On the 10th, Jackie Chan flew to South Africa to begin work on Who Am I? The plan is for the crew to head to Cape Town in the middle of May for city location shots which are scheduled to last a month. Then they will return to the outskirts of Johannesburg, where they will camp for jungle shots until the end of June. In the beginning of July, his crew will fly to Holland for more location shoots. Jackie said, if time allowed, he would return to Hong Kong to witness the handover ceremony of H.K. being returned to China. Ironically, not too many Chinese were happy about the city no longer being a British colony.
According to one of several Chinese newspapers (such as Ming Pao, Sing Tao Daily and Ta Kung Pao), Who Am I? began shooting in Johannesburg on April 14. Jackie expressed that the pre-production was successful, but the shooting process was full of difficulties. Although he received the total support of the South African government, the local crew wasn’t too familiar with the film business and there isn’t enough of the H.K. crew to go around, so Jackie had to teach the local crew from the beginning. Brett Ratner wanted so badly for Jackie to star in Rush Hour that he personally flew to Africa to visit Jackie on the set and also agreed to change the script for him.
The chief of Golden Harvest and the film’s executive producer, Leonard Ho, travelled to Johannesburg to visit the set and to work as hard labor by taking a large pile of Hong Kong periodicals to the crew (including Jackie) to keep them informed of everything in Hong Kong. The goal of Leon’s trip is to understand their working situation and examine the completed footage to see if anything needed to be fixed. During his stay, he treated the crew to large meals to compensate for their many months of pain and suffering. Mr. Ho stayed there for a week and returned to Hong Kong on the 16th. On the 17th, he expressed that he has seen the initial shoot and is about 95% satisfied. Jackie confidently informed him that editing Who Am I? will surprise him greater.
The locals told him that those who haven’t tasted cactus juice aren’t true natives, and it just so happens that one day the water the crew brought with them ran out. The locals suggested he to quench his thirst with cactus juice, which according to them would also heal his leg injury faster. The locals even demonstrated how to drink from the plant. Being the brave soul that he is, he had a few mouthful and only then did he discover cactus juice is unbelievably bitter – about 10 times more bitter than Ya Sei Mei (a herbal tea). Jackie’s injury actually occurred outside of a shot. After a scene in a car flipped over, he helped to push the car back and injured his leg. Luckily they were filming a scene in which he is supposed to be injured, so his injury didn’t cause any delays.
First time shooting in Rotterdam, Jackie followed the producer’s orders. He’s usually not superstitious, but he took part in the worship ceremony (courtesy of Chinese tradition) to begin that portion of the shoot. Benny Chan, the co-director listed as the main one, said it was convenient for the Chinatown to be nearby. They figured that they might as well pray more because the most dangerous part of Who Am I? would be shot there, they would need all the protection they can get. The first scene to be filmed in Rotterdam was a chase scene. Having been in Holland for over half a month, Jackie was the most familiar with the piers of the river, because he had to accompany his father on his fishing trips as he didn’t want the fish to be killed.
He fell in love with the different styles of clogs. As soon as he saw them, he would buy several of them. He planed to ship them to his comic artist friends – Wong Yuk-Long and Yau Man-Kit to have Jackie characters drawn on them. Jackie told the press that he will film a deadly scene in Rotterdam, where he will jump from 16 floors. Although there were to be many mattresses covering the ground, he wasn’t going to wear a harness and wire during the jump. He described this stunt as his fourth risk in his life. The first is jumping off the clock tower in Project A, the second is the mall pole slide stunt in Police Story, and the third is the helicopter scene in Super Cop. Jackie estimated that Who Am I? would be completed by September.
Due to the funeral of his Peking opera teacher on the 15th, work in Holland stopped for 3 days on Who Am I? The delay in filming cost 200,000 dollars in U.S. currency. To add more excitement to the aforementioned stunt, Jackie decided to jump from the 21st floor instead. Ten days before the funeral, the film’s producer (Barbie Tung) brought back the 30,000 feet of film from the South African shoot. Long-lasting Golden Harvest’s chiefs, Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho, finally finished the viewing after six hours and didn’t know what to do with it. Since every inch of African film is gold, the executives wouldn’t know how to edit even if it was a standalone story (without the European portion). This is a different mentality from when Sammo Hung shot his fair share of Americam prison footage for Eastern Condors, back in 1986.
