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Thoughts on Jackie Chan’s “Chinese need to be controlled” comments

From talking about beauties in the last post to a beastly situation in this one …

Jackie Chan stuck his foot in his mouth yet again this past Saturday when he told a Mainland audience that “… we Chinese need to be controlled.”  I’d get more worked up about Big Brother Jackie’s latest gaffe if I hadn’t been following his career for the last twenty years.  To me, this is yet another instance of Jackie Chan ham-handedly trying to curry favour with whatever market he’s currently interested in courting.

Even if you’ve only been following him since he broke out in the West, you’ve probably learned two things: his social grace comes nowhere close to matching his physical grace and he’s not exactly the type to devote much time to think about and reflection upon politics and society.   His allegiances and charitable interests are more about maximizing his earnings and expanding his market and profile than it is about principle or concern.   I don’t believe he thought too much about what he was saying or about the effect it would have on his image.   His remarks aren’t likely borne out of genuine political belief, it’s probably the result of the passionate pursuit of money, being out of touch with regular society and a lot of hubris.

Whether or not you take his comments seriously, this is probably the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Jackie Chan’s career — at least outside of the Mainland market.  People were already grumbling last year about how much he was in the tank for the Mainland government over the Beijing Olympics so this latest incident won’t help.  His box office performance in recent years has been declining and the prospects that it will improve have dimmed greatly with his ill-conceived remarks.  With this latest incident, Jackie Chan has definitely joined Tom Cruise on the list of celebrities who have let their off-screen personas kill their on-screen ones.

Back in 2001, I remember my sister asking me to go see VANILLA SKY with her.  It was getting killed by critics (it sits today at 39% on Rotten Tomatoes) yet I still went because I figured: “It’s a Tom Cruise movie, it can’t be that bad.”  Flash forward to Christmas 2009.  In the eight years since VANILLA SKY came out, Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah’s couch, slagged Brooke Shields and lectured Matt Lauer about psychology.  My sister is visiting me for Christmas and we’ve got nothing to do on a lazy late-December afternoon.  I suggested that we go see VALKYRIE.  “It’s about some guys planning to kill Hitler.  It should be decent.  The reviews ain’t bad (60% on Rotten Tomatoes).”

My sister shook her head, made a face and said: “Ugh, Tom Cruise.”

It’s not just my anecdotal evidence.  The numbers bear it out as well.  VANILLA SKY took in US$25 million on its opening weekend and finished with US$100.6 million overall.  VALKYRIE opened at US$21 million and ended up with US$83.07 million.  All that nonsense off the screen has damaged Tom Cruise’s box office power to the point where ads for his official website appear on this blog — this blog!

The same kind of thing is happening to Jackie Chan.  Back in the 1990s, Jackie Chan ruled the HK box office.  His movies were a staple during the lucrative Lunar New Year holiday season.  Some numbers:  RUMBLE IN THE BRONX made HK$56.9 million, POLICE STORY 4: FIRST STRIKE earned HK$57.5 million while a dud like MR. NICE GUY even managed to make HK$45.4 million.  Though he continues to draw an audience, he doesn’t pack them in like he once did.  Big Brother Jackie’s last three HK movies:  ROB-B-HOOD, NEW POLICE STORY and THE MYTH have earned HK$23.05 million, HK$21.1 million and HK$17.05 million respectively.  After two weeks in theatres, SHINJUKU INCIDENT is sitting at a respectable HK$10.6 million but it might have some trouble reaching the HK$20 million barrier.  Solid but not on the superstar level of his glory days.

When RUMBLE IN THE BRONX made it big here in the West, my Chinese friends beamed with pride when we talked about Jackie Chan.  I think we all felt proud that a local HK guy made it big on the international stage.  When I talk to them about Jackie Chan in the coming days and weeks, I’m certain that a few of my Chinese friends will have looks of disgust.  Add the baggage of this latest misstep to the baggage from scandals like Dragon Seed, his weird relationship with his son, past gaffes involving Taiwan and diminishing box office returns, I’m afraid that it’s more weight than Big Brother Jackie’s on-screen talent can bear.

