GC: So. How do you feel?
JT: Ah, well, before it was very calm, then very stressed, but now I feel very excited. There’s a whole bunch of new opportunities. In the past, I never thought of going into movies or the entertainment industry. In the past, I thought I was just going to follow my dad’s steps.
GC: Traditional kung fu.
JT: I never knew I was going to start doing movies.
GC: So tell us how it went for you.
JT: The DISCIPLE started in June last year ? 2007. They had the selection in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. That went okay and then we went to China. We had 128 people from all over the world. Eliminations happened every week. Every week we have to do talents and martial arts and acting. And we kept going until the top 36. The top 36 were eliminated to 26, 26 to 16. At that point I thought, “All right, just like another show, just like China’s AMERICAN IDOL.”
GC: Last year, you were a finalist on another Chinese kung fu star talent search T.V. show, K-STAR.
JT: It’s similar to that. Don’t tell me it’s another one of those. Then we had a break. We met Jackie Chan later in winter. When the show ended, he came and we did a Chinese New Year show. And then, during that time, we’re still not sure about where the show is going to go. We have no idea. Our future has a question mark. All 16 ask, “What are we going to do?” And then we came back to the U.S.A. and we had a one month break. We went back in March.
When we go back, we thought it’s going to be another talent show ? singing and all that stuff. But when we go there, it’s like, “Prepare your luggage and then make sure you have your phone and laptop ready to hand in.” We’re like, “What? Our cell phone and laptop? Hand in for what?” They said, “Oh, we have to take all your communication devices away from you. We’re having this military type of training set up for you guys.” Okay, so we hand in our cell phones and our computers and everything that we can contact outside. And so, during that time, they had total control over us. They control our sleep, our food, and all that stuff. So we are all locked up in this one little ? you know those Chinese little houses? North of Beijing there’s a big water resort, Wenyu Shui Chen. During that time, we don’t know what’s going to happen.
The first day was crazy. We slept for two hours and they woke us up at 3:00 in the morning. They came in with a big speaker, “Come on! Wake up! Emergency meeting! Emergency meeting!” And everyone just got up and started running outside and it was winter. It was really cold. It was -10 degrees and we had to run out of our room to another place. So we charged there. 3:00 in the morning. Everyone had a big jacket. Some people were still wearing pajamas. And we had to stand outside and the JC Stunt Team ? one of Jackie’s very close stunt team captains named He Jin, he started lecturing us. “This is for acting in the film industry. You always have to be prepared for unexpected stuff. Sometimes there’s a scene that needs to be done at that time, or that light is just perfect. You have to get up and go do the scene.” We are all like, “This is crazy.” We couldn’t even contact outside and everything’s controlled by them.
After that day, third day, they woke us up again. “Oh, we have something to do tonight. We’re going somewhere.” “Okay,” and we follow them and we don’t even know what’s going to happen. We’re like, “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” They said, “Oh, you go there. You’ll know.” So we all went there. “Okay, did you guys bring extra t-shirts and pants?” We’re like, “For what?” They said, ‘Ah, you’ll know. As long as you bring extra t-shirt and pants, it’s okay.” (laughs) We went to the Olympic pool, near the Bird’s Nest.
GC: In the Olympic park?
JT: Yeah. “Are we swimming?” “No, you guys are not swimming.” “What are we doing?” “Oh, you’ll know later.” So they call all of us to a room and put us in the room. One person came in. “Okay, you guys. Today is your first challenge ? the first episode of these shows. You guys have to jump off this 10 meter board into the water.” We’re like, “what?!” And then some people don’t know how to swim. And some people are afraid of heights. Crazy. We were divided into two teams. So you can choose from 10 meters, 7 meters or 5 meters. The team that jumped the most height wins so everyone has pressure making those people who were afraid of water or afraid of height, telling them, “You have to jump 10 meter!” A lot of people just crumbled when they got up there, and they still have to do it. The first one is stressful.
GC: What about you? We’re you afraid?
JT: Nah, I just did it. When I walked out of that room and I walked towards the diving board, they ask you which one you want to jump. I say “10.” Then they say, “Are you really sure?” I say, “Yes I am!” and I start running up.
GC: Had you done a high dive like that before?