Back to Barbie, she told the Chinese press that even Jackie’s father wouldn’t get to see the jump. Not because he didn’t want to, but because Jackie would only jump after his father returned to Australia. Edward Tang, Jackie’s go-to writer who decided to work on the film as just the planner, was at ease as himself and Benny had carefully designed the stunt after they scoped out the environment. They wouldn’t allow Jackie’s dad to be on the set in order to keep Jackie from being distracted. Edward hoped that the film would have wrapped by the end of September, because there were 8 American producers who were competing for Jackie’s attention. None of these producers were affiliated with Rush Hour, but they wanted his services for the Hollywood movie after that.
On the 4th, Barbie said, perhaps due to Jackie Chan’s international star status, or the support that the European and the American government have always shown toward the Chinese movie industry, the Rotterdam city government authorized on the 3rd, 4th and 5th to close the road and the bridge outside the pier. Even the 6 lane highways outside the city building was closed for the shoot involving a massive military takedown. This authorization happened after the film shot using only 8 days on the approved streets. Within the three mentioned dates, the Dutch military sent over three hundred of its troops to attend the shooting, including the marines, frogmen, and military equipment. On top of that they were only provided with food and without paid. Jackie, Benny and Eddie Tang all said if they made that request in Hong Kong, they would all be treated as mental patients.
Pick-up shots for the African act of the film were scheduled to be filmed in Malaysia. Jackie was at an elephant village in the jungle to shoot a scene which involved dancing with baby elephants. In the film, he has progressed enough in the tribe for him to be an elephant trainer. During rehearsals, he didn’t expect one of the baby elephants to stick its trunk at him. Luckily, he was quick enough to escape the trunk attack.
Tom Mes was an extra on Who Am I? Unfortunately, he didn’t preserve his diary account or any of his other info for that matter from his original (and better) website. I did…
As soon as I heard that Jackie Chan was in the Netherlands for recordings of Who Am I?, I registered as an extra at the casting agency involved. The first time that they called me for a role, I was not at home. The second time, I did not have the required wardrobe (suit and tie). Then I did not hear from them anymore. They would not call me anymore, I just knew for sure. I had refused a role and now they punished me by never calling again. I messed it up. A month later, the redeeming phone call came: “Hello Tom. FTV Casting here. We’re going to make recordings for five days at a power plant in Geertruidenberg, can you go on one of those days?”
Saturday, September 27th: I have to report to the casting agency at quarter past six in the morning. From Rotterdam, all the extras go by bus to Geertruidenberg. After a boring journey of 45 minutes (no one knows each other to speak), we are crammed into a small box uto view a safety video about the rules of the plant. Half sleep through it, the rest look outside. Then the time has come. The group is divided into three parts and each part receives a different type of workwear: blue overalls, orange overalls and plastic overalls. Those who stay for five days get the best role. I’m being hoisted in plastic overalls, getting a red safety helmet and being named assistant to the scientists. People assure me that is a good role.
The boys in plastic are called up as the set. I meet Mike Lambert – an Englishman who I recognize from H.K. films. He plays, as usual, a bad guy. We get into conversation after I say I recognize him. He is happy and surprised that I recognize him. He turns out to be a nice guest. The first scene of the day – a truck drives into the garage then we have to run down and start unloading. After waiting for an hour, we finally start with the first take. We do it about ten times (“Faster! Faster!” is the main vocabulary of the assistant directors), but then it is satisfactory.
We do the same scene after lunch (Chinese food), but filmed from the back. Thanks to the complicated crane shot and technical failure, we do almost twenty takes. In between the shots, I stand next to Brent Houghton – an Australian director who has participated in three H.K. films. He is also very surprised that I recognize him. If the next four days go so well. There are extras that have been waiting since half past eight this morning. The plastic suits are already called the condoms. The crew is busy setting up explosions and that takes a lot of time. Mike Lambert comes to me to say that he is going back to Hong Kong on Thursday. After two hours of waiting, all the extras may appear before the last scene of the day – an explosion. The truck that we had to unload this morning is driving out of the garage at top speed, while behind it a part of the factory explodes. After a number of rehearsals, it is in one take. I walk in front and am clearly in the picture.
Sunday, September 28: This morning is incredibly annoying. It is cold and we have nothing to do at all. The extras must remain in the camp (a big tent on the premises of the power station) until they are called up for a scene. I have had enough of it after almost three hours of waiting. I go to the central to look at the recordings. People are busy with explosions again. The stuntmen, many of whom are walking around, have also hoisted overalls. A huge explosion in the central hall, and we can walk right past it. It is not difficult to come across as credible when a blast of fire three meters high is ignited right next to you.
