Jackie Chan was sick and tired of trying to cross over into American movies. The martial arts sensation and ex-Bruce Lee stuntman was a superstar in his native China, but his attempts at going Hollywood in films like Big Brawl (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981) and The Protector (1985) barely registered with stateside audiences.
“Nobody knew who this little Chinese guy was that spoke no English,” Chan told Yahoo Entertainment during a 2017 Role Recall interview (watch clip below). “I was disappointed [and thought], ‘No more American market.’”
In the late 1990s, his manager pleaded with him to make one more go at it: There was this project called Rush Hour, in which Chan would play a Hong Kong police inspector who teams up with a wise-cracking LAPD detective (Chris Tucker) to rescue a Chinese politician’s kidnapped daughter. Chan agreed to do the Brett Ratner-directed action-comedy in large part because it allowed him to speak in broken English. (The movie opened in theaters 25 years ago, on Sept. 18, 1998.)
After Chan wrapped Rush Hour, though, he told his manager he would never do another film like it again. “That’s a terrible movie,” Chan recounted of his initial takeaway. “They don’t allow me to do my own style [of action]. The English, I’m not good. Chris Tucker’s English, I don’t understand. Terrible movie!”
He sat there dumbfounded as moviegoers laughed through the premiere. “Why are they laughing, I just don’t understand,” he thought in defeat.
So Chan, now 69, returned to Asia to work once again in his home region, when he got the call: Rush Hour was a massive hit. The film went on to earn $141 million at the U.S. box office and $244 million worldwide.
It also led to two sequels… and two more hits: 2001’s Rush Hour 2, Chan’s highest grossing of all time ($226 million in the U.S., $347m worldwide) and 2007’s Rush Hour 3 ($140 million in the U.S., $258m worldwide).
A fourth Rush Hour movie has been in various stages of development for years, with Chan and Tucker teasing the film in a 2019 Instagram post, but no release date has even been scheduled.
“Slowly, slowly, they’re [brought] me to Hollywood again,” Chan said. “Now slowly [I’ve been understanding] American culture. [I’ll] try to stay as long as possible.”
A version of this story was originally published Oct. 20, 2017.