Thursday, 24 April, 2014

Published December 06, 2013
Philanthropy's pied piper
While fans await the Christmas Eve release of his latest movie Police Story 2013, veteran actor Jackie Chan is preparing for another role in real life - that of philanthropist and doing what good he can in the world while he's still able to. He shares a limo ride with JEREMY HART as he muses about his career, charity work and pledging allegiance to China
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Clad in anonymity: Jackie Chan takes a drive in Beijing in his blacked-out Bentley Mulsanne for this interview. - PHOTOS: ADAM DEAN/INCWORD.COM

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The actor, who has raised US$100 million in the last two decades, has been targeted by China's super-rich as a charitable lightning rod in a country where charity is not yet established nor entirely trusted.

PASSING the Bird's Nest - the most iconic of Beijing's Olympic legacies - Jackie Chan was hunkered down in the back of a blacked-out Bentley Mulsanne. His handmade green velvet Mao suit seemed to be in a tactile tug-of-war with acres of hand-stitched black leather upholstery. It was how one might expect the most famous man on the planet to travel to a charity auction.

His No 1 spot in global recognition was not his claim. It came from US talk show legend Jay Leno. "I was in Jay Leno's show," Chan recalled in his unique style of English. "He say, now - ladies and gentleman, the most famous star in the world: Jackie Chan. Then I come out, I say no, no, no, no, no. Jay, I'm not the most famous. There's so many famous stars in America. He said Jackie, you're wrong."

Leno was right. Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao famously locked words over Chan at the White House when both tried to claim his fame for their own. Chan had been invited to Washington for a Chinese state visit, but ended up in a cultural claim of ownership instead.

"I was - of course - delighted to be invited in the White House to see Hu Jintao, my President, and American President Obama. And I honestly I'm not nervous. I just thought... because I thought they just a leader, it's not superman," he recounted, sniggering. "When they come to the table to talk to me the funny thing is Obama talked to Hu Jintao, 'You know, Jackie is very famous in America' . And Hu Jintao say : 'No, Jackie's more famous in China'. That's the conversation, and everybody laughing.

"American movies so success around the world. Ask a film-maker, ask a star - Hollywood is the wonderful place to be. If you just involve one American film, your title becoming different. You're Hong Kong action star. But when you make American film you are international star. It's different."

Behind black glass in a white Bentley

Stardom in both the West and in China is nearly impossible to achieve. As a result, there are not many streets on the planet on which Chan would not be hounded by fans. Which explained why he was riding behind black glass in a white Bentley just inches from the populace. Being famous is not a blessing, he claimed.

"In America (people say)I don't want a bother you, can I just take one photo of us all? I say OK. But sometime in some country... [they push in and say] take it - take a photo! They say: come on! I say no, no, I'm busy. Oh come on... yah.... OK. I don't like you any more. I never see your movie again. Just makes me a whole day very sad. So that's why slowly, slowly I don't want to go out any more."

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Australia, Chan moved to Beijing not long after the return of Hong Kong to China by the British. He was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) by the Queen but his allegiance is now more to the Forbidden Palace than Buckingham Palace, a point he emphasised several times.

The 59-year-old keeps a house in Hong Kong but is seen there less and less now that he has become part of the Beijing inner circle. He has brought an air of glamour to central government and Chinese business. His ear is a valuable one in Chinese capital high society. The character he plays in reality is an important one and it's certainly not as an action man.

The role of philanthropist pied-piper is not one Central Casting would immediately pick for Chan. But the actor, who has raised US$100 million in the last two decades, has been targeted by China's super-rich as a charitable lightning rod in a country where charity is not yet established nor entirely trusted.

"In Beijing right now, the people around me are so rich. Billionaires. They all have private jets. But they always sit around and listen. I say I just come back from Vietnam (working with deprived children)...they're crying," Chan explained, mimicking with his right hand the signing of a check. "After that, Jackie: here - a million. Here, a hundred thousand. And send (my) daughter with (my) son to do charity." Chan first launched the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation to offer scholarships and other help to young people to study in school. He went on to establish the Dragon's Heart Foundation. So far, the foundation has helped to build 26 schools, mainly in China, and aided around 20,000 children. After China's Sichuan earthquake Chan raised more than US$1.3 million for humanitarian relief. Harper's Bazaar magazine voted him Philanthropist of the Year.

He said, if you look at the plot lines of many of his movies, you'll see that he often defends underdogs, those who don't have much in life - linking reality and his fantasy lives.

Like many high-profile actors, Chan has been accused of using philanthropy to bolster his image and career for his own selfish ends. Chan laughed. "People say I'm doing it for my good image. Let them. I know I am doing what good I can while I can." None of the money Chan raises, he claimed, is used to pay for his costs. "If I need to fly or need a hotel, I pay."

The Bentley was now close to the swish hotel where Chan was to attend the charity auction. Crowds started to appear on the streets. Word had got out he was on his way. Charity work did not draw the crowds. His stardom did. Filmmaking is still a large part of Jackie's life. But nearing 60 has made him slow down a bit. He only made one full-length film in 2012 and also in 2013, the soon-to-be-released Police Story.

"(In my career) I see so many big star - they were famous. I see so many famous star. Then they're gone - I'm still here. I'm still doing action film. I still doing the action film - sometimes I'm amazing myself," pondered Chan, who is making fewer, but he claimed, higher quality films.

"In Twelve Zodiac, I was preparing for seven years because I want to be back to original Jackie Chan movie. I don't want to use like more orange screen, blue screen, so this is why I went to Australia, to Latvia, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan... er... where - I forget. Crazy. Travel, travel, filming, filming, action, action." His desire for artistic purity, and his age, have been the things slowing him down. As he began the gentle wind-down to retirement, Chan admitted he was pessimistic about the future of his art.

"Probably I'm another 10 years to retire. For the future for film I really, really scared. Why? Because I think for the future we don't need actor any more. We don't need the real person. You can see the cartoon. You can see the special effects, computer graphic. They're so real. Look at the young generation right now, they're playing a game, they watch a game. That's really scary for the future," he declared, as he prepared to leap into a melee of awaiting paparazzi.

"The young generation they - also lucky they don't have to do a crazy dangerous stunt like me. They don't have to hurt themselves to do a stunt. They all just like Superman, Spiderman. But as Jackie Chan you have to do real things. I have to break my finger, I hurt myself, I broke my ankle. OK. That's unlucky. But the lucky things I've been through all the real things. My film will live forever. The people whenever I see they will see - treat me - I hope one day - treat me like a Jackie Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, I'm the different generation."