News Links:

Variety: Jackie Chan says China control good

Chinese shouldn’t get more freedom, says Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan’s endorsement of Chinese censorship sparks anger

Wall Street Journal: Jackie Chan comments spark online backlash

Jackie Chan gets critical kick from Hong Kong and Taiwanese politicians

Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Pandering

Taipei Times: DPP says Jackie Chan not welcome

Controversial star to retain role in Taipei Deaflympics: official

Opinion Links:

Taipei Times: Jackie Chan: Friend of repression

Is Jackie Chan against Chinese freedom?

Jackie Chan is a Fascist - Who Knew?

Jackie Chan does the Orientalist thing

4 Responses to “Thoughts on Jackie Chan’s “Chinese need to be controlled” comments”

  1. phatyou Says:

    I’m not trying to condone or justify what jackie said, but I think jackie said what he said, not because he was trying to carry favour with the mainland (there was certainly some brown nosing going on, because he would never say the same thing in HK or taiwan) but in some simplistic way he actually believes in it. jackie grew up very poor, so poor that his parents had to send him out to the academy, and in the academy that was where he learnt his discipline and his principles, under the iron hand of master yu jim yuen. fast forward 40 years, with the prosperity of HK and china coming in bloom, he probably views this generation as soft and spoiled, and yearns for the culture of his youth, where respect for your elders and authority reigns supreme, but minus the torture and the human rights abuses. maybe I am overthinking it, but that’s the way I see it.

    as for the nail in coffin for jackie’s career? the beginning of the end came when he decided not to do anymore action movies. ’shinjuku incident’ was a bold attempt to remake himself, but in the end, he is who he is. jackie is not good enough of an actor to be seen as another character and not as jackie!. maybe he should go into producing, be somebody like eric tseng and cherry pick projects and use his contacts in and outside the industry to get them made.

    I haven’t been really paying attention, but how is his relationship weird with his son? his overcriticalness towards him? it seems like jackie always slag jaycee in the media. from what I have read or seen on tv, I find jaycee to be very well adjusted, down to earth guy. he could’ve very well had gone down edison’s or juno’s route as a spoiled rich brat, but I don’t get that from him at all. seems like a nice and jovial guy.

  2. David Harris Says:

    For what it’s worth (direct from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8009576.stm)

    Chan’s remarks ‘out of context’

    Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan’s comments about whether freedom was a good thing for China were taken out of context, his spokesman has said.

    He was criticised after suggesting to a business forum in southern China that Chinese people “need to be controlled”.

    But his spokesman said Chan was talking about freedom in the entertainment industry, not Chinese society at large.

    People with “ulterior motives” had misinterpreted what he was saying on purpose, Solon So told AP news agency.

    Chan said on Saturday: “I’m not sure if it’s good to have freedom or not. I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled.”

    He also said freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong and Taiwan made those societies “chaotic”.

    “If we [the Chinese] are not controlled, we’ll just do what we want.”

    His spokesman responded as the backlash against Chan grew.

    The tourism board for Hong Kong said it had received complaints that his comments “hurt the image of Hong Kong and aren’t reflective of Hong Kong people”.

    Earlier, pro-democracy legislator Leung Kwok-hung told AP that Chan had “insulted the Chinese people”.

  3. meh Says:

    since it’s hard to get inside jackie’s head (Being Jackie Chan, anyone?), i’ll just say the instinctive revulsion for me comes from the inevitable comparison of what he says in public, to those of Jet Li’s (who backs up his advocacy with huge resolve of unwavering principles with hardly any contradiction.) regardless of what his true motives and impetus are, he errs in wanting such simplistic comments to carry the weight of gospel that his superstar image aspires. so yeah, pretension annoys more than his actual lack of articulate punditry. filing this next to his drunken disruption @ emile chau’s concert.

  4. joe Says:

    i’m chinese but i was born and raised in North America so i’m not in touch with the homeland. this story brought a couple of questions came to mind:

    1. do the general populace in china generally support government policies, like censorship? do most mainlanders agree with jackie chan’s comments?

    2. i know before china reclaimed hong kong, there was a distinct difference between people from china and hong kong in terms of culture and the way people think. does this distinctness still exist? would people from hong kong react the same way people from china would?

 
 
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