[The following is a translation of an interview conducted on 23 May 2012 in Cannes with the principal cast of the next Jackie Chan movie,《Chinese Zodiac》, scheduled for Chinese release in December 2012, with international release to be determined. The full video of the interview, with abridged printed transcript, and additional cast photos, are online at the site of Chinese news service Netease Entertainment. Any further use of the information should cite Netease as the source. A few items about the translation:
--the Chinese title of the movie is simply《Zodiac》, which would be assumed by a Chinese audience;
--the second character of Chan's Chinese name (龙 in simplified Chinese, 龍 in traditional) means "dragon," so the leading ladies in his movies are called "dragon girls," as are the "Bond girls" in that franchise;
--the actresses and interviewer refer to Chan as "Big Brother," a common term of respect;
--the straight translation of the interview does not convey the relaxed joking among the cast, especially in Chan's jovial acceptance of one of the actresses having lied to him about her swimming/diving capabilities in order to get the part. One wonders how many directors would have been so forgiving: Chan finally pushed her into the water; Stephen Chow probably would have pushed her in, then held her under;
--the name of one actress is Zhang Lanxin (张蓝心 in some Chinese sources, 张澜心 in others), but not Zhang Nanxin or Zhang Nan, as I have seen in other Western sources. This is the actress's first movie role: she is a well-known model and TV host in China, but prior to that was a professional martial artist, winning the 55kg class women's 2004 national Taekwondo championship.
--finally, in the last part of the interview Chan quotes some financial figures to back up his argument that China should concentrate on making good movies for domestic audiences, rather than trying to compete internationally; but while his point is well-taken, his figures disagree considerably with other published sources, so his comments have been paraphrased here, omitting some statistics.
The interview was conducted for Netease Entertainment by Qi Xiaoe (企小鹅), with photo by Li Daozhong (李道忠). Items in square brackets [like this] are the translator's, added where it was felt clarification was needed.]
Jackie Chan arrived in Cannes with his 101st movie《Chinese Zodiac》amid a swirl of rumors and heated debate about his impending "retirement." Regarding this topic, Chan solemnly avowed that he was not giving up fighting, only "retreating," not that it has become too arduous, just that he wants a break from it. But before doing so he wanted to make one more good fighting movie, and that is,《Chinese Zodiac》. Concerning the future of [Chinese] martial arts films, he said, "If I said yes, I'd be lying to myself, so I would say no, I'm very pessimistic about that."
[In the following translation of the interview, NE=Netease Entertainment; JC=Jackie Chan; LW=Laura Weissbecker; ZL=Zhang Lanxin; YX=Yao Xingtong. In the illustration below, from left: Weissbecker, Chan, Yao, Zhang. Click on illustration to view full size.]
Discussing the 'Dragon Girls': Yao Xingtong is a most qualified dragon girl; Zhang Lanxin is the best fighting woman.
NE: Is everyone sittting here a member of your gang of thieves?
JC: Just two, only me and Zhang Lanxin are from the gang. The other two are not. I play an international, reliable, "Goodfellas" type of thief, a good thief, but paradoxically, a thief nevertheless. (Hands microphone to LW). And you are?
LW: (in Chinese). Hello, everyone. I am Laura Weissbecker, and in this movie I play a Frenchwoman named "Catherine."
JC: (in English) What's your role? OK to use English.
LW: (in English) I'm a French countess, and they help me a lot.
JC: Your Chinese is pretty good. (Hands microphone to ZL).
ZL: I am an athlete in real life, a Taekwondo professional, so I feel very fortunate that Big Brother chose me for his gang. We do good things, and we do bad things.
NE: In the gang, what is the division of labor between Big Brother and Zhang Lanxin?
JC: She fights a bit by my side, much like a bodyguard. You see her in one early scene spying from above, acting as lookout while I carry out a theft. But later on, she has a very ferocious fight scene.
(Hands microphone to YX).
JC: Yao Xingtong, what is your role in the film?
YX: My role in the film is Coco, an antiques appraiser who is also a [Chinese] student in France. She's very brave and wise, a very good person.
