As friendly as many of his characters on screen, Jackie Chan made a rushed visit to Cambodia on Nov. 10 and 11 as part of the ongoing “Bridges” lecture series on peace. In a one-on-one with AsiaLIFE’s Nora Lindstrom, he spoke about the ongoing diplomatic row between Cambodia and Thailand, what being Chinese means to him, and who would win a fight between him and Chuck Norris. AL: You arrived in Cambodia last night, what has the experience been like so far?
JC: I’ve been here three times. Every time it’s rushed – hotel, then location, back and forth, then leave.
AL: This time you’ve come from Thailand to Cambodia in the middle of a political crisis between the two countries. In your lecture today, how will you address this issue and talk about peace in this context?
JC: Governments are too big for me, I don’t understand what they are doing. But you can choose a friend, not choose the neighbour. [Cambodia and Thailand] have been right beside each other for millions of years – if you always argue then no one will be happy. Why can’t we help each other rather than hate each other? I think there must be a way, just to talk about the problem. I’ve travelled to so many countries, and I always ask “Why?”. I don’t understand why. I don’t understand politics. Why do they think the land belongs to them? Cambodia belongs to me, the world belongs to us – who set up the borders? Who set up the rules? I just don’t understand. I’ve just finished a movie called ‘A Little Big Soldier’. The whole movie is against war. We’ve had the script for about ten years, but I haven’t had time to shoot it. For the last couple of years however, I’ve seen the war going on in the Middle East and I just don’t understand why people set off bombs amongst ordinary people. I don’t know the inside story, but I just can’t understand why, so that’s why I went back, took my script out and decided to make the movie.
AL: Your visit to Cambodia is very short. Who have you been meeting and what have you been talking about?
JC: I can’t remember, I’ve visited so many people! I’ve been travelling for 22 days – I’ve already forgotten what I did yesterday. [Received by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An in the morning, during which the two discussed future filming possibilities in Cambodia. Night before Jackie Chan performed live on CTN together with Cambodian stars and celebrities.] The songs in Cambodia are so good. I really hope I can go online to find out the lyrics. They are really simple, about loving your country, loving your home, but so meaningful. I hope someone can find the lyrics. Right now, I’m no longer interested in making movies just to have fun and make money. Now, when I do something I do it for a reason. Otherwise I’m not going to do it. I’m famous enough, I’m rich enough. Now, people ask me why I don’t go home and have a rest after finishing a movie. I can make one million a day. But I want to do charity, because I believe I have the responsibility for my own city, for the world. I don’t know how many people I can help, I don’t know how many things I can do – maybe it’s zero – but it makes me happy. When I sleep, I sleep very tight, because I’m helping somebody. If I come to Cambodia, or Vietnam, or Thailand, and I can help one person, that’s enough.
AL: You were recently in Vietnam taking part in Operation Smile. What was that experience like?
JC: Wow! I’ve been helping Operation Smile for 20 years, but mostly I’ve just been doing charity premieres and balls to raise money to send to them. Sometimes I’ve visited the children. But this time was different because I went into the operation room and... You can’t imagine what they do – I almost fainted! Someone behind me had to prop me up. But it was really touching. After the operation I saw the mum and she cried, because she could see the future of the child. The future of the child in which he can speak perfectly, he can drink, he can eat and he can go to school without people making fun of him. There’s so many of them. When you travel, there are so many people like him, like you, helping other people. We help people build homes, we help people fix cleft lips, in Cambodia we help victims of landmines... Everything can be destroyed in a second by a bullet or a bomb, and it takes decades to rebuild. Stop doing this! I ask why not help each other? If you help people then people will help you. All over the world, wherever I go people help me.
AL: Do you have any upcoming projects in Cambodia?
JC: In my next movie, there will be one shot from Cambodia, from Angkor Wat. After the first time I came to Cambodia, I went home and immediately wrote a script. The story is based in the 70s during the Khmer Rouge, and it’s about landmines. It starts with me in Hong Kong and I am a bad person. I escape to Cambodia and meet a volunteer who helps me go into the jungle. But actually I cheat her because I want to buy drugs in the jungle. But then I see how children get blown up by landmines, and in the end I leave the opium and help the children run away. Years later I’m at a college speaking and I take off my pants, and I have no legs. How many landmines are there in the world, how many children are going to die? That’s the movie I want to make.
AL: On your blog you write about participating in the 60th anniversary celebrations in China. What does being Chinese mean to you?
JC: It means a lot. When I was young, I was born in Hong Kong. I didn’t know what nationality I was. We were under the British, but we were Chinese. We couldn’t go to China, but we could not go to England either. Even if we had passports, when we went to England we still had to request visas. But I was British! That made me unhappy. It made me wonder who I was. So when Hong Kong was returned to China I could finally tell people I’m Chinese. Wherever I went before people asked “Are you Chinese?”, “No, I’m from Hong Kong”, “Are you British?” Sigh. I couldn’t even speak English! But now I can tell people, I am Chinese. I’m very lucky, and China, for the last ten years it’s just boomed and become very strong.
AL: How do you perceive China’s role in the world?
JC: I’m happy now. China suffered so many decades, you can see it. We are a new country, only 60 years old. We’re not talking about 5,000 years. We’re only 60 and for the last 50 years we’ve suffered a lot. I was not in China, I was in Hong Kong, but I saw the news. But boom, suddenly, we’ve got peace. No more problems with neighbours. Now we have peace, although there are still some things going on. I think every country should have peace. War, it only destroys people – you destroy your own country.
AL: Final question, who would win a fight between you and Chuck Norris?
JC: He would win. Because I’m the one who talks about peace. That’s the problem, everyone thinks they’re strong. If you beat me, or even if you kill me, I might knock your teeth out - we both get hurt. Before, I wanted to be a bouncer and that’s why I learnt so many martial arts. Later on, I found out I had hurt somebody and run away. Two days later I found out his tooth was still in my hand. I thought there was a problem with my bone. I didn’t know if I’d killed the guy or just knocked him down – I was scared for a whole month. Every day I watched the newspaper to find out if I maybe I’d killed someone... If you hurt somebody, you hurt yourself. In fighting, you both get hurt. That’s why when the International Peace Foundation contacted me I said yes. I’ll come right away.