In Defense of Something Awful: Jackie Chan

by Hutton Marshall describes awful (adj.) as “extremely bad; unpleasant; ugly.” This column is here in its defense.

There are some people for whom fame is inevitable. Some attribute it to hard work; others to having a magnetic personality—whatever that means—and many thank their unbridled willingness to sleep their way to the top. Whatever “it” is that makes a celebrity celebrated, Jackie Chan, despite his awfulness, has undeniably got plenty of it.

“Now wait a minute, Hutton,” some of you may be thinking. “Jackie Chan’s Wikipedia page says he’s an actor, action choreographer, comedian, director, producer, martial artist, screenwriter, entrepreneur, singer and stunt performer. He does so many things, how could you possibly say he’s awful?”

Because he is awful, that’s why. Now, he’s not totally, 100 percent awful, but awful enough so that I don’t feel guilty labeling him as such. Jackie Chan is awful in a polarized way. The guy is a great martial artist—he even has the courage to do all his own stunts, which is commendable in this age of pampered celebrities—but there are areas where he is most certainly lacking.

For example, Jackie Chan refuses to play a villain. He even refused to play the bad guy, Wah Sing Ku, in “Lethal Weapon 4,” which would have been nothing less than trill. But sadly, this wasn’t an option for ol’ Jackie. He’s such a role model to kids, who knows what impact his portrayal of fictional characters could have on the youth of China and the U.S.? If there was an award for most narcissistic (this debatably already exists; it’s called the Golden Globes) then he would clean up. Going out on a limb here: I think kids are more likely to take what he actually does seriously rather than what he pretends to do in movies. The guy filmed nude sex scenes in his 20s (if you don’t believe me, check out the 1975 comedic adult film, “All in the Family”), he blew off school, became famous for martial arts and became a Hollywood actor. If I tried to go down this road as a kid, my parents would have judo chopped me all the way to science camp.

I’m not a film expert, and I don’t have any kind of theatrical background, but I think I can state with some confidence that Jackie Chan is not a good actor in the classical sense. I don’t think he’ll ever win an Oscar, and I don’t get the impression that he sweats a whole lot about the scripts and overall direction of his movies. I mean, seriously, when he writes movies, he could at least stop naming his character “Jackie.”

However, there is one thing which eats at me when writing about his undeniable cinematic awfulness; he’s a genuinely nice guy. His slapstick humor is so cheap, it makes me gag. But it’s unpretentious and lighthearted. The dialogue he writes is practically nonsense at times, but what comes through is genuine and says exactly what Jackie Chan means, without reservation. He’s a huge show-off, but hey, most of what he does is entertaining. Sure, there’s a lot of awful in his cinematic endeavors, but why pay attention to the awful when it’s so much fun to just sit back and watch him do kung-fu and be goofy?

It’s tempting to analyze every movie we watch these days and compare them to the standout films that greatly impacted society, but I think that’s a big waste sometimes. I think a lot of movie producers out there have no interest in being artistically critiqued and analyzed. Rather, their movies are meant for pure, dumb, visceral joy without snobbery or carefully crafted subplots. Chan’s films aren’t meant to stand next to “There Will Be Blood” or “2001: A Space Odyssey.” No, his movies are at the best to watch at 2 a.m. with a bag of Cheetos Puffs in hand, when all you want to do is watch a little bit of kung-fu and not worry too much about thinking.

-J. Hutton Marshall is a green belt with a blue stripe in taekwondo. He recommends anyone interested in an awfully awesome Jackie Chan movie should watch “Armour of God II: Operation Condor,” starring, written and directed by Jackie Chan. He also recommends not sweating about missing “Armour of God 1,” because it was never released in English.