April 7, 2010
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It’s a commonplace in juggling that you have to drop a ball early in your routine or the audience doesn’t realize how difficult your act is. The outtakes in JACKIE CHAN’s (born 1954) movies serve the same function. After you’ve seen his scalp laid bare by falling scaffolding or his pelvis cracked from a fall then you get it. It’s not a stuntman; it’s not a special effect. Though physical jeopardy ratchets up the narrative anxiety, Jackie Chan’s movies exist on a Three Stooges plane of Owww-faced takes and bruised knuckles-shaking. He suffers exactly enough to make the joke. In the bicycle scene of Project A Jackie rides through narrowest Hong Kong alleyways pursued by bad guys, turning every obstacle into an advantage with delirious panache. It’s a scene worthy of his oft-cited influences, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. As a director, he shares their fascination with bodies that stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force; in Jackie’s case the outside force usually being a foot in the face. This puts him in an intriguing class of performer-directors — including Jacques Tati, Jerry Lewis, and Gene Kelly — who love to get kicked in the face. No wait, actually they all exploit mise-en-scène; they’re the anti-montage edit directors, forever framing the entire human body pinballing against its setting. Though this is dictated by choreography it creates an innate humanism, where being human is defined as hard rubber-ball durability and a goofy grace under pressure.
READ MORE about those born on the cusp between two generations. Jackie Chan was born between the Blank Generation and the OGXers.
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