Christian Bale and Robert Downey Jr but when it comes to Asian superheroes, no one fits the bill better than Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan.

In his latest film, "Chinese Zodiac", Chan plays a treasure hunter seeking to recover 12 bronze animal heads looted from China's Old Summer Palace in the Second Opium War.

The action film, which cost 300 million yuan (Bt1.46 billion) to make, took seven years for script development and was filmed in eight locations over one year.

Aside from playing the film's fictional hero, Chan demonstrated heroic stamina, working as producer, director, scriptwriter and stunt choreographer, a feat that earned him the Guinness World Record for "most credits in one movie" for this film.

"They always ask me: 'Big Brother, when do you sleep?' At 5am, I'm on the set. After we finish work on the set, we eat together. They go to take a shower, I'm still dirty, meeting about tomorrow's schedule. I'm still editing and watching the film while they're already asleep," Chan laughs during an interview earlier this week.

"Being an Asian director is not like in America where you have an action director, editing director... so many directors. In Asia, I don't know... maybe only Jackie Chan does so many things. Actually I do have a lot of people helping me but I actually like to do it myself. It's fun."

Chan, who started his career as a stuntman at the age of 17, sleeps only about two to three hours when filming but claims he can sleep for as long as 30 hours when he's not working.

He compares his role on the set to that of a president or leader, who sets the rules and plays a lot of roles.

"I do all kinds of things, even dubbing the sound. I've been making movies for 52 years so I know every position, maybe not from a professional standpoint but I know everything."

Chan says he also cried on the last day of a film shoot - a first for him.

"'Chinese Zodiac' was really 52 years in the making, as I brought every bit of knowledge I've gained from all my years in the business. I've never cried over a broken leg or injury but tears just flowed when this movie was over. It is truly my pet project."

Sen, a 25-year-old Thai fan, was eagerly awaited the appearance of Chan and his two female co-stars at the preview of "Chinese Zodiac" in Bangkok. He was 14 when he first watched his first Jackie Chan movie, "Who Am I". "He's my idol. I like him because he's funny… and he's good. He always fights the bad people in his films."

Chan though refuses to typecast the "bad and good people" in his films. He recalls having nothing but black actors paraded in front of him when he was casting the role of the villain for "Rumble in the Bronx".

"I said no. I wanted French, Italian, Chinese. I want to show the whole world that bad people and good people are everywhere. When I was young, the Japanese were all bad in Chinese films. Later on when I watched American films, Germans were bad… Russians were bad. That's wrong and I thought, no, I should not make this kind of film. Good people, bad people are everywhere. That’s my philosophy."

"Chinese Zodiac" features an international roll call of actors, among them South Korean heartthrob Kwon Sang-woo, French actress Laura Weissbecker and even American musician Kenny G, who's better known for his sax playing than acting skills.

The film starts in Shanghai then goes to Paris, Beijing, Taiwan, Australia, Latvia, Vanuatu and Hong Kong. Chan appears in one scene wearing the now much-talked about Buggy Rollin' Suit as he zooms down a steep highway with sharp curves and slides under a car.

The last part of the film, shot near Mount Yasur in Vanuatu, runs for just four minutes but the entire crew was put on hold for two months because Chan wanted the volcano to be erupting before the cameras rolled.

While he performs many difficult stunts in the film, the actor

acknowledges that he is getting older and would prefer to do less dangerous stunts. He is not retiring though, far from it, nodding when it's suggested that the "next Jackie Chan" has yet to emerge.

"It's tough, when you find someone who can act, that person cannot do martial arts. When you find someone who can do martial arts, that person cannot act."

He's full of praise for his female co-stars Yao Xingtong and Zhang Lanxin. Yao, who won the best actress nomination at the Golden Rooster awards in 2009, learned French in nine months to land her role. Zhang was China's taekwondo champion in 2004 and has been dubbed the "new Michelle Yeoh".

"Yao didn't know French when she auditioned. But she practised for nine months," Chan says, adding that the young actress has worked relentlessly, repeating her stunts over and over until she got them right.

"Zhang may not be as good as other actresses but I like her attitude and it's attitude that's important. First, you have to learn to be a human being. Right now, a lot of young people, you see their attitude.. fine.. okay," he says, making a face.

But while Yao and Zhang may have mastered language and martial arts, they still have a lot to learn from their mentor, who patiently guided them on how to pose and when to speak during the press conference. Obviously bored during the interview, when most questions were being directed at Chan, the two starlets exchanged annoyed looks behind his back.

Not that Chan noticed, as he animatedly debated why American films continue to dominate the industry.

"Chinese films are not there yet. China's history is old but the government is only 60 years old, right? We are still learning; we have so many machines, computer graphics, but not many people know how to use them. It probably will take another 10 or 15 years. But one thing we can do is collaborate with them."

Despite the advances in computer graphics and digital effects in today's filmmaking, Chan says super action stars like him are still necessary. "I think we do need someone doing real action, not just effects."

And real action aside, Chan says he often wishes he really did have superhuman powers. "There are so many natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, tsunamis. Sometimes I would really like to be superman and be able to stop all the disastrous things in the world."

PLUNDER

- "Chinese Zodiac" opens in cinemas today.

- Watch a video of Jackie at www.NationMultimedia.com.


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