Jaycee Chan (Jackie's Son) Finds His Rhythm

Jaycee Chan was filled with apprehension. He was in a hotel room trying to film a love scene for his new movie, "The Drummer," and it wasn't going smoothly. "'Wah, with 50 people staring, how can I do the job right?' " he recalls thinking. He had already banished his famous father, Jackie, from the set; the action star was passing the time in the bar downstairs, singing karaoke. Eventually the younger Chan found his groove and aced the scene. "At first there was a lot of pressure," he says. "Now I don't care." But audiences will: Chan, 24, gives a mesmerizing performance in "The Drummer," in which he plays a crime boss's troubled son who is transformed by Zen drumming. "I think Jaycee is going to be a very, very good actor," says Hong Kong upstart Kenneth Bi, the film's director and writer. "He's got stuff going on."

That's putting it mildly. This summer Chan stars in no fewer than three major Asian films. In addition to the independent "The Drummer"— scheduled to premiere at Switzerland's Locarno International Film Festival in August—Chan plays a Hong Kong cop in "Invisible Target," a crowd-pleasing police thriller out this month. And he shows up as a young man having an illicit love affair during the Cultural Revolution in Jiang Wen's Venice Film Festival entry, "The Sun Also Rises." "Jaycee's friends couldn't believe this is the guy that they know," says Jiang, one of mainland China's most respected directors. "He gave a wonderful performance."

Chan manages to deflect comparisons to his father mainly by avoiding martial-arts roles. In fact, his first love is music. Growing up in Hong Kong, he would start dancing any time he heard a Michael Jackson song. As a teenager attending private school and then college in the United States, he wrote his own songs, and he eventually dropped out of the College of William & Mary in Virginia to return home and pursue a music career. More than anything, Chan, who plays drums, guitar and piano, thinks of himself as an aspiring recording artist. He readily admits that he plunged into the film industry three years ago because the Asian public expects singers to make movies (and actors to release CDs). Although he is delighted with the good reviews his acting has earned, the singing-idol wanna-be sees a downside: "Sometimes I feel I may be a better actor than a singer," he says wistfully.

Chan lives with his dad, and readily acknowledges that his genealogy has opened some doors. (His Taiwanese mother, Lin Feng-jiao, was a film star in the 1970s and 1980s.) "It's pretty nice having a dad like him," says Jaycee. Jackie, who also has a minor singing career, expects his son to make his own decisions and supports him but gives him space. The younger Chan is acutely aware that he'll have to deliver the goods if he wants to make it on his own. His film career began with roles in escapist commercial fare, like 2004's "The Huadu Chronicles," an adventure story. In 2005, Chan wrote the music for and starred in the drama "2 Young," a small film about a teenage relationship that first won him notice as a serious actor.

Bi wrote the script for "The Drummer" specifically with Chan in mind. He pursued the actor relentlessly for the pivotal role, even after an initial rejection. Bi, himself the son of Hong Kong movie personalities, finally won over the young star by selling him on how the role would push his boundaries. "We made him do things he had not done before," says the director. The film is set to be his breakthrough, the first time an entire movie has rested on his acting skills. For the part of the young urban thug on the run from Hong Kong mobsters, Chan—who speaks excellent Mandarin and Cantonese as well as very good English—threw himself wholeheartedly into full days of rigorous training with drummers near Taipei.

Despite good early feedback on "The Drummer," Chan clearly cannot wait to get back to composing songs. Though critics savaged his only recording attempt so far—a self-titled CD released in Hong Kong in 2004—Chan remains undeterred. He relishes the chance to express himself musically and loves the pressure of knowing that everything depends on him: the music, the lyrics, the vocals. Chan describes his style as "Mandarin alternative folk," something that he believes most locals simply don't get. But he is firm in his faith that his sound will have a following in Taiwan and China. He acknowledges that "it is different from the music in Hong Kong," where tastes tend to favor romantic ballads and processed pop songs with catchy hooks.

Chan, who is known in Cantonese as Fong Jo-ming, hopes to take a break from acting in a few months to finish that long-planned second album. Meanwhile, he is also busy running a small candy company called Rio Active Mints. He started it a few months ago with two friends from outside the entertainment industry. The venture suits him perfectly. "I want to do business because I want to try new things," says the singer-actor. And with that, the budding entrepreneur produces a small tin of the candies and passes them around.