Three years ago on a trip to Delhi, Jackie Chan had revealed a new-found ambition talking to the press. “I want to be the Robert De Niro of Asia,” he had declared. “I used to enjoy action. Now I enjoy acting.”
This weekend, Chan releases Kung Fu Yoga, an effort as peculiarly ditsy in its mix of slapstick and stunts as all that has fashioned his signature cinema over five decades. Like everything that defines Chan too, the Indo-Chinese co-production is far from what might remotely let him play out his De Niro-sized dream.
|Kung Fu Yoga stars Jackie Chan and Sonu Sood.|
The irony about the situation is Chan’s new circus of excesses opens at a time when he has just been conferred upon the honorary Oscar for his lifetime body of work. Clearly, Asia’s biggest export to mainstream Hollywood does not need to flaunt complex acting skill to prove his worth. Few superstars anywhere on the planet have managed to impact cinema the way he has. That is where the importance of being Jackie Chan lies.
Superstardom can be a trap and a boon at the same time. For Chan, it is a trap that will never him be Robert De Niro. A kung fu ace who typically chops down a dozen villains at a go can perhaps never go with extreme close-ups of a bloodied Jake La Motta.
Interestingly, however, the very image has been a boon for Chan. As long as he keeps doing his thing, the fans will keep returning.
The fact actually counters Chan’s own notion during that India visit of 2013. “Stars have a shelf life. Actors go on till 70 or 80,” he had said then.
At 62, Chan is still a few years away from that mark. His stardom, though, miraculously continues to belie age. He may not be top draw as an exotic superstar in Hollywood anymore, but his global popularity shows no sign of shelf life. What is it about Chan that has helped him survive as a global superstar, while most actors who blindly bank on glamour fall by the way?
The answer probably lies in the fact that he has never been conscious about maintaining stardom. Chan just does his own thing on screen. It works for two reasons.
First, his stardom is all about a unique brand of entertainment that he fashioned for the international screen, mainly with his Hollywood hits. Before Chan, martial arts violence was mostly intense fare. The laughs within the screenplay, normally packed as slapstick, were allotted to comedians specifically signed up for the job.
Chan transformed the comedian into a full-fledged action hero, with his trademark goofy do-gooder who incidentally was an expert in karate. He understood the power of combining the two genres, rather than use slapstick as an interlude amid action.
Secondly, others who have tried replicating the formula over the decades have failed to be half as good. Like Rajinikanth back home, Chan’s superstardom is unprecedented, inimitable.
It is a reason why, just like Rajini, Chan has managed to carve a cult fan base that stays fiercely loyal, no matter what.
To Chan fans it does not matter Kung Fu Yoga only rehashes a broad blueprint that excited them just as much when Project A or Wheels On Meals released three decades ago.
As long as he makes that jump from the third storey with a more spirited pep than villains half his age, more of the same is not an issue.