JT: I never jumped like that before. It was kind of fun ? a fun experience. You can’t do that in any other swimming pool. Lots of people cried and stopped, and then they still had to do it. There’s lots of pressure. Every week, if one person can’t do anything, then they are disqualified. So everyone has really high pressure. And after that day, everyone was very tense. “What’s going to happen tomorrow? What’s going to happen next time?”
GC: What was the hardest challenge for you?
JT: I can say every challenge was really hard. Everything they put on was really hard. It’s just to see if you can do it. It’s just how you feel towards something. If you’re really afraid of it, then you can’t finish it. If you think if they tell us to do it, that means they’ve done it before. If they’ve done it before and they’re ok, it means it’s safe. I always think, “Ok, they’ve done it before. It’s safe. If they can do it, I can do it.”
GC: When did you know you won?
JT: After the announcement on the Great Wall. Before, I don’t even know what’s happening.
GC: How long were you confined in that house?
JT: Two months. In two months, everyone was like crazy. Everyone was so nervous. We only get three or four hours of sleep a day. We had to get up and do make up. We had to do proofing. We’d go out. They’d have to test the lights for the machines and we’d have to go different places. It was crazy and we’d only get four hours, three hours sleep. We’d come back at 12, and we’d have to clean ourselves, sleep at 2, wake up at 4 or 5. But it’s training. It’s just like they say. It’s like you’re doing a movie and you always have to prepare for unexpected stuff. Always use the time you get to rest yourself.
As things proceeded to the Great Wall, they don’t really tell you who won, but at the end, only 5 of us left. Every week there’s one person going off. On the Great Wall, we don’t even know what’s happening because they call all sixteen of us ? sixteen people to go up there and do a performance. We all have to sing and dance. We don’t even know what’s happening on the Great Wall. They just say, “Oh, we’re going to have a show, so you guys prepare.” “Okay.” When we get there, we’re all just amazed. We’re like ‘wow!’ because they made Great Wall amazing. In the past, they only make the Great Wall so you can see in the background. But this time, they put the stage so you can see the Great Wall going across. And then it’s at night, so there’s lots of lighting. We went, ‘Wow, it’s serious.’ I never experienced this kind of show in China. It’s probably the first action reality show they put up in China. In the past, they never had this reality show. They made it reality just like SURVIVOR.
GC: But what about K-STAR?
JT: But they don’t have the people conflicts. In DISCIPLE, there’s also conflicts because the captain has to choose his teammates. They come up and challenge him. He also has to choose the weakest or the strongest, so it’s just depending on who he chooses. Everyone is very stressed and they all have to know what they’re doing. One of the times, I chose a guy ? he injured himself on the chin. He fell off on the platform and landed in a box, but he landed with both legs touching the ground and his knees came up and bumped his chin. He went to get 15 stitches. And then our team lost. He was on our team and I was the one who chose him. And he started going crazy against me: “Aw Jack, you disappointed me. Why did you choose me? Can’t you see I’m hurt? I can’t even move my neck.” He just went out, in front of the screen, in front of the camera. And I was like, “Yeah, you’re hurt, I know. Does that mean if everyone is hurt, then they will just stay out forever without taking the challenge? Why are you hurt? Because when you jumped off that building, you hesitated for a long time. And you don’t even know how you landed.” Our team loses. There’s lots of conflict, even shown out to the whole public. This is like the first reality show in China to show all these teenagers ? how they’re thinking. What are they doing? What do they want? How do they want to get it?
GC: How did you feel about being in the spotlight like that?
JT: To me, I think it’s a very good place to express yourself. What are you like? Because when all this was done, Jackie was the first one to see these videos. He can figure out how everyone is towards each other, how’s their relationships, how do they deal with different problems. So Jackie chose people by looking at these videos and also other video. There was all this extra video ? videotaping our daily lives that wasn’t broadcast on TV. It was just footage for Jackie. And then he started choosing people within these 16 people by this footage, and also how we interview. We did interviews on television lots of times. We all go to shows. He also looked at shows to see how people clapped, how we reflect the question, how we answer the question, and how we deal with the audience.
GC: I know you have a lot of martial arts experience but what about dancing?
