Russel Wong is one of our guest contributors for our photography series, PIXELS. He has worked closely with many celebrities, featuring the likes of Zhang Ziyi, Jackie Chan and Michael Jackson. He shares the stories behind some of his photographs, and provides a glimpse into the lives of these top stars.
Not long after shooting with Jackie Chan and hanging out with him in Hong Kong numerous times, I had the reputation of the photographer that was a part of his gang.
They treated me like family and included me in everything – thanks to his manager Willie Chan, which I appreciated immensely. I felt I was part of history as it was being written.
My Cantonese also improved and I could cuss and swear like a local which helped when you wanted faster service!
Time magazine then called up and told me that they needed Jackie on the cover of the magazine as his Rush Hour movie went through the roof in the US. It was his first major movie hit there and it meant a lot to him.
I went ahead and hooked it up – we were all set for an exciting cover shoot, one of the biggest jobs to date for me.
Dinner With Jackie
I had to come up with an idea that made him look like the Boss of Hong Kong, which he is anyway! After dinner at his regular Japanese restaurant with his team, he turned to me and asked:
“Hey Russel, what did you have in mind for the cover? ”
“Well Jackie, I found a spot where I could see the neon signboards along Nathan Road in Kowloon so it shouts Hong Kong. And then I want you sitting on a director’s chair in the middle of the road like you own the city!”
“Great! Let’s go and see it now! ” he replied without skipping a beat.
“Say what? I am stuffed with Teppanyaki and ready to hit the sack to rest for the big shoot,”I thought to myself.
I jumped into his car around 1130pm and off we went alone to Kowloon. He wanted to see it for himself which I appreciated; his hands on attitude was what he was known for.
He was a director after all and this was a big cover for him too!
When we arrived on Nathan Road – which was the main drag in Kowloon – he threw his car illegally on the side of the road like he does in the movies. ( He can park anywhere as he’s Jackie Chan! )
With the traffic buzzing on both sides, we ran along the middle divider of the main road like it was a scene from Rush Hour – except it was now two Cantonese guys doing it! I showed him the exact spot and he loved the idea.
I had to find an area where the neon signs were low enough so that they would be in frame when I shoot him sitting down. People along the roads were shouting his name and thought we were shooting a movie!
Shooting With Tai Kor
The next day we all arrived at the location at 6.30pm before the neon lights came on, and it was pouring hard.
“Oh no! Not on my Jackie Chan Time cover,” I thought. After an hour of exchanging stories, it still didn’t stop so the manager asked the both of us if we could do a different shot for the cover. Jackie replied,
“No, let’s just go shopping and then come back when it stops as I like Russel’s idea.”
As a photographer, you appreciate the support from your subjects and that meant a lot. And so off we went to the malls for some retail therapy!
When it cleared after a full hour, we headed back to Nathan Road.
I had him carry his own chair and told him exactly what poses I wanted as we didn’t have much time with the traffic coming towards us on the road! We didn’t have security or cops stopping traffic for us either – we did this Jackie Chan style!
When the traffic behind him stopped at the red lights, he dashed out and gave me about 12 different shots.
When the heavy traffic started to come towards us, he ran back next to me on the divider and waited for the next red lights. We waited in the middle of the aisle until it cleared then dashed out again.
After about 3 sets, he didn’t bother if the cars were coming towards him!
He shouted at me,
“Don’t worry Russel, they will hit me first before they hit you!”
It was then that I realised I was really on a Jackie Chan shoot!
36 frames later, we were done. By that time the whole road was shouting, ‘Tai Kor! Tai Kor! ” or Big Brother as he was affectionately known in Hong Kong.
Jackie turned to me and asked, ” you got it?”
With the largest smile on my face I replied, “you bet! ” We walked into the urban neon jungle knowing all we wanted was to create a memorable image.
I knew I had a good one that nearly slipped away and thanked him.
Photo: One portable flash balanced for tungsten on camera axis and shot a 150mm lens and balanced for the background at a slow shutter speed. ASA 400.
Tips: No matter what, sometimes what you have in mind is the ONLY wow shot. I’m glad we waited it out as I had no back up plan that was going to be better!