Chan says new film 20 years in making

Shoot for 100th movie to last until late 2011

HONG KONG -- Jackie Chan said his new Chinese movie was some 20 years in the making, crediting an unknown director for helping him develop the story of the friendship between a soldier and a general in ancient China.

The veteran action star said at his hometown premiere for "Little Big Soldier" on Friday night he first wanted to make an inspirational war film two decades ago, but suffered a bad case of writer's block.

"I couldn't write a script that would last one-and-a-half hours. I wrote half-an-hour worth of material but couldn't continue, no matter what. So then I made 'Police Story,' 'Project A,'" Chan told reporters, referring to two of his films in the 1980s.

The project was kept on hold until he met director Ding Sheng several years ago. The little-known Chinese filmmaker has spent the bulk of his career shooting TV commercials before moving to the big screen.

"He's better educated than I am. He's studied history. He knew how to weave together my story and the characters," Chan said of Ding.

The result is a 96-minute drama set in ancient China when the country was split into warring states. Chan plays a rank-and-file soldier who captures a wounded general from a rival state, hoping that his feat will win an honorable discharge from his superiors. But the two develop a friendship during their travels as they fend off desperate refugees, a preying bear and an assassination attempt.

"Little Big Soldier" is Chan's first widely released Chinese-language movie since his 2006 action comedy "Rob-B-Hood." The director of his previous Chinese film, "Shinjuku Incident," decided not to release the movie in China because he was worried its explicit violence would offend censors, but it was released in Hong Kong, a former British colony that enjoys a special political status under Chinese rule. The 2009 release featured Chan is one of his darker roles of late — as an illegal Chinese immigrant who becomes a hit man for the Japanese mafia.

Chan, also seen in the recently released Hollywood action comedy, "The Spy Next Door," said his next stop is Shanghai, where he will shoot cameo scenes for "Shaolin" — a Chinese production about the famed temple known for its fighting monks. Then he will start working on his 100th movie, "Chinese Zodiac," in a shoot he said is expected to last until the end of 2011.

"You won't see me for a while," Chan said.

The 55-year-old actor also gushed about his multitalented co-star, heartthrob Leehom Wang, who plays the general. The successful Chinese-American singer-songwriter is now making headway in his acting career after appearing in Oscar winner Ang Lee's 2007 spy thriller "Lust, Caution."

"He's so perfect," Chan said. "If I were a woman, I would like him too."