In the mid-1980s, Jackie Chan took a 13-year-long break from making American movies. After establishing himself as one of Hong Kong’s biggest stars, Chan received offers to make American films. However, this period isn’t actually what transformed Jackie Chan into an action icon in Hollywood.
Between 1980 and 1985, Chan made a handful of American movies, beginning with The Big Brawl and ending with The Protector. According to the actor’s autobiography, Never Grow Up, his stay in the United States started off with a disaster, as The Big Brawl performed so badly at the box office that Chan became eager to go back to Hong Kong. Later, his contract with Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest forced Chan to star in a joint production with Warner Bros. called The Protector, which was also a box office flop. Frustrated with how both movies turned out, as well as some unpleasant experiences with the American press, he shifted his attention away from Hollywood for 13 more years and focused on Hong Kong movies like Armour of God and the Police Story franchise.
Why Jackie Chan Couldn’t Succeed In Hollywood In The 1980s
Chan shared his thoughts on what went wrong with The Big Brawl and The Protector in Never Grow Up. In addition to his issues with the scripts, he disagreed with the limitations put him on as an actor. He wrote in the book that he had very little freedom to improvise with his fight scenes and wasn’t able to perform the “complex, beautiful movements” he had become accustomed to with his Hong Kong films. As for The Protector, he had no desire to make it from the beginning. As a story that leaned on graphic violence, profanity, and nudity, it didn’t fit with his previous work. Ultimately, these problems were what Chan believed held back both movies from being successful.
Why Jackie Chan Came Back To Hollywood (& What Changed)
Jackie Chan’s second attempt to make a name for himself in the United States played out quite differently. When Chan returned to make 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx for Golden Harvest, he found the conditions to be much more favorable. Since it was technically a Hong Kong production, he was able to do things his way. Further helping the situation was the fact that New Line Cinema, the movie’s American distributor, put “real energy” into the publicity and made Chan finally feel welcome in America.
Since Rumble in the Bronx and the next string of films he made were “true Jackie Chan movies,” they were able to make waves both in the States and in the international market in ways that The Big Brawl and The Protector never could. Becoming popular in North America culminated in Chan starring in a number of American productions, beginning with 1998’s Rush Hour, which was followed by movies like Shanghai Knights, two Rush Hour sequels, and several more. The fame he had built with his return to the United States in 1995 was what made it all possible. Unlike what happened in the 1980s, American studios were letting Chan apply his signature style, and that’s ultimately what allowed them to take off.
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