The end of the line

1999 was a symbolic year for reasons in general beyond this article. In this case, two Chans were involved in making two films about love notes. Jackie starred in a Hong Kong film called Gorgeous whereas The Love Letter is a Hollywood film that was directed by Peter. Gorgeous was the last high-quality martial arts film that Jackie starred in. His following such films have either been sub-par or just good. Gorgeous wasn’t a great film but it was a very good one. The Love Letter was Peter’s first and final U.S. film. It was also the end of the line for Ellen DeGeneres in that this was the final time that she was in a live-action cinema release where she played a character (i.e. she played herself in a 2003 mockumentary titled Pauly Shore Is Dead). This was also the finishing line, cinema-wise, for the actress whose name will be revealed shortly.

Tom Selleck as a theatrically-released commodity wouldn’t get to enjoy that attention again until Killers (2010). It’s sad because he said that he accepted his role in The Love Letter because he really hoped to gain experience in working with a director from the Far East. As you can imagine from these downers, the film was a box office disappointment. The rest of this article is comprised of articles from “[TAKE OVER] HKSAR Film Top 10 Box Office” over at a `90s newsgroup called alt.asian-movies.

August 12, 1998

Peter is also the first H.K. director who invaded Hollywood with a non-action film. Not only that, but he was the only H.K. director to adapt a novel for Hollywood. On August 4, filming began in Rockport, Massachusetts. Most of the shoot would take place in this scenic old-fishing town. The lead actress is Steven Spielberg’s wife. After production began, he even brought his children to visit the set and cheer his wife on. 80% of the cast and crew of are women, including the art director, cinematographer and two of Peter’s assistants. For his first venture in America, Peter had already earned the respect of Spielberg. For their final discussion of the script, Spielberg even had Peter flown in to Los Angeles on his personal jet. Teddy Chan (the less acclaimed director of Downtown Torpedoes who is not related to Peter) took a break from directing Purple Storm so that he could visit Peter. Teddy flew to America at the end of July and stayed at the place that DreamWorks had set up for Peter.

That evening, Peter insisted on taking Teddy out to dinner since the shoot was about to begin. Peter being his usual nervous self, couldn’t get a wink of sleep. Thus when driving Teddy around town, Peter kept asking him to talk to him to keep his awake. Later on, Teddy commented on Peter’s situation: “Hollywood is treating Peter very well. He was only willing to sign the contract the day before the shoot. They patiently waited for him. Spielberg was very accommodating to Peter. You know, principal is rather important in American film-making. On the first few days, Peter went a little overtime, but when they looked at his dailys, the entire crew could not have more praises. After that, whatever he asked for, DreamWorks gave without question.”

There was no prima donna in the cast, because they all reduced their salary in hopes to make a good drama. DreamWorks had built another set by transforming a small house near Rockport into a bookstore. Without the lights and the crew, the bookstore doesn’t look like a set at all but a real bookstore. In order to build this set, DreamWorks spent nearly U.S.$1 million. The bookstore had more than 6,000 books. After the 4 day visit in Rockport, Teddy flew to Los Angeles to visit two of his friends – Sammo Hung and Stanley Tong who were busy with their television series – Martial Law. Stanley planned to personally direct 3 episodes for season 2 while the remaining ones were to be directed by other H.K. directors. By doing, so he could create employment opportunities and working experience overseas for these directors. Unfortunately, he would only direct two episodes whereas no other H.K. director had directed any episodes. Like the redneck characters on South Park, the Americans didn’t want anyone taking their jobs.

April 15, 1998

Flashbacking to this month, Peter Chan was already asked about the differences between H.K. and U.S. films because is a cineliterate individual who has friends who worked in both places. His response is that he decided for his second U.S. film to be a remake of He is a Woman, She is a Man (1994). He had already accepted The Love Letter at this point, so it just goes to show you why H.K. film directors complain about how long that it takes for Hollywood to go from pre-production to principal photography. He said: “I feel more and more that Cantonese films wouldn’t work because the market is really too small, but making films in Mandarin also has its difficulties because it takes more than just a day for the cast to learn Mandarin.”

June 24, 1998

Stanley Tong had just returned from Hollywood. Here is the brief exchange between himself and the reporter…

Report: “Did you see Chan Ho-Sun?”

Stanley: “We always run into each other. He and I have the same manager. His office is right next to mine!”

Reporter: “Is the lead actress going to be Meg Ryan? She likes his lookalike – Shunji Iwai, who also directed a film called Love Letter.”

Stanley: “The lead actress is someone else, she is Kate Capshaw – wife of Steven Spielberg. You know, Chan Ho-Sun has already signed with Spielberg’s DreamWorks.”