JT: I never had singing, dancing and acting. (laughs) It really pushes you out. They want you to do it and you have to do it. There is no stepping back. There’s no place you can hide. You’re exposed there. So I did it. It was really good training for me to do all this. When was the first time I sang? I think the first time I sang was for the Sichuan earthquake. We had to do this charity and we had to sing. They said, “All of you guys, 16 of you, have to sing a song. Each one of you gets a line.” Oh my God! (laughs) And they just force us out to sing. And if we make it sound really weird, they make us sing it over and over and over until it’s perfect. And it was good training.
Dancing was for the Great Wall. All 16 of us have to dance and we have to dance synchronized. Ok, synchronized? We trained dancing for almost a month ? every day just dancing, just dance. But within that, I learned a lot. It really just pushes you to your peak and you have to do it.
GC: And what about acting?
JT: Every week, there would be a short film we have to do. That also pushes us. It was like a team competition. If your team has better acting, you win. So that was really good. We had lots of challenges and experienced different kinds of skits. We experienced war, Chinese ancient drama, science fiction, and boats, water, explosions, car crashing, jumping off buildings. We also experienced all the movie stunts that Jackie has done in his past movies. He said that in two or three months, it compacted what he has done in ten years. He compressed ten years of stuff in that time ? his experience, what he had gone through. I really think it’s like that. That time already drives us crazy. When we go out and do our ten years, we’re going to go like this (makes face and laughs) ? going nuts.
GC: What were you thinking when you won?
JT: I don’t think. Within that time, the five of us, we don’t even know who’s going to win. All of us are pretty good. We have our own talents. We have our own strongest thing. And it’s hard to say who’s going to be first, second or third. We don’t know. When he said I was first, I couldn’t think. I don’t know what to say. When Jackie was choosing the disciple and he came back and pulled my hand, pulled me to the front, oh my God! I went blank.
After that, I think of all the things I did when I was small to this point, all the training, all the wounds, all the injuries, all the sweat, I think it’s all worth it. I trained. My dad trained me. I trained myself really really hard. In the past, I don’t even know what I trained myself hard for, maybe for competition, maybe for shows and performance. I never know what I trained the martial arts for. I like it, but I don’t know why. I always trained myself like crazy. I hurt myself to make myself stronger. At the end, I think it already paid off.
GC: What was the first Jackie Chan film you saw?
JT: “A” JI HUA. MISSION A.
GC: That was called PROJECT A in America.
JT: Yeah, I liked that. That was a good movie. That was the first movie of his I saw and I thought “wow.” All those stunts he did.
While comparing him to Jet Li, they have two different styles. Honestly, Jackie’s style is more accepted by a worldwide audience because he incorporates humor and action. It’s for all ages, from kids to adults. But for Jet Li’s movies, he’s more cruel, fast and deadly, so it’s only limited to teenagers and adults. I still like Jackie’s humor. He can make everything funny, make everybody sad. And always in his movies, there’s a theme, saying you have to protect the environment. You have to save the world. I like it when he does that because he’s sending a message in his movie saying you need to protect the earth. So I like how he operates to protect the environment.
GC: And now you have three movies slated for you. Tell us about those.
JT: One movie is with Jackie and that one is going to be with Bollywood. India. I’m not sure about it. It’s going to start in September. I’m going back for that one. In that one, I’m going to learn lighting, camera and production. So all these things I’m going to learn from him and also he’s going to put me in a role in the movie. I’m not sure yet.
GC: Do you know who the co-stars might be? An Indian cast? Aishwarya Rai maybe?
JT: I don’t know. The one thing I know is that the two next movies he’s going to do is going to be Chinese history. He’s going to be two generals. One is Yue Fei.
GC: He’s been talking about that for years.
JT: And he’s going to do another one Shang Yu, Liu Bei and Shang Yu, the person that commits suicide. That’s the two movies that he was talking about. After MYTH,he would like to create more of a general, more of a braver, honorable story. That one will be with Jackie, but I don’t know what the story is and I don’t know my role.
