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Now Chan Is the Picture of an Action Hero

Television * 'It's always been my dream to be a cartoon,' says the movie veteran. Now he has his wish, with a Saturday morning series on the WB.

October 14, 2000|T.L. STANLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Doesn't take much to get Jackie Chan out of his chair.

The affable action hero, veteran of more than a hundred movies, jumped to his feet during a recent conversation to emphasize a point about the animation in his new kids TV show, "Jackie Chan Adventures," imitating life.

"You can feel it's me because of the movement," he says, throwing a couple quick jabs into the air.

In life, as in the Saturday morning show on the WB, Chan moves as effortlessly as he takes that next breath. Dressed casually in jeans, a button-down shirt and loafers, he finishes and sits back down, beaming, and adds: "It's always been my dream to be a cartoon."

Some people who have seen his movies--homages to his lightning-fast style of kung fu and his punishing stunts--thought he already was a cartoon. He's always been a fan, he said, of Disney and Looney Tunes, but was especially drawn to classic superheroes like Superman and Batman.

"They're humans, but better," Chan says. "They can help people."

Chan's known for films that showcase him as part Bruce Lee, larger part Buster Keaton--the reluctant hero who'd rather get away, with finesse, than fight. The animated show aims for the same sensibility, pairing Chan's character with an 11-year-old niece, whom he must mentor, and a sage, elderly uncle. His character is a self-deprecating archeologist--an Asian Indiana Jones--working for the government, unraveling mysteries around ancient Chinese artifacts.

Though he'd never been involved in children's programming, Chan's appeal to kids made him prime for a series, said WB executives.

"He's everything you'd want in a kids' TV hero," says Donna Friedman, senior vice president of programming for Kids WB. "He personifies all the elements we look for--humor, heart and high adventure."

Producers and animators from Sony Pictures Family Entertainment Group studied Chan's movie library to get the action right, according to Friedman. But beyond the mechanics, "his personality really comes across," she says, "his charm and his nuances are there."

Each episode has a live-action segment featuring Chan, with kids asking him questions about his training and experiences. Chan wants to expand those segments later.

*

And kids have responded. After three airings, the show is averaging a 3.5 rating/14 share among kids 2-11, placing it fourth overall in Saturday morning kids shows on broadcast networks. It's done particularly well with boys 2-11 (a 4.7 rating/17 share) and boys 6-11 (5.5/19) for a recent airing. (WB's "Pokemon," Fox Kids' "Digimon" and WB's "Card Captors" are the top three in kids 2-11 on broadcast networks; Nickelodeon's "Rugrats" and "SpongeBob SquarePants" are Saturday morning leaders.) And on Thursday, the network ordered a second season of "Jackie Chan." (The WB is part-owned by Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times.)

Months before the show hit the fall schedule, it was causing a stir with toy companies and potential tie-in partners attracted by Chan's worldwide appeal and lack of licensed products in the marketplace. Costa Mesa-based Playmates eventually signed on to create the first Jackie Chan action figures, play sets, plush toys and electronic role-playing games.

The first product will hit retail in January, with more expected for summer 2001. (Some collectible figures have been sold in Hong Kong, but there's never been a mass-produced Jackie Chan toy line.)

Chan, 46, said it's important that the show teach kids lessons without clobbering them over the head. The messages of nonviolence, problem-solving and respect for family contained in the series are likely to be music to Washington's ears as lawmakers continue to browbeat Hollywood for kid-targeted entertainment and marketing practices they have called unconscionable. (Chan's been an active children's advocate for a decade, creating the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation, which gives 60 scholarships a year to underprivileged kids.)

"Parents say to me, 'Jackie, you're the only action movie star I let my kids watch,' and that makes me feel good," Chan says. "Children learn from us [film and TV stars]. We have a responsibility to them."

Chan plans to keep working on a steady stream of movies and other projects. He starts filming "Rush Hour 2," with Chris Tucker, within weeks, and before that, he'll be in New York promoting the dubbed version of "Drunken Master 2," a classic Hong Kong action film that had been available only in Chinese. Clearly, though, he's relishing his first animated role.

"In the cartoon, I never age, and I never get hurt," he says. "One day, when I retire, I want this to still be around so kids can remember me."

* "Jackie Chan Adventures" airs Saturdays at 8 a.m. on KTLA-TV. The network has rated it TV-Y7-FV (this show is designed for children 7 and older, with special advisories for fantasy violence).

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