An impassioned Jackie Chan at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand during his talk. PHOTO: Nirmal Ghosh
IF YOU were ever left in any doubt from his movies that Jackie Chan is a bundle of energy, that doubt is removed the moment you encounter him in person.
Jackie Chan arrived at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok like a whirlwind on Monday evening.
Sitting at the top table he attacked a bowl of nuts, refused all other food and stuck to water. When it was suggested that the event start, he clapped his hands together and said "Yes, I like to work!"
At the podium he delivered short introductory remarks, and then clearly couldn't stand sitting in one place any longer. He leaped up and stood behind the table, only occasionally sitting for a few seconds after he had delivered a long answer to a question.
Most of the time he was prowling passionately behind the microphones, gesticulating excitedly, talking fast, sometimes groping for the right word, his spirit and humour filling the room and drawing an enthusiastic response from the delighted audience.
He was in Bangkok and at the FCCT, courtesy the International Peace Foundation's "Bridges" dialogues pogramme. Chan is widely known for his philanthropic work for a range of causes, from disaster relief to handicapped children to endangered wildlife. Among other things, his donations have helped build 24 schools in China.
And when he speaks of his causes, he does so with an unmistakable and infectious passion and commitment.
I remembered the public service announcements (PSAs) he had done some years ago for tiger conservation. His message was "When the buying stops, the killing will too." The message was aimed at the Chinese market which has largely been responsible for the decimation of wild tigers for their body parts, believed to have medicinal properties.
That's all "baloney" said Chan, when I asked him what thoughts he had on the subject.
And he launched into an impassioned diatribe, best related in his own inimitable style:
"After that I not only protect tigers, I protect rhinos, sharks, everything... through the tiger thing I learned so many things. So many nonsense going on, old traditional things, tiger bone helping people do this, bear gall helping people do that. All baloney.
"Really, it's all bad business people speaking nonsense, saying you take this you take that... New technology ten times better than the tiger bone. I always tell the Chinese people, don't trust the old things. It's not like the pig..." (he breaks into Cantonese and looks around for a helpful translation)
"You use the pig leg and you run faster. That's baloney. Because the Chinese still follow this old traditions. We have to speak out these kind of things... this nonsense."
Jackie Chan is an ambassador for United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef). The audience listened in silence to his tale of a six year old girl from a poor family who could barely see, but hadn't the courage to tell her parents, living in fear and enduring beatings for two years at home for not being able to perform at school and at her homework.
All she needed was a pair of corrective glasses, he said, outlining how he got celebrities together and donated funds and organized a drive to get the spectacles for thousands of visually challenged children. Jackie Chan himself donated US$ 2 million.
"I travel around the world, I see so many unfair things," he said, talking repeatedly of how he wants to be a superman and help all the people who need help.
"Peace, in this moment right now, is very important. We have a natural disaster every single day. We try to protect trees, we try to protect the sea, the fish, but people still do the underwater dynamite. Boom! Do you know how many fish die? Boom! One boom, I don't know how many... trillions. I want to be a superman, I want to suck all the weapons out, no weapons at all."
He sat at the end of that, with a heavy sigh: "Just sometimes I see these kinds of things, really really sad."
"When I was young I always asked why, why, why. So at the end I not ask why any more, I just do it," he continued.
"I know that everybody has a good heart, but sometimes you just don't have time to do something. Ok now you have ten dollars, you want to do something. I am willing to become a bridge, I have my foundation, come on, donate to me. I will do it. I am willing to do it."