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Meanwhile, crisis or no crisis, the industry keeps churning out a few big-budget productions, and the "Panorama" section of the Hong Kong festival included last year's biggest commercial hits: Andrew Lau's The Stormriders (an adaptation of a popular comic) and one of Jackie Chan's latest extravaganzas, Who Am I?, co-directed by the star and a talented young filmmaker, Benny Chan. "Little Dragon" remains one of the territory's best exports, and, nationalist to the core, Jackie Chan uses every opportunity to help his hometown, appearing at least once a year in a promotional movie sponsored by the Hong Kong Tourist Association. This year, he enlisted the help of two filmmakers, Mabel Cheung and Alex Law, known for their collaboration on romantic dramas, including Painted Faces, a re-creation of Chan's childhood years in a Peking Opera school.
Invited by Cheung and Law, I arrive on "The Peak," Hong Kong's major tourist attraction, and there watch Chan, clad in a white sports suit, jog, smile, wave and play with toddlers -- one Anglo, one Japanese, one Korean, a little boy for each target market. Onlookers are benevolently kept at bay ("We're shooting! No flash!"), and, after being gently scolded on the mobile phone by Chan's agent for "not informing him sooner" of my visit, I have no problem getting my 15 minutes.
At a turning point in his career, Chan now commutes between two continents on a regular basis so that he can make "two films in America for one film in Hong Kong. The two cultures are totally different," he says. "Rush Hour was successful around the world, except in Asia." For his next U.S. project (a historical action drama set during the Qing dynasty), Chan has insisted on being co-producer in order to "have the power to change the script." While his involvement in Hollywood protects him from the crisis, Chan has nonetheless become an active advocate of the local film industry. Last month, Chan led a demonstration against piracy, helped organize a "day without movies" (all the Hong Kong theaters closed), and recently met with Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to ask for his help.
It is also apparently a time for some self-reflection. Chan has hired Cheung and Law to direct a documentary about the history of his parents, who, after fleeing the civil war and the Japanese invasion by coming to Hong Kong, eventually immigrated to Australia more than 30 years ago. Aware that he is "no longer 25" (he's 45), Chan plans to "continue making action movies without special effects until I cannot do it. Since I always choreograph my own action scenes, I know how far I can jump, how far I can go," says Chan with a smile. "For the next few years in Hong Kong, I would like to convince Golden Harvest, Media Asia and Empire Entertainment [the three remaining major studios] to collaborate. Only by joining forces will they survive."
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