Jackie Chan Teams Up with Jet Li for 'The Forbidden Kingdom'

Jet Li and Jackie Chan in The Forbidden Kingdom. © Lionsgate Films

Martial arts masters Jackie Chan and Jet Li had been actively seeking out a project to do together when they were presented with the opportunity to star in The Forbidden Kingdom. The film, which is based on the Chinese legend of the Monkey King, follows Boston teen and kung fu movie fanatic Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) who is thrust back in time to ancient China after discovering a golden staff in the back room of a video store.

Once in China, Jason must free the Monkey King with the help of kung fu master Lu Yan (Chan) and Silent Monk (Li). Over the course of his journey, Jason must face his fears while discovering the true meaning of kung fu.

Shot on location in China, The Forbidden Kingdom is the first film pairing Li and Chan. The two iconic martial arts figures have known each other for years and their fans have been anxiously awaiting a Chan/Li fight scene. Most fight scenes in his other films require 10-15 per segment, but according to Chan each segment of his fight sequences with Li only took 3-5 takes.

Chan recalls the first day he and Li were on the set together: “Woo-ping and the stunt coordinators had choreographed an action sequence that Jet and I went to take a look. Two stunt guys were doing a demonstration and I’m standing there with Woo. ‘You know, I am a fast learner. I have been doing action for so many years.

I just look at once, just show me one more time. Show me one more time,’ and then after that, I say, ‘Let’s shoot without rehearsal.’ And then I look at Jet and Jet Li’s like, ‘Okay, let’s shoot.’”

“Then, I suppose – just to make fun of him – and all the cameramen were like, ‘What? No rehearsal. Okay, let’s do it.’ After first cut, the director and Woo-ping come up and say, ‘Good, but can you guys slow down?’ Because he wanted to show off quick, I wanted to show off quick.

I wanted quicker! Then, ‘How quick you want?’ The director [says], ‘Oh, because of the new technology, you have to slow down.’ Then we slow down.”

“It's fun. Fighting with him is very, very comfortable. Comfortable is not like I fought so many action villains. They just don’t know how to fight. They just ‘pow!’ and it makes you get you hurt and it doesn’t look good. Good are like Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, those kind of rhythms I've never had before Jet Li,” explained Chan. “Wow. I think because I’m good, it makes him comfortable,” added Chan laughing.

Shooting on location in China was a real experience for director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King), but to Chan the landscape was something he’s very used to. What he wasn’t used to was having to wear an itchy wig. “Especially when shooting time was so hot in the desert, it’s so itchy. And always probably for a young girl they are used to it. I always like very slowly just do this [twirls fake hair with his fingers]. It's so itching! But there were things, the old guy, the old Hop. Wow. I wanted to kill the director,” laughed Chan. “For five days I get up four o'clock in the morning, makeup until 12:30. One o'clock, after lunch, first shot. Two shots, wrap.

I said, ‘No, shoot more.’ Then we take off all the mask, all the makeup for two hours. Every day, almost 11 hours in makeup.”

Chan’s beginning to feel his age a bit and admits he’s made adjustments to his style over the past five or six years. “Right after, I don’t know, Around the World in 80 Days and then I go back to make New Police Story, The Myth, Rob B Hood, Rush Hour 3 and Forbidden Kingdom. Right after Forbidden Kingdom, I just finished a movie called The Shinjuku Incident. It’s just totally, one percent action, heavy, heavy drama. The next one will be big action! Then coming [up] maybe a love story… I want to change. I want to be a real actor, not just ‘action star’. An action star's life is very short. I am the myth. Jackie Chan is a myth. I am still surviving right now. More than 30 years, I am the only one.

How long can I keep fighting? So this is why I have to change, change, change,” admitted Chan. “I’m not like I used to be like Drunken Master 3 or 4. No, I’m tired.”

Chan’s notoriously critical of his films, especially the American ones. At the Los Angeles press junket Chan was asked if he was pleased with the way The Forbidden Kingdom turned out. “I don't know,” replied Chan. “Every time I make American film, I just trust American directors and American writers. Myself, I would never make this kind of film. For me, those kinds of films are ridiculous. They don’t make sense. But the American way, the American audience is more interested in this kind of movie.”

“No, the whole thing,” laughed Chan when asked if there’s anything in particular that doesn’t make sense to him. “Why Drunken Master? Why Monkey King? All kind of things, but at the end, it’s the children. There is a young boy in New York who loves, just like the writer, he loves American culture. It’s a fantasy just like a fairy tale. It’s Okay. Otherwise, I won’t make this movie, because I know that American people like it. …The Asian like it. So, that’s why Jet and me agreed to make this movie. Now, I hear so many good things about this movie and everybody talk about it, I still worry. Just like Rush Hour 1. After I finished Rush Hour 1 I said, ‘My career is finished. A second time I try to get in American market and now I’m finished.’ I go back to Asia and that’s all. Then ‘Boom!’ big hit. This is ridiculous. Why, why do people like these kinds of things? Then Rush Hour 2, da da da da da da. So, now, whenever American writer or director come and present a script, nobody against it, I just [make it] for the American market, yeah.”