Actor Jackie Chan attends a photocall to introduce his film 'Rob-B-Hood' at the Venice Film Festival, September 8, 2006. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)It’s sad to see wonderfully successful people move away from what they do best, in search of greater approbation than they already have. At the Venice Film Festival yesterday, one of my favorite entertainers, movie action hero Jackie Chan, claimed he was going to work hard for critical respect and to impress audiences instead of merely delighting them.

Reuters reports:

Tired of his image as all-action hero, Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan said on Friday he wanted to be taken as seriously as Robert DeNiro.

In Venice for the premiere of his new film "Rob-B-Hood," the master of the choreographed fight compared how he was greeted by fans gesticulating and shouting wildly, whereas he imagined De Niro commanded something closer to subdued awe.

"When they see me, ‘Ah, ah Jackie Chan!"’ the actor told a news conference after the press screening of Rob-B-Hood.

"I say, why does nobody say ‘Robert De Niro!’," he added, speaking in English and waving his arms about excitedly.

"So I want to change, so that some day they say ‘Wow, Jackie Chan’ and not move again and again. So I want a change," he concluded with a smile, to warm applause from reporters.

The star of the "Rush Hour" series said he had already begun to branch out into different roles, and in Rob-B-Hood he plays a character on the wrong side of the law.

The film, in which Chan co-stars with Louis Koo, is a high-speed and humorous story about three dysfunctional crooks who kidnap a baby to deliver to a sinister tycoon but gradually fall for the infant.

That certainly ought to inspire comparisons to DeNiro.

Certainly Chan at age 52 cannot hope to equal the kind of action work that he has done in the past, and he is wise to look for new roles to play:

"I’ve been looking to change my roles for quite some time," Chan said through a translator. "I’m quite fed up with what I’ve acted so far in movies.

"So after going back to Hong Kong and setting up my business, you probably already have had a chance to observe this already happening, from the movie ‘New Police Story’ and ‘The Myth’ and now this one, Rob-B-Hood."

Chan, 52, seen as the successor to martial arts legend Bruce Lee, added he had done well to work in the genre for so long.

"We all know that the career of an action movie actor is quite short so I already consider myself a legend for still being around today."

To some degree, Chan is simply going through the same process as fellow martial arts action star Jet Li, who has taken on more challenging roles in more ambitious films in recent years. Li, however, as always been a bit more artistically ambitious than the appealingly sanguine Chan. Chan could easily make a transition away from heavy action and take on more varied roles while still retaining his great personal charm and expressing the same values he has always stood for.

I think he would make an excellent Charlie Chan, for example, although he would have to put on a good bit of weight or use prosthetics to represent the great detective’s portly body.

It’s interesting to see Chan claim to be dismayed by the fact that audiences feel a great emotional attachment to him whereas they seem greatly impressed by DeNiro. Such an attachment is just as hard to obtain as critical respect, if not even more difficult. Of course, the desire for respect is entirely understandable—but Chan has that, even if the respect is more on the part of movie audiences than among critics.

The most dismaying thing here is the possibility that Chan will begin to take on roles and movies that don’t fit his talents, in search of respect he’ll never get unless he goes against the values he holds most dear. Sure, he’ll get critical respect if he can successfully play a serial killer like Hannibal Lecter, but we have quite enough of those, don’t we? The kind of good-natured hero Chan specializes in is rare enough, and very good to have.

Let’s just hope that this is a passing fancy and a bit of humorous exaggeration (and perhaps slightly garbled translation), and not a permanent change on the part of this superb entertainer.