Monday, September 29: No explosions today. We get a real dialogue scene. In a control room of the power plant, the scientists are forced by the bad guys to start an experiment, which goes completely wrong and causes the explosion of the factory. The scientists are played by three Dutch people, including Mario (the pizza baker from Spijkerhoek) and the doctor’s son (from Zeg ‘ns Aaa). Number three is played by the Dutch production leader of the film. A man with the appearance of a dazed scientist, but without a shred of acting talent.
The scene, consisting of many different shots, therefore takes hours to record. The dialogue – I know, because the plastic suits are clearly in the background again with each shot. The Chinese crew does not care about the extras until we do something wrong. Mike Lambert is the only one in the whole production who takes the time to talk to the same extras. The chemical smoke used in the film is one of the worst things I have ever smelled. If you do not wait in the camp, but just stand in the power station, you’re much more likely to to be asked for a scene. I am constantly on the set.
Tuesday, September 30: Another day full of explosions. Today, the windows of the control room are flying out, some more tubes are being blown up. The control panel is full of tubes, where fake tubes of cardboard have been hung in front of the shots. For the sake of clarity, these are the ones that are being blown up. To be honest, the fake tubes do not look convincing at all. As soon as the lighting is switched on and you view the whole on the monitor, it suddenly becomes beautiful.
Cary Cheng, assistant director, is asked to participate in a scene. A number of tubes are detonated. I and a number of others have to run away in panic in the background. During the rehearsals (in which Cary just calls out boom at the moment that the explosions would have to go off in the actual recording), we run away a bit. At the third rehearsal, it suddenly appears to be the final recording. Even with the ear plugs that were hastily applied, the explosion is hard and we fly almost over each other to get away, where a number of things go badly. Brent, who takes care of the smoke right behind us, is delighted when we see our sincere panic.
I have the interview with Mike and Brent tonight. Although it has become a habit of almost fourteen hours today, I have more energy than ever when I’m on the bus to Rotterdam. In the evening, I go to the Hilton where we hold the interview together with a full-bodied Paul Posse (video camera, tripod and two cameras). It runs like a train and everyone is very satisfied. A nice dinner afterwards, in which Brent promises me to send a copy of his movie – The Huntsman. What else can you wish for?
Wednesday, October 1: For today, only fifteen extras are needed instead of the usual forty. It has been agreed that we will go by car instead of by bus. I can now get out of bed an hour later. What a blessing. We are there at 7:30 and it takes half an hour before the others arrive in a bus. This the last day of the shooting in the central. The atmosphere is a lot more relaxed. As usual, I hang around the set again. A woman, Annemiek, jokes that I should stay on the set. Again, I’m asked by Cary for a scene. It stands out in one take. The second scene of the day is the escape from the exploding control room. Mike, his fellow bad guys, the scientists, and some plastic suits (the last two groups played by stuntmen) run out in the middle of a spark of rain before the hostage factory staff (including myself relegated to wearing an orange overall) also panic outward flight.
The disadvantage of this scene is that only two people can go through the door at the same time and there are about twenty to go outside. Benny Chan and his friends turn out to be very agile in the timing of scenes. After the disastrous first rehearsal (ten men stuck in the door frame and a few behind it), it goes better with every rehearsal. The final recording runs perfectly. It takes two hours before the very last scene can be shot. I hope to finally be able to take a picture of an explosion during the last scene. There have been many explosions these days, but I have not been able to photograph any of them. In each scene, I had to work myself.
During the rehearsal, I weaken my ankle while I run down a flight of stairs. Fortunately, it is not too serious. I decide not to take the stairs during the final shot and just go on. It does not matter, because we walk through the background and do not come into the picture anyway, as shown by the view of the otherwise very spectacular recording. The recordings are finished. Cast and crew are photographed. The abundant litter is cleaned up. I say goodbye to Mike, who leaves for home tomorrow. I decide to drive back by bus instead of the car and congratulate myself with that choice when I see that the casting agency has arranged a VIP bus for the extras. Complete with leather armchairs, drinks and telephone. The atmosphere on the way back is more like a school trip, when someone shouts back and forth. Even addresses are exchanged. I have lived in a separate world for five days. No worries. Tomorrow, there will be recordings in Rotterdam again and I will just watch again.