I went out and asked various writers a loaded question: Who is the next Jackie Chan? It’s tricky because, like Charlie Chaplin, Gene Kelly, or the Highlander, there can be only one. His skills are too unique to duplicate. I was just as interested in what Jackie Chan means to different viewers, and who might best embody those meanings going forward. Without further ado:
by Simon Scher
Who is the next Jackie Chan? To answer this we must first ask, who was the last Jackie Chan? When he first burst onto the international stage, his high-flying kung fu action and peerless speed were instantly compared to the father of international martial arts media, Bruce Lee. Chan did not hit the big time until after the death of Lee. So it would be hard to identify the next Jackie Chan until he too passes on or stops making amazing martial arts movies.
It has been said that Jet Li or Jason Scott Lee would fill the role, but though they are amazing martial artists with comparable skill and speed to both Chan and Bruce Lee, Jackie is still holding his spot while Jet and Jason are moving past their prime. I do not doubt that there will be another in the succession of Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan, but I do not believe he has yet made an appearance on the silver screen.
There are a number of young, talented Chinese Wushu stars simmering in the Hong Kong cinematic forge just waiting to make their way into Western cinema – perhaps it will be one of them. A strong but doubtful case can be made for Tony Jaa, but I don’t think he has the range or mass appeal to fill the slot. It will have to be a martial artist with range, language skills, and something innovative that takes the genre to a new level and in a different direction as both Bruce and Jackie did. If I had to pick somebody to pin my hopes on I would name Stephen Chow for his innovative approach to martial arts cinema, his amazing skills, and his sense of comedic and dramatic timing.
Simon Scher runs Northampton Martial Arts in Northampton, Massachusetts. He is a regular contributor to Black Belt Magazine, the biggest martial arts movie buff I know, and holds a sixth-degree black belt in Taekwondo.
by Himura Sachiko
Having already shot one of the best martial arts sequences in recent history, Jeeja Yanin is my pick. I enjoy her work because her background is in Taekwondo, very close to my training, but she is choreographed in Muay Thai films. As a technician, she is perfect. Her kicks are some of the most complete I have ever seen. She over-rotates every one of them, which adds power, but she does so without losing control, balance, or speed.
Her style is a controlled lack of control, which speaks of true mastery and reminds me of Jackie Chan’s abilities. He was so perfect he could afford to be imperfect. Yanin also has Chan’s streak for the kooky, striking poses and involving dance in some of her roles. Ever since I first saw her in Chocolate, she has been my idol in my own training. She is also no stranger to insane stunt scenes.
My single worry is that she’s taking time off to have a baby. It is a wonderful decision and I congratulate her on starting a family, but time off has never helped a martial arts star grow. The man who laid the groundwork for her in Thai cinema, Tony Jaa, took time away and came back a shade of his former self, making films to cash in on his name but without the remaining skills to match.
Himura Sachiko is a business owner living in Osaka, Japan. She has a black belt in Shotokan Karate.
by Justine Baron
Jackie Chan is a martial arts legend who has graced the screen for over 50 years. Chan has managed to stand out from other martial artists by adopting his own style of light hearted comedy mixed with martial arts. He took roles like that of Wong Fei-Hung in Drunken Master, Dragon Ma in Project A, and Chan Ka Kui in the Police Story movies, to name a few of my personal favorites. He was, and still is, the quintessential example of an entertainer.
His first really successful English-speaking role was that of Keung in Rumble in the Bronx, which was a Hong Kong-made movie that was filmed in the U.S. with the intent of introducing him to Western audiences. This is where a lot of Americans, including myself, became familiarized with the man who would become a huge star outside of his home country, China. Rumble in the Bronx is actually the first movie of Chan’s that I’ve ever seen.