JC: Yes, her character in the film is very brave.
NE: Each of the Jackie Chan movies we've seen in the past had a dragon girl; why are there three in this one?
JC: This was due to requirements of the script. We come to France, where there is a Frenchwoman and Yao Xingtong, the overseas student, to help me.
NE: So she is Zhang Lanxin's beautiful female counterpart?
JC: She [Zhang] is beautiful. Why are you joking around today? Well, she is both beautiful and brave.
NE: So if Zhang Lanxin is both beautiful and brave, what are Yao Xingtong's characteristics?
JC: Beauty, they're both beautiful!
NE: Did they have some special qualities that led you to choose them for this movie?
JC: When I talked to each of them I asked each if she was afraid of heights. Each said no, and although they had never had the action movie experience they were willing to be trained. Then I asked if they could swim, and each said yes, but she (gestures toward YX) is better. She said, I can also dive, in fact I once won a diving championship in an international competition. Then she said, "But big brother, I'm not very strong," and I said that's all right. Then I asked them if action was OK, for that way I would know who would need to fight, and who would not. But all three satisfied my requirements of not fearing heights or water. But when the day arrived that we really had to film the water scene, and it was time for all to go in, only Yao Xingtong didn't go in. I said "Get in, get in." She said she didn't dare, it was too deep. I said, "Too deep? Aren't you a diver?" She said she had never been in water deeper than a couple of feet, she'd been lying to me for a year.
NE: Did she finally go in?
JC: Yes, I pushed her in. When it came time to go in she grabbed onto one of my crew and yelled "I won't go!" I told her "We have eight people standing by, they're not going to let you drown." We had already wasted too much time, and had to get the scene finished. So I pushed her in, and well, once she was in the water she enjoyed it. She was like this all along, so when she said just now that she was very brave, I had to smile.
NE: Does Laura have any action scenes?
JC: (to Laura, in English): Any action?
LW: (in English) Yes, I have a lot of action, like jumping, falling. I learned a lot about action, but I do no fighting.
JC: She doesn't fight, just does straight acting. (To YX) You didn't fight either.
YX: Yes I did, big brother.
JC: You did?
YX: Yes, I fought the pirates.
JC: If a fight was called for, some danger was OK. When they [the actresses] were fighting, I would stay next to the lens, and if they looked tired, or simply had no understanding of their fight moves, or maybe the fight scenes looked very simple but were really very, very difficult, or had to be speeded up, then it fell to me to tie everything together. But everything came out all right, and Zhang Lanxin performed very well.
NE: Zhang Lanxin, this is your chance to brag.
ZL: Yes, I was actually playing myself, because I had a decade of professional sports experience, and was a member of the taekwondo national team. But from the first day that Big Brother chose me for the movie, I realized this was a huge challenge, because filming a fight scene and actually fighting someone are not the same things, they're totally different. Moreover, Big Brother is a very demanding director, very strict during filming.
JC: You have a modest view of your own abilities. In my view, Zhang Lanxin is one of our best female martial artists, and I can't rate her highly enough. First, there are many who can fight, but they're small in stature; Zhang Lanxin is 177 cm [5'9"+] tall, with very long hands and legs, and very quick. In the scenes, I tried to show all of her special strengths and qualities. Plus, Zhang Lanxin has extraordinary staying power: it was only yesterday at the airport that I saw her cell phone photos from the hospital where she was having blood clots in her knee being cleared up, and I hadn't known till then that she had this problem. I told her that had I known of this condition I wouldn't have let you do the fight scene, that if you were like [Yao] Xingtong, I wouldn't have let you fight.
ZL: I just had a slight injury in the course of filming, and having been an athlete I would certainly hope I could bear a little pain, and on the day after filming wrapped up I was able to go to the hospital and have my knee drained and the blood clots cleared.
NE: So it was when Yao Xingtong learned Zhang Lanxin was so strong a fighter that she decided not to fight?
YX: I can't fight. But although I can't fight, I still wanted to be part of a fight movie, something I would find very enjoyable and very stimulating. And I actually, I really do have a fight scene.
