willie chan CONSIDER THE strange life of Willie Chan. He is Jackie Chan's manager which means that he spends every second of his professional life thinking about Jackie. Occasionally, he appears in his trademark dark glasses on the social pages of the Chinese papers, famous by association. To Jackie's fans, he is a complete unknown. Jackie's recent film was metaphysically entitled Who Am I? and that is a question Willie must surely put to himself. When I faxed him a request for this interview, his secretary rang up, confused, and asked if I really meant Mr Willie Chan. I said I did, and she cried 'Oh!' in tones of incredulity, and rang off. We met in a house in Waterloo Road, Kowloon, which is devoted to the cult of Jackie. The windows along the front are covered with felt-tip messages from acolytes who have travelled thousands of miles in order to send greetings and exclamation marks to their hero. (The USA loves you! Jackie!!! Have a warm and peaceful life!! You've got a lot of fans in GERMANY!) Cardboard cutouts of Jackie mingle with photographs and dolls of Jackie. In an inner sanctum upstairs, Willie and I conversed under a nude photo of Jackie, aged about a year, which was cautiously labelled: 'For display only'. Willie was a mellow interviewee. He asked himself his own questions ('Why did I do that? Because ...' 'What did I think of that? Well ...'). He used my name at the end of every sentence, like a verbal full stop. His dark glasses remained on a chain around his neck. He had a pipe which he poked at continuously, and we sat in a comfortable fug while he reminisced about the uncomfortable life which is the Hong Kong film world. He came to Hong Kong from Malaysia in 1970 to work for a studio which gracelessly closed down six months after his arrival. As an actor? 'I wouldn't say it's an inferiority complex, but when you see me you know I'm not an actor.' Later, I asked him why he always wore dark glasses in public and he said, 'Look at my eyes - bulging like a goldfish. That's my nickname. I think glasses make me look better.' So he was a film producer when he met Jackie. 'He was just one of many, many martial arts guys. He was so disillusioned, he went to Australia, working as a cook at night and a mason during the day. But Bruce Lee had passed away and everyone was trying to find the next Bruce Lee, so I called him and he came back. And then it was always Jackie, top priority. We were the first ones to start such a thing as artist management.' Others, such as Maggie Cheung Man-yuk and Jacky Cheung Hok-yau, liked the idea. 'At my peak, I managed 43 artists,' he remarked. 'That was five years ago. Why did I quit? Do you remember the march we had to protest against, how do you say ... er, gangsterism, triads?' I didn't, but I looked it up later: in January 1992, a constellation of stars marched to Fenwick Street police headquarters to hand in a letter of protest about triad extortion in the film industry. Willie didn't ask himself if it had been an effective protest, so I did. He sighed. 'I would say, not much. That's why Jackie told me to quit, he saw the pressure. It's a very sad situation.' Has he been threatened? 'Yes, yes, yes. I haven't been as unlucky as some counterparts with the gun on the table. But I have been humiliated ... Someone comes to me and says, 'I want that Fionnuala in a film.' I say that she hasn't got the dates. He says not to worry about the dates. I say that I have to look at the script. He says not to worry about the script. I say, 'Let me talk to Fionnuala,' and he shouts, 'Don't call yourself a manager, you're a messenger.' This is in public. Then he says, 'This is the script, we want her on Friday for the film.' ' Willie paused, shrugged. 'So I go to you and say, 'Big Brother One of the ABC triad wants to do this film. I know you're tired, I know it's not the best role, but there's no way out so just think of the dollar signs.' Oh yes, they always pay, they don't take advantage in that way. I hate to sound mercenary but you balance it out. And you don't just worry about yourself, you think about the artist. How about rape?' But doesn't the same scenario occur with Jackie? 'I think big brothers give us a little bit more face - a little bit - because of Jackie. And we have a good relationship with Golden Harvest and with the police.' Thus, the 43 artists have been reduced once more to Jackie Chan. Doesn't Willie worry about the insecurity of relying totally on one man for his income? 'Jackie has no education. Since he was seven he was at Beijing Opera school. As he goes on in his career, he will need me more and more. It cannot be less. I spent two years at the East-West Center in Hawaii in 1966 getting my master's degree in marketing, the best years of my life. And handling a movie star is like marketing. It's a product - that may not sound nice but the principles are the same. He needs someone to handle his finances, and he needs me for the American market because I know English very well.' But what if he gets a smooth, slick American agent ...? 'We just signed up with an agent in America. It was me who decided that, I make the decisions and Jackie abides by them.' I said that I still thought it was a strange power relationship, and Willie replied, evenly, 'No offence meant but, for a lady in general, you get married and aren't you putting yourself in someone's hands too? The important thing is to feel wanted, to be needed so that you're helping the partner. I probably have more of Jackie's time and know more about Jackie than a wife.' Willie himself is divorced, childless, and lives with his 82-year-old mother. He pondered a question about regrets for a long, puffing silence, then said that he'd like to have had his own family. And what if Jackie suggested moving to the US? 'I'd say, 'Let's go! Let's go!' I'd like to be an American producer.' On my way out, we both gazed at a photograph of Jackie receiving his doctorate from Baptist University. Willie said, without rancour, 'Isn't it amazing? For a guy who never had an education ... now he's Dr Chan and I'm still Mr. But of course I'm very happy for him that these things have happened.'