Not only that, but Jackie Chan was the first martial artist I’ve ever seen period. I was only about 7-years-old at the time and didn’t know who other martial artists like Bruce Lee were and, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have cared at that age. Jackie Chan was fun to watch. He was funny, talented, and charismatic – all the qualities that would appeal to a younger, as well as older, generation. I further enjoyed watching him in other Hollywood movies like Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon. Now that I’m older, though, I prefer a lot of his Hong Kong films to his American ones. He has made over 100 films in his career. As I continue to discover more and more of his movies, I just become more impressed with his performances and the stunts that he can pull off. Jackie Chan was the man who introduced me to martial arts and, because of him, I have loved martial arts movies of all kinds ever since.
I think it goes without saying that there will never be another like Jackie Chan, and maybe that’s a good thing. However, there is one other martial artist who has really caught my eye in the past few years, and that is the up-and-coming Indonesian actor Iko Uwais from The Raid movies. This guy has impressed me so much with his abilities to not only choreograph amazing fight scenes and perform his own stunts, but also to execute the choreography so perfectly, I oftentimes find myself rewinding scenes and watching them again because I can’t believe what I’m seeing. This guy has been practicing Pencak Silat since he was 10-years-old, competing in tournaments and winning titles. No doubt the intensity of his fight scenes is partly due to the amazing style of the director who discovered him back in 2007, Gareth Evans. Together, they make movies with some of the most skillful, hard hitting action I’ve ever seen. They have managed to completely alter my taste in action movies.
That’s not to say there aren’t other martial artists and martial arts movies that I absolutely love, but it’s the work of Iko Uwais that has really stuck with me in recent years. Even after the success of movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – which I did enjoy – that shows how wire fu can be used beautifully, artistically, and performed almost like a ballet, I still prefer the wireless, raw, bloody, bone-crunching action given to us by Uwais. Call me weird, it’s OK. In my opinion, there’s already a ton of violence in movies in general, so if you’re going to watch a blood bath, why not enjoy a talented guy who can turn that into a well-choreographed blood bath? I am hoping that he will continue to make amazing martial arts movies for years to come, and be able to keep taking martial arts films to the next level.
He may not have the same kind of appeal as Jackie Chan, and that’s OK. In my opinion, he’s great at what he does, and that’s enough for me to wish that he has a long-lived, successful career.
Justine Baron sometimes works as a freelance production assistant on films and commercials. She has a passion for movies, and she puts her B.A. in English and Film to use by writing about movies in her free time at Justine’s Movie Blog.
by Vanessa Tottle
Leave it to me to pick the bad guy, but Yayan Ruhian is my favorite martial artist to watch. I’ve seen three of his films now, including the two Raid movies, all Indonesian movies directed by Gareth Huw Evans. It’s not odd to work with the same director over and over again; most martial arts stars stick with one until they have the cachet to control their image working in unfamiliar environments.
Yayan also choreographed those films, with Iko Uwais. In The Raid, Yayan plays the enforcer Mad Dog. He fights as if killing someone is a religious experience, an addiction of the soul. He is powerful. In The Raid 2, he plays the assassin Prakoso. He may as well be called Stray Dog. Murder is the only trade he knows, the only thing he’s good at. He is desperate and sad. In both, he brings an animal quality I’ve never seen before. He throws himself into fights with reckless abandon. He sometimes feels a step away from losing all control.
In both, he possesses a dramatic quality not always seen in action movies. This is what martial arts stars will need to display in the future. It’s not enough to just be a Jackie Chan anymore (except for Jackie Chan, of course). Or, for that matter, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. Those days of rooting for actors and never knowing the characters’ name are over. You must be able to play a character inside a story now. While many martial artists can impress us in their action scenes, we will only remember those who impress us in quiet, emotional scenes as well.
It’s fitting that our next Jackie Chan might be an expert at playing villains, like a Silat master Gary Oldman. We live in a time of villains, of religious addict mad dogs and sad, stray dogs under thumb who know nothing else. The next Jackie Chan will speak to his time the way Chan did to his, and Yayan Ruhian speaks to this time in a way that terrifies and intrigues me.