JC: Where do you fight? (All laugh).
Talking about himself
NE: Actually, most of Big Brother's past films have featured a hero acting alone, but《Chinese Zodiac》is pretty much a family affair; why the change?
JC: I think audiences will find it more fun, as in《Operation Condor》I was just one person, running all around but all alone. The best rose still has green leaves, and they [the actresses] act as foils, they are all golden leaves, the foils to my character.
NE: Do you think you could develop a new talent from this?
JC: I see this as a definite possibility. For example, I'm sure that Zhang Lanxin could be an outstanding action movie actress. For one thing, she wouldn't require a stand-in. As for Yao Xingtong, she might be an excellent action performer in her next life.
NE: But Yao Xingtong could still be a successful dragon girl without being an action performer, like Maggie Cheung was.
JC: Yes, she absolutely has the requirements to do that.
NE: It's also true that many netizens who have seen the trailer for《Chinese Zodiac》said it is reminiscent of the Jackie Chan of Hong Kong's golden age. Was that your intention?
JC: Yes, because in the past decade, there have been a lot of friends or directors, either gossiping or telling me directly, "What you're doing now is the right thing, your main concern should be taking care of yourself, and not doing action at your age." Well, after first feeling angry, I'd think, to be honest, I really am older. So I thought, all right, but before I retire I'd like to make one last major action film, one good one. Now everyone is saying that I'm retiring, but I want to solemnly declare, that I don't want to retire, I just want to do things a bit less dangerous to my body, less dangerous action. So I want to really stress this, I am a director, an actor, producer, action choreographer, and I'm also an investor. I've been preparing this for seven years, spent seven years on writing the script, spent over a year on filming it, and just finished filming it last week.
NE: So Jackie Chan will continue to fight?
JC: Yes, and I hope I can make some Hollywood-type action films like《Batman》or《Spiderman》, action films like that. With some wire work, maybe wearing a mask. Like that.
NE: In fact, there has been a theme running through Jackie Chan films, and that is using real Kung-Fu to resist the foreign gunboats. Now, Chinese cinema is confronted with the same sort of problem; can China's real Kung-Fu defeat Hollywood's gunboats?
JC: That would be difficult, really difficult. In the past, we could. Back in the Bruce Lee era, and in my era, Kung-Fu stirred up a kind of frenzy, and many people were learning martial arts from us. But about a decade ago, Hollywood began bringing in a number of our action choreographers, including two from my own stunt crew, where they became martial arts directors. Now, a decade later, Hollywood has learned it all, so when you look at the action films they're making now, they all use our action, our martial arts, and then add to that their own technology which is ten times better than ours, and it has to leave us dumbfounded: how did they film that?
NE: But can we really return to that golden age, actually restore that brilliance, and return to its former glory?
JC: If I said yes, I'd be lying to myself, so I would say no, I'm very pessimistic about that, no matter how hard we may try. The Chinese market is huge, but out of last year's $2 billion box office, $1.8 billion was taken in by foreign movies, and just $200 million by our own movies, no matter how much we have learned of their techniques, or their good practices. The Hollywood movies imported into China are all good movies; does the U.S. make lousy movies? Yes, too many lousy movies, but the imports are good films, so how can they not be box office hits? They're all hits. Actually, the few good Chinese movies that foreign countries choose to import are Zhang Yimou's, and mine, a few directors, but how many movies can we make in a year? We can only make a few, while they turn them out continuously. China produces 600 movies in a year, of which 3 or 4 go abroad, while of the several hundred they make, we only bring in 50. It's 50 now, but that could be expanded later on.
But one thing we haven't mentioned is something everyone should understand very clearly. Look at the budget that was invested in《Avatar》: who in China has that kind of money to spend on making a movie? So we as Chinese filmmakers should work together to make Chinese movies that can compete as best we can for Chinese audiences, not make lousy movies, but make the best we can for that audience. Concentrate the money, the talent we have on making good movies [for China].
NE: Good, thank all of you for your time today.
JC: Thank you.