“The Tuxedo” is a different kind of movie for Jackie Chan, the 48-year old comedy kung-fu artist who built a huge Hong Kong career before conquering the American market with the smash hit “Rush Hour” in 1998. The secret agent adventure spoof, in which Chan plays a nebbishy chauffeur transformed when he dons the titular garment, a state-of-the-art government-funded fight suit that endows him with super-powers, has plenty of action, but for the first time much of it was done through cinematic trickery rather than unadorned stunts.
“This one is different,” the energetic Chan explained during a recent interview in Dallas; he had just been driven in from Rangers Stadium, where he’d thrown the first pitch at a major-league baseball game. “I decided that with this movie I wanted to learn something about special effects.” He admitted, however, that the experience wasn’t always a happy one. He recalled the many hours he spent in front of green screens: “ One whole day they covered my body and just used my eyes. I said, what are they doing? And sometimes with the punch-kicking, I do the same thing again and again. What are they doing? It’s way beyond me, this kind of thing.” Chan was disappointed that many of the lengthy fight scenes he had developed so carefully were whittled down in the final movie: “I always choreograph all the action scenes and let the director choose how many to cut. Actually, in the fighting scenes [there was] more action, but they just cut it. Which makes me very mad–really. It doesn’t make sense, but what can you do?”
It’s a totally different Jackie Chan movie,” he said. “With the tuxedo you have to have special powers, super speed. That’s why they have to do a lot of special effects.”
The picture also gives Chan an opportunity to do a big musical number when he’s forced to stand in for James Brown after he’s accidentally conked out the famed entertainer. When asked whether he’d enjoyed doing the song-and-dance, he answered with a grin, “Now, yes. After you’re done, yes. In the beginning it really made me nervous. I’d never done this before.” It didn’t help, he added, that the producers changed the song at the last minute; he’d practiced a different one for months.
In one important respect, though, “The Tuxedo” is typical of Chan’s movies: even in black tie, he’s the everyman figure who wins in the end. “In the movies, I’m not like Steven Seagal or Stallone. Everybody can beat me,” he explains. “Always I play the underdog,” just like his idols Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd did. It’s a persona that carries over into real life: Chan says that he can go about in public without being accosted by would-be strongmen looking for a fight. “I go out by myself. I go to Home Depot,” he quipped.
Chan notes that a sequel to “The Tuxedo” is a possibility (“if the first one does good, they might try more”) and that his “Rush Hour” and “Shanghai Noon” series are still going strong. But he still intends to go back to Hong Kong and make a film there every year. “It’s like family. I have more control by myself and more fun [there],” he explained, noting the smallness of the crew and the personal atmosphere, as opposed to the gigantic size of a US production. “I don’t need to, but I miss Hong Kong film.”
Chan said, however, that he isn’t interested in directing a picture in Hollywood. “Not American film,” he insisted. “It’s difficult…difficult to deal with the company. Sometimes when you’re making a film, it’s not you—you have to listen to the producer, you have to listen to the studio. Drives me crazy.”
“The Tuxedo” is a DreamWorks Pictures release.