Vanessa Tottle is earning her Ph.D. in vertebrate paleontology. She writes often for this site, and holds a black belt in Krav Maga.
by Chris Braak
Jackie Chan sat at the crossroads of a very particular combination of cultural factors – as a direct successor to Bruce Lee, whose influence helped change Hong Kong cinema from one that relied on elaborate special effects to one that focused much more on physical virtuosity; as an actor he sort of “broke through” in the U.S. in the 80s and 90s, when the kind of star-powered action vehicle was still going strong; and as a product of the Beijing Opera School, which taught a very performance-focused form of kung fu. And I’m not sure that this combination exists right now; American cinema is bifurcated between low-budget, very “acting” films and high-budget, elaborate-effects heavy movies, neither of which are geared to showcase (nor do they particularly require) the kind of virtuosity that Jackie Chan brought to his movies.
The star-powered vehicles are largely a thing of the past as well. It seems like Tom Cruise is maybe the last Hollywood star trying to work this way, and his movies aren’t doing so well; even the lower-budget martial arts stars are either abandoning that kind of movie (Jason Statham, for example, just doesn’t seem interested in them right now) or never quite made it with American audiences (David Belle is in his forties, now, and past his prime; Tony Jaa never seemed to catch on, and seriously I did my part, I saw Ong Bak in the theaters; who else? Stephen Chow seems to have abandoned the martial-arts-star movie.)
The kinds of actors who are working now as martial arts stars in the U.S. are either second-string, low profile guys (like Scott Adkins) or they’re old.
So where would the new crop of actors come from? Well, the thing is that there is nothing like the Beijing Opera School in the U.S. or any of the Anglophone nations where we get our actors (England, Australia, Canada). Nothing. And while that doesn’t mean we couldn’t get Asian actors with the kind of background in both performance and spinning flip-kicks if we wanted, it does govern the kind of movies that actors are drawn to, and thus the kind of movies that get made, and I think this is going to crowd out the virtuoso-martial artist movie, and therefore crowd out the virtuoso martial artists.
Furthermore, we’ve got to accept that American movies don’t select for virtuosity. “Martial arts” provides the background for a lot of actors’ workout routines, sure, but those are exactly what they sound like: workout routines. They’re about building big muscles and washboard abs, not developing that kind of grace and agility that only being sold to the Beijing Opera when you’re 12 years old and spending your formative years leaping over tables and whacked with bamboo sticks can provide. This is both limiting, in terms of what those actors are going to do onscreen, and also antithetical to the essential nature of kung fu: “cosmetic” kung fu is not kung fu at all.
In my opinion, we’re not in a place right now in American cinema that’s got room for a new Jackie Chan. I think we might be ripe for it, definitely I would be in favor of a new wave of popular, virtuoso martial arts movies; I expect they’re going to have to come from somewhere other than the U.S., though, and I don’t see anything quite like that on the horizon.
Chris Braak is a writer at Threat Quality Press. He practices Hung Gar style kung fu. His new play, Empress of the Moon: The Lives of Aphra Behn, will open at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, D.C. in July.
NO ONE…WAIT, NO, SOMEONE!
by Carter Churchfield
Many people name martial artists like Jet Li, to which I respond NOOOOO! You are missing the point if you consider actors like him. Jackie Chan is comedic, his predecessors were Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, not Bruce Lee. One of his contemporaries was Chris Farley. People are so blown away with Jackie Chan’s agility and physicality that they don’t make the connection that he is doing slapstick comedy. The Question becomes who is doing advanced slapstick these days, and I can’t think of anyone on this side of the pond. That’s my two cents.
[After asking Carter if there was anyone popularizing martial arts films the way Jackie Chan did as a director, she did add the following. -Gabe]
How about the Wachowskis? Sci-fi/kung fu crossovers weren’t common until after The Matrix.
