But in the fight against avian influenza, or bird flu, the gloves are now officially off. Jackie Chan has gotten involved. The World Health Organization, the U.N. and UNICEF developed a public service announcement in which Chan lets kids know they can get bird flu from domestic birds.
It’s an interesting move, actually: I mean, how do you warn the world at large about a disease that spreads faster than gossip? As effective as Al Gore’s thousands of slideshows about climate change have been, you don’t turn to a professional orator; you get a movie star. And you put it on television.
In a one-minute clip (RealPlayer, here), we see six elementary-school kids (of various skin tones) making origami birds with The Lightning Fisted One. They’re all flying their birds around the crafts table to the strains of Asian flute music. Chan is chatting about bird flu in the friendly tone of voice he used in the bubble bath scene in Shanghai Noon. Then he fixes the kids with the kind of look that made Owen Wilson become a better man a couple of scenes later. (“You should not play with any birds RIGHT NOW, especially IF THEY LOOK SICK, GOT IT?”)
It’s easy to make fun of Jackie Chan’s performance, since the scene is mostly talking with very little fu of any kind. His accent makes repeat viewings pretty much mandatory. He doesn’t get to deliver any flying kicks, not even one at a time. And there’s no opportunity to cunningly adapt schoolroom props into instruments for bludgeoning.
But I think this announcement is great. Chan’s sternness melts away into the same winning smile you see during the credits of his movies, and the kids laugh and peck him on the head with their birds. There’s a lesson for all us science communicators there: Find a way to make people want to listen. And give them only as much information as they can soak up at one go.
Still, I’m curious if Chan will lend a hand with other bird flu duties. I’d like to see him culling duck herds the way he kept L.A. safe in Rush Hour.
p.s. I apologize that this story is actually about a week old, but it’s been a busy period here at the scribbling headquarters.