January 2, 1999

Peter had attended the premiere of The Longest Summer on December 31. By this point, he had long finished work on The Love Letter. The film was to be sent to Italy, at the end of February, for the music to be composed. If the film turned out to be profitable, he would direct one or two more American films in 1999 before turning to H.K. in 2000 to either direct or produce a film. One of those U.S. films was to be a youth romance for Columbia, but no-one had been cast yet. The Longest Summer was produced by Andy Lau, and directed by Fruit Chan. Peter and Fruit had collaborated previously on Curry and Pepper (1990) before Yesteryou, Yesterme, Yesterday (1993). However, their best collaboration was The Age of Miracles (1996). When asked if he would spend New Year’s Eve with his girlfriend (Sandra Ng is an actress), Peter deflected: “I came to see a movie tonight and to spend New Year’s Eve with a bunch of friends like Joe Cheung Tung-Cho and Gordon Chan Ka-Seung.”

March 9, 1999

It was announced that New Line Cinema wanting him to direct an English language version of He’s a Woman, She’s a Man. The logic was that it was the most profitable of his Chinese works.

May 7, 1999

Kate Capshaw recalled her conversation with Steven after he noticed a dozen copies of Cathleen Schine’s novel on a table in their home. She acquired the film rights for U.S.$ 30,000.

Steven said: “You must like this book.”

Kate: “I sort of bought it.”

Steven: “What do you mean sort of?”

Kate: “I sort of bought it to turn into a movie.”

Steven: “Do we get to read it?” (referring to himself, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen)

Kate: “It’s not a DreamWorks movie. This is really a small movie.”

Steven: “At least let us pass on it.”

In recalling the conversation the other day, Kate said: “If someone like Michelle Pfeiffer or Jessica Lange or Julia Roberts had bought a book, that would be one thing. But that’s not what my career has offered me. I was a little nervous.”

After this, Kate and her producing partners (Midge Sanford alongside Sarah Pillsbury) gave the novel to DreamWorks. The film was set to open two days after Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace did. It took a while for the project to get started. The couple adopted a child and she gave birth to one before the film was made, thereby raising the number of children they have to seven. Then while Spielberg was directing Saving Private Ryan, Kate worked on the screenplay with Maria Maggenti and hired Peter on the strength of Comrades, Almost a Love Story (1996). When asked if Spielberg’s involvement was intimidating to Peter and the cast, Kate replied: “If he talked, it was only in a supportive way. He only opened his mouth if he was asked a question. He’s a very good boy in that way. He knows who he is. But his passion for filmmaking is so contagious. He loves being on movie sets. It’s exciting for him to be on the set of an $8 million movie, like ours, or a $100 million movie.”

She was worried about the competition with the fourth Star Wars movie. She remained optimistic: “It’s not as if we’re going up against them; we’re so different. “If Star Wars is like the big wedding, we’re like the flower girl in something delectable coming down the aisle, but not the main event.”

Peter’s last words: “I thought that it was a pretty interesting choice to choose a Chinese director for something so American. But the subtlety of the story was something that I related to and something that was, as Kate said, very Chinese, too. It deals with people who keep their feelings internal, people who can’t talk to each other and express what they really feel. The love letter helps everybody come out of their shell and go for what they want in life. All these feelings are universal.”

Here is a South China Morning Post article which their site hasn’t archived. It was published on a Monday (i.e. February 8, 1999). The interviewer was Winnie Chung.

I would like to establish where Jackie was at this point in his career before I show you the details of Winnie’s article. In 1994, Drunken Master II was significant for being the first time that Jackie starred in a H.K. movie which grossed past the 40 million H.K.$ mark (although that was Stephen’s benchmark in 1990 with All for the Winner but I digress). In 1995, Rumble in the Bronx grossed 56 million. In the second half of the year, Thunderbolt grossed 45 million. People always refer to the fact that the lower figure was due to Jackie having broken his ankle during the making of Rumble in the Bronx. As such, he got doubled more on Thunderbolt. In 1996, he was back on track when First Strike grossed 57 million. 1997 saw Mr. Nice Guy with the same result as Thunderbolt (albeit 45.4 instead of 45.6 million). In 1998, Who Am I? had grossed 38 million……and this was before Andrew Lau’s The Storm Riders became the highest money-spinner of the year. Now that we have the history lesson out of the way, let’s get back to Winnie…

One of the reasons why Jackie agreed to be in Rush Hour was because the significantly younger director had agreed to the star’s terms: “No cuss words, no blood, no dirty jokes and no dirty violence. He already understood because he had watched my movies. He even copied my out-takes, even the director of A Bug’s Life had told me that he learnt this from me. I am very happy that people are learning from me; I am learning from them too. I must not have any bad things in them because many kids watch them. There is too much violence in films these days; even television dramas are so violent sometimes. For many years, I’ve been trying to cut out unnecessary violence. In Drunken Master, my character would get drunk and then fight. In Drunken Master II, the message was stop drinking and stop fighting. The Chinese have a saying – Water can help a boat sail but it can also sink it.”

