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How Jackie Chan Lost

Let's call 1998's original Rush Hour the terminus of Jackie Chan's career. Sure, he's still making movies, but for those of us who've watched Chan since his Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master days—otherwise known as 1978—the once-amazing action star has since morphed into little more than a goofy sidekick for American comedians.

Okay, to be perfectly honest, I wasn't even born in '78. But still. It was in junior high that I started realizing how awesome Chan was, and it was with films like those, not to mention Drunken Master II (1994), Rumble in the Bronx (1995), and the Police Story flicks. Funny, smart, blisteringly fast, and fearless, Chan was unlike any other action hero.

But Chan never snagged the starring roles here in America; a megastar in the East and a cult favorite in the West, it wasn't until Rush Hour, where Chan was the straight man to Chris Tucker's squealing, that he found blockbuster success—which he then quickly replicated (with Owen Wilson) in Shanghai Noon (2000), Rush Hour 2 (2001), and Shanghai Knights (2003). (Let us never speak of 2002's The Tuxedo, in which Chan teamed up with Jennifer Love Hewitt in a flick about a "gadget-laden tuxedo.") While Chan still makes some Hong Kong movies (some of them aren't half bad), his overall image continues to be that of the clueless foreigner who follows around Owen Wilson and Chris Tucker.

When Chan appeared on the Late Show last week, Letterman asked him if he enjoyed making the Rush Hour movies. With disarming candor, Chan responded. "Not really," he said in his accented English. "Because until now, I tried to get in [the] American market. I tried to learn everything American. I tried to learn from Chris Tucker. I just cannot bring [the box office dollars] in... On the set, I just follow whatever they tell me to do. They tell me fight, I fight. They tell me speak dialogue, [I] speak dialogue. And when I speak the dialogue, everyone [is] laughing, and I don't know what's going on. And then, I don't know why audience[s] like it."

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