Carter Churchfield is a tour guide/jack of all trades/international mercenary who is a horror aficionado/famed pigeon wrestler/diamond smuggler. She doesn’t know it, but it’s a high school performance of hers that got me interested in theatre and filmmaking in the first place.
by S. L. Fevre
12-1-1 record in professional Muay Thai. 7-1 record in MMA (undefeated against fighters who didn’t get suspended for steroids). Here’s her debut. All 38 seconds of it. Arguably the best stand-up fighter MMA’s had, man or woman. One of the only actors who began her career as a competitive fighter. When she was filming a fight scene for Haywire, Michael Fassbender slammed her head into a wall too hard. She retaliated by breaking a vase over his million dollar face. (He told MTV he could tell it was coming a second before it happened, and that’s when he knew it would be a great fight scene.)
Cause I’ve met cats who hit harder than actors like Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana and there’s a plague of mainstream actors who think a few weeks of training make them look like secret agents. Carano’s knocked people out and she’s been knocked out. When she kicks someone in the head, I can believe she just gave them a concussion.
S. L. Fevre is an actress, model, and martial arts movie fan who lives in California. She kickboxes for fitness.
MICHAEL JAI WHITE
by Kyle Price-Livingston
With the concurrent rise of superhero movies and Mixed Martial Arts, audience expectations for martial arts films have changed. Where once we looked for grace, speed, and agility, we now seek bone-shattering strength and brutality. The Jackie Chan of the future will need to demonstrate a mean uppercut, a working knowledge of submission holds and the self-confidence necessary to wear tights without embarrassment.
There is, to my mind, only one actor who can currently pull that off: Michael Jai White. At 46, White is perhaps a bit old to be considered “the next” anything, but he works consistently, looks the part, and even plays the Jackie Chan role in Skin Trade, an upcoming film which is basically a photo-negative of Rush Hour. He is, at the very least, the prototype for the next generation of martial arts stars.
All you need to know about Kyle Price-Livingston is that he’s the sort of guy who – when he posts about giving a chipmunk CPR – you think about it for a second, consider to whom it happened, and figure, “Yeah, that’s reasonable.”
by Gabe Valdez
Insofar as his unique physical performance and comedic presence, there is no next Jackie Chan. It’s a ludicrous question, which is why all these fantastic writers have been so game in answering it. To me, the next Jackie Chan is someone with demonstrated box office appeal who uses his extent of unique training to bridge cultural gaps, to make social commentary on his own culture, and to further popularize martial arts films by making people look at them in a way they never have before. Having been baptized in fight choreography against the icons of the previous generation only helps his credibility.
There is only one answer for me: Zhang Ziyi. Proven box office, name appeal in the East and West. Like Jackie Chan, she was trained from youth in a separate field from martial arts (dance) that lends her a quality that’s unique from every other martial arts actor on film. As anyone who’s seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; House of Flying Daggers; or The Grandmaster can attest, she has a dramatic ability most actors – martial arts or otherwise – can only dream of. She’s worked with directors Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee, and Wong Kar Wai in films that have revolutionized the operatic approach to kung fu cinema, and are simultaneously very popular in China and yet incredibly subversive in their themes.
And you can’t beat her resume – fight scenes opposite Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and alongside Takeshi Kaneshiro. She’s also starred in a movie with Jackie Chan (and if you ask me, Brett Ratner’s biggest mistake as a director has nothing to do with X-Men 3 and everything to do with giving us a Zhang Ziyi-Chris Tucker fight scene instead of a Zhang Ziyi-Jackie Chan fight scene in Rush Hour 2).
Most importantly, she can communicate a scene dramatically through her movement quality in a way no other actor has demonstrated. This has made directors change how kung fu is filmed.
Gabe Valdez writes the movie blog you’re currently reading. It’s read in over 90 countries and has featured more than 20 different writers. I hold a black belt in Taekwondo and analyze fight choreography regularly. I’ve most recently written on zen philosophy in Jackie Chan’s choreography and the mythical choreography in Troy and Serenity.