This is where I have to interject with my own opinions before allowing Winnie to get her words in. I believe that part of Jackie’s problem is that he never really grew up with the audience. The people who were kids back in the seventies and eighties had grown up. The younger audience were more interesting in people who they could relate to. This is why Stephen Chow’s King of Comedy earned more money at the box office by grossing 29 million dollars. He wasn’t pandering to the younger crowds. Actually, his box office successes throughout his career is a strong testament to the fact that verbal comedy tends to resonate more than physical comedy. I mean in terms of achieving domestic success. Of course, international success depends on visual recognizability. Back to Winnie…

The script was written by an award-winning writer named On Sai (i.e. a woman also known as Ivy Ho Bik-Man). Her claim to fame was penning Comrades, Almost A Love Story. As for Gorgeous, it was not written with Jackie in mind. He was only supposed to have served as a producer – yet another responsibility that he felt compelled to fulfil after the death of his studio boss – Golden Harvest’s Leonard Ho. Forevermore carrying the weight of the world on his own shoulders, Jackie wholeheartedly said: “Other than providing entertainment value, the film also carries a message – although I don’t preach it. I am all for environmental protection, that is why we decided to make business by recycling waste material. We have to slowly teach the younger generation to be aware of the need for environmental protection.”

Initial proposals were for popular Taiwanese songstress Sherry Cheng Huei-Mei (who is more popularly known as A-Mei) and another young male singer to take the lead roles. But Sherry, who has never acted before, said she would feel more confident in taking the role if Jackie took the lead role. Looking back, he laughed as he said: “My first reaction was – Crazy! It’s a drama. So we left it.”

As the script shaped up, his interest grew – this is the real love story. By the time that he was ready to take on the challenge of a romantic drama, Sherry’s tour schedule made it impossible to take on the role. Resultingly, Shu Qi (a.k.a. Hsu Chi) stepped in. Although Gorgeous is essentially a light-hearted romp, Jackie was wise enough to know that no Jackie Chan movie is complete without some action. He said: “I have no confidence in a complete drama. I believe that the audience wants to see me fight, but we do it in a healthy way…the gentlemanly way, face-to-face and with boxing gloves. Maybe they won’t like it, but what can I do? I am only following the script. I don’t believe in creating fight scenes just for the sake of some action anymore.”

One could put his new view down to lessons learned in Hollywood: “Our focus is action, theirs is script, dialogue, comedy, quality and then action. In the past, two people could be talking and someone came up to take a photograph, then the next thing that you know – a fight breaks out because one person doesn’t like what’s happened. It’s ridiculous! Gorgeous will also teach kids that if they don’t like someone, they should have it out face-to-face and not take the dishonourable thing and pull out a gun to shoot the person. If you watch my film, you will see it is not violent. The action is not brutal. But if after seeing it, you still think there is violence, then I will have to rethink what I am doing. I could be wrong in my judgment of violence in my own films. In Rush Hour, for instance, I fight a little then I try to save an antique vase here or another antique there. It’s like ballet – a performance. I don’t want you to concentrate on me hitting the person, I want you to see how difficult it is for me to keep the vase from breaking.”

For Gorgeous, he relinquished directorial control to Vincent Kuk Tak-Chiu: “If I were directing, we would never have got it done in time for this Lunar New Year. In my previous films, it was always a one-man show and I was always the only main lead. Even if I didn’t have any scenes, I would still be on set directing the action. This time, I share the work with so many people.”

As for how he would be able to get away with having freedom for less violent fights in Hollywood, he expressed hopes in getting past Hollywood’s strict union laws by filming in Canada. Meanwhile, Jackie was looking forward to a merry outing at the cinemas during the Lunar New Year with Gorgeous. He was unperturbed that he would be competing for a share of the box office with Stephen Chow’s King of Comedy and Chow Yun-Fat’s The Corruptor.

In 1991, Jackie outgrossed Chow’s Once a Thief which in turn had outgrossed Stephen’s Tricky Brains. This time, Stephen defeated Chow as well as Jackie. The Corruptor only grossed 14 million. Jackie, beforehand, said: “At this time, I think we should all be united in giving the audience some good shows to watch. We shouldn’t look at it as who is fighting who. Whether or not we can save the industry, it is our intention to do what we can. I would rather make less money and stay here. Every day I am here, I am happy. Whenever I have to leave to do promotion work, I am always in a hurry to get back because this is home.”

Despite opening a day before Valentine’s Day, the movie only grossed 27 million dollars. While this is still regarded to be a big hit for H.K. standards, it was considered to be a tad underwhelming for Jackie’s standards. In 2001, The Accidental Spy grossed 30 million but The Medallion grossed 7 million in 2003. In 2004, the title of New Police Story should’ve been changed since the movie didn’t make as money as any of Jackie’s Police Story movies where he was playing a different character. New Police Story grossed 21 million whereas The Myth grossed 17 million in 2005. In 2006, Rob-B-Hood grossed 23 million. Despite the combination of Jackie, Jet Li and Yuen Woo-Ping, The Forbidden Kingdom only grossed 11,782,832. Likewise, CZ12 grossed 11.7 million in 2012. That’s when Jackie should’ve called it quits as a martial arts/action movie star. He should focus on being behind the camera like Peter Chan did.


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