Friday, April 21, 2017

Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan, Toronto, Feb. 1996

WAS I EXCITED TO SHOOT JACKIE CHAN? You bet I was. I don't believe in guilty pleasures, but Hong Kong action films - a movie subgenre in which Chan is the undisputed superstar - were once my favorite way to spend a mentally undemanding hour or two, letting the truck-sized plot holes and sheer physical improbabilities bounce off my mind like Jackie Chan deflecting a hundred blows.

I can't be sure today if Chan was in town promoting Rumble in the Bronx (shot in Vancouver, with its very un-Bronxlike mountains in the background) or Police Story 4: First Strike. I'm as certain as my dismal memory allows that I shot him at the Park Plaza (now Park Hyatt) Hotel. One thing I do know is that, as excited as I might have been to take Jackie Chan's portrait, he was very nearly as excited to have his picture taken, or at least that's how it seemed that day.

Jackie Chan, Toronto, Feb. 1996

I let the interviewer go first while I found my spot and my light - an intriguingly formal tableaux with a love seat just beneath some 18th century gentleman's portrait, framed with wood paneling and drapery. I wanted to place Chan in the space, imagining him playing against his persona, draped languidly across the cushions and over the arm of the love seat.

I was halfway through describing what I wanted when Chan launched himself into the space, standing on the cushions, then planking himself between the upholstered arms, changing position every time I snapped the shutter. My idea, I realized, would have to wait for a more supine subject, and I did my best to keep up with him, cocking the shutter and re-composing in an effort to keep up with this explosion of utter fucking Jackie Chan-ness that was happening in front of me.

Jackie Chan, Toronto, Feb. 1996

He ended the shoot with a flourish, standing astride the cushions and pumping his fists. It was all over in perhaps two minutes, and even his publicists looked amazed at his energy. This was, after all, a man who had famously damaged himself countless times doing his own stunts, so much so that wince-making blooper reels of outtakes ritually ran during the credit sequence at the end of his films.

Some part of me would still love to get another shot at Chan and take that languid portrait of him, as boneless and lazy as a sleeping cat, but I'm still grateful that I once barely shoehorned him into my camera frame, back when I was starting to take it for granted that I'd be shooting celebrities like Jackie Chan for a living.

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