It seems only fitting that if the folks at LEGO and Warner Bros. were going to do a martial arts-based animated film — The LEGO Ninjago Movie — that legend Jackie Chan would have to be a part of it. Not only does Chan voice the character of Master Wu, but he is the one who sets our entire story in motion with his opening scene performance as Mr. Liu.
Once filming began, it also became clear that the action hero’s 57 years of screen power would come in handy when he saw that the action sequences that were being animated using The LEGO Ninjago caricatures, needed a little bit of help from the master.
The Movie Mensch traveled to Legoland, appropriately enough, to interview the cast of The Lego Ninjago Movie, including Dave Franco, Olivia Munn and Justin Theroux. But, we have to start with the recent lifetime achievement Oscar winner in Chan who gives us a whole lot of insight into why he’s done so much animation of late, what advice he’d give kids seeking to get into martial arts and even reveals his favorite line from the entire Ninjago film.
Chan is no stranger to animation, what with the work he’s done on his TV series, Jackie Chan Adventures as well as the Kung Fu Panda franchise and now with his work on the third LEGO movie. The master martial artist knows exactly what he’s doing and why it is a perfect medium for someone like Chan.
“Sometimes with martial arts you can have limits. In cartoons, you’re not limited with martial arts. You can do anything and everything and you never get old,” Chan said. “They have good messages to children — to respect everything. I just finished a new Jackie Chan Adventures. I hope children can see it. I do a lot of action movies that sometimes kids can’t go see.”
When Chan travels around the world, he gets the biggest thrill from the smallest members of society when they recognize him. To him, that is the key to having a career that last longer than what can be seen on the screen. “A long time ago, [when] I started the animated series Jackie Chan Adventures, I travel around the world — whether it’s in Germany or Morocco — the children go, ‘Jackie! Jackie!’” he reported.
“Even now, people say I’ve watched your movies while I was growing up, and I’ve been making movies for 57 years now. I want the children, before I pass away, to remember me. This is why I wanted to do a Lego movie now — to save it for the future. Master Wu will never die.”
The LEGO Ninjago Movie follows a group of teenagers who spend their days living the high school thing where life can be a little “judgy.” At night, they battle Garmadon (Theroux to try to save their island home of Ninjago. When it comes to what his favorite line was to utter in that recording booth, Chan does not hesitate. He knows the one; even it was a supreme challenge for the not native English speaker. The line is our favorite of his too, especially coming out of the China-born icon’s mouth.
“I hated having to pronounce ‘Garmadon.’ I had to repeat it every time. Now, I’ll never forget it,” Chan said. He also relished the opportunity to add the sounds one makes when executing all those killer martial arts moves, all without having to expend the physical energy beyond simple verbal utterances. “In the movie, most of my sounds are … (Chan illustrates with a few vocal grunts). I hate it when I have to jump. It’s too long. ‘Ahhh!’ The director would tell me, ‘One more time.’ (Rolls his eyes.) Then I’d say, ‘OK. Ahhhh!’”
Chan wasn’t so sure why they hired him to be a narrator and in many ways, the one who gets this story going.
“First of all, I don’t speak perfect English,” he said and laughed. “I asked the directors, ‘Why me?’ And they said, ‘Because that’s what we want. You’re a master at speaking Jackie Chan English!’”
Chan spoke up immediately and his help was welcomed by The Lego Ninjago Movie directors Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan after witnessing the action the filmmakers were crafting. “There were times when I said the action makes no sense and I told the directors, ‘No, it should be like this or that.’ We would sit down and talk about ideas, hiring a stunt team and teach them the movements,” Chan said.
With Chan’s clear attention focused on the next generation and his legacy in that realm. He was asked about what advice he would give young and aspiring martial artists.
“Just practice. You don’t have to practice to knock somebody down. Think of martial arts like exercise. It’s good for your brain. It’s good for your health. It’s good for everything,” Chan said. The legend also reported that it helps young people with elements of life, beyond the obvious. “When you know martial arts, you respect everybody — your parents, your teachers, nature — the whole world.”