The second one is SPEEDPOST 206, SUIDI ERLINGLIU. Erlingliu is basically the human body has 206 bones. That one is expected to be filmed in winter. I have the main role in that. I don’t know who’s going to come with me, maybe another real star and other people. This is just based on action. It’s a whole bunch of teenagers avoiding cops and their own friends, trying to send this parcel to another place. I met the director for this one. He’s the co-director with Zhang Yimou, Xiaoding. He’s now connected to this movie with me, and Jackie is going to be the investor.
After this one, there are two more movies that will also be done by the other disciple finalists. One is called TROPICAL TORNADO. That’s going to be a parkour movie and I might play the other role. One person is very active in parkour. He’s a parkour athlete. The role I think I’m going to get is I’m a very rich guy ? a rich businessman ? but I’m a parkour champion. I have two sides. I become like a parkour champion at night. And the other movie is I’M NOT TELLING YOU. That one is going to be a thriller, a scary movie. I’m not sure what my role is yet.
GC: Do you know your schedule for these projects?
JT: After I finish my own film, I’ll step over to these other ones. It’s going to be very compact.
GC: What about SPEEDPOST? Is there a production schedule?
JT: That’s coming out for Chinese New Year. I think I’m starting that movie in October and it ends in February. And then I have a 30-episode drama. That’s a TV drama. They invested, I’m not sure, 20 million? It’s a big production. They haven’t made a name for it yet, but I know the story. It’s going to have all 16 of us in that drama. It’s about a bunch of teenagers from the modern world get teleported back to the Tang Dynasty and they help the 18 monks to save the emperor. They will be using the modern gadgets and learn Shaolin kung fu.
GC: That sounds funny. How about your newfound singing career?
JT: We have a music video and music CD coming out. We’re going to sing Jackie’s old songs, and also some of our new songs.
GC: Most American’s don’t know Jackie sings. They don’t know he has an extensive discography. After all, his training started with Beijing opera.
JT: I got his new album, his new Olympic album.
Before I came back, I was staying with Jackie almost every day. We went to see antiques. We went to buy paintings. We went to eat together. One night I went to eat with them and it was only me and two other guys ? four of us. We went to this restaurant and everyone was looking at us. “Oh that’s Jackie! Oh that’s the disciple!” And they went crazy. Now when I’m walking on the road, it’s crazy.
GC: How is that for you?
JT: There’s still lots of places I haven’t gone yet. The Great Wall. I’ve never climbed the Great Wall. There’s still lots of places I want to go, but now it’s kind of limiting. On the street, I cannot go anywhere. Jackie ? all his schedule is control by his manager. He doesn’t really have a cell phone. No money, no cell phone. That guy says, “Ok, you have this meeting,” and he says, “Okay, let’s go.” So my life is going to be like that. It’s pretty crazy.
During that one week, meeting with him, we went to this club and we met a lot of directors. We met Tsui Hark. He came and saw us. Also Tong Jili. Tong Jili is the person who made Jackie’s American movie as director.
GC: America knows him as Stanley Tong.
JT: Yeah, yeah. He also taught me some taiji stuff. He was doing some kung fu stuff. He’s pretty good. Also Chen Kexin ? the person who made WARLORDS ? the Jet Li movie. I met lots of major directors, and also all those major Chinese film movie bosses ? big managers and big producers. They would come and see us and plan out what they can do with us in the future. Maybe they had a movie and would pull us in. Or maybe they would start shaping, using us to shape a story. So it was pretty interesting. He gave us a lot of opportunity. We also met a lot of stars there too. Zhou Wenzhou. We did a show with him too.
GC: A TV show.
JT: Yeah. And also Fan Bingbing, Li Bingbing, all these people. They always go there at night ? future planning. All the entertainers are going out and are going to shape us. We all have to have a character. My goal is to learn all this stuff from Jackie. Learn all the filming, directing skills, and in the future maybe invest in myself and produce my own movie. What I really want to do is a Daoism movie.
GC: Your roots.
JT: I really want to promote the Chinese tradition to the world. It’s more than just fighting ? all action, all action, but there’s nothing in there that tell us what the Chinese people are like. I want to use Daoism to show that arts and action are together. Calligraphy is just like straight sword.
GC: They touched on that in HERO.
JT: Yeah. Music is just like motion. So I’d like that more clear to the public. That’s my goal ? to promote Chinese arts.