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Jackie Chan may be 61 years old, but he’s still fighting on screen with the same vigor and tenacity that made him a worldwide star over three decades ago. In writer-director Daniel Lee’s large-scale epic "Dragon Blade," Chan capably flexes his action muscles in the role of Huo An, the commander of the Protection Squad of the Western Regions during the Han Dynasty. Sporting lavish battle armor and a handful of heavy-duty swords, the actor easily becomes a convincing savior as his character is forced to protect a fortress against an invading Roman legion.
While the film is most notable for its handful of eye-popping battle sequences, it also is quite memorable for the way it successfully integrates cinema styles from both Hollywood and East Asia, which just so happen to be two of Chan’s most popular markets. In a brief discussion with Indiewire, the actor noted that the international collision in the film’s style and casting (Chan is featured opposite Adrian Brody, John Cusack, Lin Peng and more) was just one of the film’s many selling points to him as a performer.
Read the entire chat below, and catch "Dragon Blade" in select theaters and On Demand platforms now.
How familiar were you with the Han Dynasty and what research was required of you after signing on?
Daniel Lee, the film’s director, is also an accomplished production designer and had done a lot of research on the clothes and customs of the Han Chinese and the various ethnic groups of the time. I trust him and leave everything to him, apart from the action choreography. He spent seven years working on this project.
The Imperial dynasties of China have provided a backdrop for some of the most epic international movies of all time. How does "Dragon Blade" stand out from the pack?
"Dragon Blade" is different than other Chinese period dramas because it’s set in the outskirts of the empire, on the extreme borders of China. Even though there aren’t emperors and palaces, it’s still visually sumptuous and shows things that haven’t been seen before in Chinese films. As an actor, it was a very difficult shoot because we were in the real desert, so it was like going back in time to that period.
Daniel Lee is a hugely successful Hong Kong director. What about his directorial style attracted you to the project?
Although I’ve never worked with Daniel Lee before, I’ve been looking forward to work with him for some time. In fact, he told me about the project when I arranged a meeting with him to find a possibility of working together. What’s unique about him is that he’s very knowledgeable about history. And he also sets a very high standard when it comes to production design. What I’ve learned from him is that when I need to get emotional on the set, listening to music would help me get into the mood.
What is it like to shoot these gigantic battle sequences?
On the set of "Dragon Blade," there were students, horses, eagles and 120 vehicles. Everywhere we went we were worried about destroying the environment. And there are so many foreigners in the cast. We recruited them from language schools. A lot came because it’s a Jackie Chan movie. They say, "I want to act opposite Jackie Chan!" But they didn’t understand anything. I had to teach them everything. It was really hard.
The process was slow. It’s hard to work with 500 to 600 people on a set. Besides, the extras are not professional so we have to teach them, one by one. We had to teach the extras what to do when they hear "Action!," even how they should walk. Many of them don’t even know what "action" means. So, it takes a long time to finish each and every shot.
At the beginning, the first shot of the day would take at least two or three hours, but after that, they learned quickly. Even if not on the first take, they will pick it up on the second take. After they had learned it, we could do it quicker. It’s really difficult to shoot a scene with 500 or 600 people!
Does stunt choreography still come easy for you after all these years in the business?
Stunt choreography becomes more and more difficult as audience expectation grows higher from one film to the next film. They’ve been watching my films for decades and expect each one to surpass the next! Also, I don’t like repeating myself, I always want to bring something new and exciting to the audience. Still, I’m always trying to find something fresh to invigorate the audience and invigorate me.
As an actor who has had success in both industries, how did you respond to the stylistic mashup of Hollywood and East Asian cinemas?
I like to make films in China and I like to make films in Hollywood. The experience is very different. For this movie, we brought the two together, not only by mixing Asian stars with Hollywood stars, but also with the style of shooting. It was fusion filmmaking! I’m really excited by this new way to make films and I want to continue exploring how I can combine the best of Hollywood and Asian cinema.
What is the biggest difference and biggest similarity between these two industries?
They both have their good points. Shooting in America is very comfortable, things are comparatively organized and systematic. And the level of special effect and computer graphics used in America is much higher; they can make the action scenes really sensational.
Shooting in Asia is really quick and efficient since we don’t have Hollywood budgets. Also, our special effects and computer graphics technique are not as good as in the U.S. But then we’re able to make something really authentic with real locations and real action. So I think Asian films still have something special to offer and I’m happy to keep making films on both continents.
How have you seen the international movie market change over the past several decades?
The Chinese movie market is expanding at an astonishing rate. I think that is good as more international filmmakers have now set his sights on the Chinese movie industry for future projects. Not only Hollywood stars but also Hollywood directors are coming to China to make films. This collaboration will bring the audience more and more well-produced films as filmmakers learn from each other.
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