You've probably heard all about Jackie Chan's inopportune little indiscretion two weeks ago. The superstar stumbled onstage a little too tipsy at Jonathan Li Zhongchen's concert and uncharacteristically made an ass of himself. The story was picked up by news wires the world over. I forwarded it to friends overseas and they were amazed.
However, it was not so much that Chan got drunk that they found amusing. A celebrity getting lubed up and acting stupid is not a solar eclipse; it happens on a pretty regular basis. What my friends found so shocking was that Chan ... sang.
It never occurred to them that a kung fu hero like our drunken master would also sing and release records. Granted, he hasn't done so in a while. And make no mistake, I'm not suggesting Chan is a full-blown music phenomena the way chart-toppers such as Bruce Willis and Jamie Foxx are (ha!). But to a lot of folks overseas the thought is almost comical. 'Jackie Chan crooning a ballad? He can't be serious. C'mon, does he actually have musical talent?'
In fact, this is the topic in a New York-based newspaper Village Voice essay by Tom Breihan a couple of weeks ago. In the piece, he seems genuinely surprised that the Rush Hour star has a second career in entertainment in Asia. 'The image of Jackie Chan breaking into song is too much,' he writes. 'Chan's Wikipedia entry reveals that he's long pulled double duty in Hong Kong as both movie star and pop star, something I can't believe I didn't know. Hong Kong has a long history of turning its pop stars into actors, and the results have been a whole lot better than America's history of turning rappers into actors.'
Well, I'm not so sure about that. Clearly, Breihan hasn't seen too many films starring the Emperor Entertainment Group's recent batch of, um, talents. Honestly, I'd choose Ludacris over the Boy'z any time, any day.
Given that the Voice is supposed to be one of the more informed and culturally astute publications in the Manhattan metropolis, it just goes to show how precious little overseas media and audiences are aware of the nuances of Asia's world city. You have to think the rest of Bush country don't have one clue about Asian entertainers and their industry (my favourite Hong Kong movie oops is when clueless writers refer to Chow Yun-fat as Mr Fat).
Well, Breihan is going to flip when he finds out Tony Leung Chiu-wai has also released an album of love songs or Stephen Chow Sing-chi used to host a children's television show.
It's only natural for a foreign audience to assume Asia's entertainment industry operates like Hollywood. At times, revealing such truths to western writers can be akin to telling a child Santa Claus doesn't exist. They can't believe it's true. If their artists release only one record a year, it's no surprise people are shocked to learn that a popular Hong Kong singer might release three or four CDs a year (at least back when people bought music instead of downloading it or grabbing the Shenzhen special). Acting school and the theatre stage are where US and British Oscar winners hone their craft, but in Hong Kong female movie stars apprentice their craft by entering beauty pageants. And contrary to popular belief, in Hong Kong you can start and shoot most of a movie without an actual script. Just ask that Wong Kar-wai guy.
The incredible worship shown at his altar by critics in international cinema (notably those inexplicable French) is another curious sight. At Cannes, they think of Wong not even as an artist, but an artiste. They obviously read into every beautiful image a well-thought out, structurally dense and experimental narrative being elegantly unveiled. Funny, in Hong Kong, most movie-goers think he's just full of it. A lingering shot of Tony Leung smoking is just a lingering shot of Tony Leung smoking.
It seems the grass is always greener on the other side. Call it oriental exoticism or maybe that Asian culture, as Paris Hilton is wont to say, is hot. But for some pop-culture observers, Hong Kong is not unlike Disneyland where our eager but impenetrable entertainment offers kitschy amusement and a wonderment of pop delights. As Breihan wraps up his piece, he says: 'I love the idea that Hong Kong turns all of its stars into singers just because everyone already likes them. That's efficiency.'
Then he jokes: 'Jet Li, unfortunately, does not appear
to have followed suit.'
At least, I think it's supposed to be a funny quip.