The latest Jackie Chan film has proven the star’s bankability once again. Skiptrace has knocked out all competition (such as The Legend of Tarzan, and the Japanese animation Doraemon: Nobita and the Birth of Japan) in the Chinese box office, grossing up to $60 million during its first four days. Skiptrace is said to be the highest debut of Chan’s 50-year career, in which he has made over 150 films. This comedy action blockbuster started with $14.7 million earnings on its opening day (July 21) in China.
Jackie Chan plays Bennie Chan, a Hong Kong detective who has been tracking notorious crime boss Victor Wong for over a decade. His goddaughter Samantha, played by one of China’s premier actresses Fan Bingbing (X-Men: Days of Future Past), unfortunately gets in trouble with Wong’s syndicate.
Bennie finds out that a fast-talking American gambler, Connor Watts, played by Johnny Knoxville (MTV’s Jackass movie trilogy), is somehow responsible for Samantha’s predicament, and knows valuable information that would bring Wong to justice. As Bennie races against time to bring Connor to Hong Kong, director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) points out that “the glittering casinos of Macau, the urban jungles of Hong Kong, the grasslands of Mongolia, the sand dunes of the Gobi Desert, the rapids of the Yellow River, and the breathtaking mountain ranges (lend) an unforgettable backdrop” to the perilous adventure of this unlikely pair trying to escape their relentless enemies.
“Skiptrace is in fact an idea I’ve had for at least 20 years,” says Chan. “I liked the film Midnight Run (starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin) very much so I wanted to do something in that vein, like a highway movie,” he expounds. He also heard that so many people marveled at the beautiful Chinese scenery in the Karate Kid film (2010), and that inspired him to create a film that went even further in showcasing the striking and diverse locales of his country, as well as other places in Asia.
“We filmed in Russia, Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Macau and Hong Kong,” enumerates Chan.
“The most memorable location for me would be Inner Mongolia and Guangxi, because of their unique costumes and traditions,” he adds.
Of course, moving the 400-person production crew across China and abroad was not an easy task, “but it was critical to the spirit of the movie and I’m certain the audience will feel the payoff of all that work,” says Harlin.
But, aside from it being a travelogue of sorts, Harlin asserts that the film is “about friendship and honor, and (he) enjoyed exploring the journey of these two characters, who, first reluctant to be friends, have to fight for not only justice, but also for their own survival.”
“Johnny Knoxville makes the perfect partner for Jackie – they are both famous for their crazy stunts,” says Harlin. The actor gained recognition as the co-creator and star of the MTV reality stunt show, Jackass, in early 2000.
Drawn to the movie because of “the amazing script and the opportunity to work with Jackie Chan”, Knoxville is thankful that his idol did not insist on giving him a stunt double. “Jackie Chan has let me do more stunts in this movie than any other Hollywood movie that I’ve done,” says the actor. Of his performance, Jackie gives a compliment, “(Johnny) impressed me with his ability to bounce back after doing complicated set ups. Very few actors can do that while having a smile on their face.”
Knoxville recalls one stunt that Jackie improvised during a shoot, “We were sitting in inner Mongolia and he asked me if I could do a summersault. I told him I couldn’t, but I could try. Next thing I know, I’m handcuffed and he flips me over a fence. It’s amazing that he thinks of stuff like that.”
Meanwhile, Jackie Chan picks a very dangerous scene as his most memorable moment on the set. “I was on a raft with Johnny and I was supposed to fall into the river and pretend I didn’t know how to swim…The river was very rough and I nearly got myself drowned,” he reveals. Knoxville also shares his point of view of this story, “On (the director’s) ‘Action’, Jackie fell out of the boat and into the rapids at a point where the current was really strong, and he was supposed to deliver the line, ‘I can’t swim’…while he tried to deliver his line, water filled his mouth and I watched his expression go to ‘I’m no longer acting – now I’m truly struggling.’ In that moment, I threw him a stick to get back on the boat…”
“To have worked with him is a dream come true. His energy is infectious… nothing makes me happier than thinking, ‘I was in a Jackie Chan film,’” says Knoxville.
A film that boasts “a compelling story, adrenaline pumping action, and multi-layered characters,” Skiptrace opens in Philippine cinemas on Aug. 10. It is distributed by VIVA International Pictures and MVP Entertainment.
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