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The Wrath of Khan


Michelle Khan talks about 'Supercop' and the dangers of the Hong Kong action life

By Richard von Busack

Michelle Khan, now kicking up a storm in Supercop, was a dancer when she was called by a Hong Kong producer to do a TV ad for watches. Her co-star in the commercial was the internationally known and beloved action star Jackie Chan. She got her start as a martial artist bopping Chan on the head during a kendo lesson he was trying to give her.

Wait, I asked Khan, checking my notes, Did you hit him on the head during the commercial or later when the camera wasn't on? "During the commercial!" she replied. "I'd never hit him on the head! He's like my big brother." Remembering the many injuries I inflicted on my own brothers, I dropped the subject.

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Back then, the now-fearsome Khan was, as she says, "very demure, very sweet." In her more intimidating guise, the Hong Kong action star is one of the toughest women in movies. In Supercop, a delightful Hong Kong actioner given the Americanizing treatment last seen in Rumble in the Bronx, Khan, playing Ginger to Chan's Fred, is a People's Republic of China military officer assigned to help him break up an international ring of terrorists. Chan doesn't think it's a job for girls, but Khan reminds him of Chairman Mao's proverb "Women hold up half the sky." The finale includes scenes in which Chan is dragged over the skyline of Kuala Lumpur from the ladder of a helicopter, while Khan races her motorcycle to the rescue along the top of a speeding train.

Khan has made 16 movies in the last 10 years, including some of the best of the Hong Kong action wave: Wang Chung, Once a Cop and the cult favorite The Heroic Trio. This month, Khan has two movies in release: Supercop and, premiering soon in Hong Kong, The Stunt Woman, directed by Ann Hui.


Moving Violation

Khan had turned up on the set of Supercop ignorant in the ways of motorcycles. "I'll never ever forget that motorbike stunt," she says. "I can't believe I agreed to do it. When I was redubbing the movie, I just went pale watching myself. It's amazing I made it out of that movie in one piece.

"I actually found out about that motorcycle scene when I arrived in Kuala Lumpur. My previous knowledge of motorbikes was from riding a little Moped. When I was going to ride it, they had some stunt men holding the bike up, releasing it once the engine started. I never learned how to stop the bike; you'll never see the brake lights on my motorcycle in Supercop. I'd just keep cutting the ignition and jumping off of it. Don't put me back on the road on a motorcycle--I would be dangerous"

Unlike Chan, Khan wasn't trained from youth in martial arts; she had a crash course in them, literally living in a gym to train up for Supercop. "Having been a dancer for so many years paid off," she recalls. "I was used to working very hard and being disciplined, and there is a similarity of dance to martial arts."

The transfer of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China in 1997 is a matter of apprehension for everyone who lives there. Khan says she's staying in Hong Kong after the Chinese takeover. Khan is already a star in the PRC, since some of the better-known Hong Kong movies, including Supercop have played there. "We've run out of places to shoot in Hong Kong," Khan explains, "and we're starting to make a lot of movies in China. There's more places to go to and bigger landscapes. There's a bigger audience in China."

Khan, like many Hong Kong stars, does her own stunts, a craft she learned from the professional stunt people who "kept me going all those years, kept me in one piece, and encouraged me." It was on the set of The Stunt Woman that Khan had her worst accident, falling from an 18-foot-freeway bridge. She was supposed to land on her feet but landed on her head instead.

"My legs sprung back over my head, and I snapped my back," she says. "By a miracle, I didn't break any vertebrae, but I tore all my ligaments and was in the hospital in traction. They weren't certain if I was going to be able to walk. I'm taking care not to repeat any stunts like that."

Khan hopes that this trip to America will expand her career. "I recently signed on with the William Morris Agency," she tells me. "I have guardian angels here, like John Woo. I'm new to this, and I need all the help I can get, and I'm not going to be shy about asking for it."

The image of the demonstrably not-shy Michelle Khan cleaning up a room full of Hollywood producers was such a pleasant one that I nursed it all day.

Supercop (R; 85 min.), directed by Stanley Tong, written by Edward Tang, Fibe Ma and Lee Wai Yee, photographed by Ardy Lam and starring Jackie Chan and Michelle Khan.

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From the July 25-31, 1996 issue of Metro

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