Jackie Chan. Who wouldn’t know Jackie Chan? He is the Bruce Lee of his time. When people say “Kung Fu” or “Asian action,” the first name that comes to everybody’s mind nowadays is Jackie Chan.
Everybody knows he is the man from Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon, kids enjoy his Jackie Chan Adventures, videogame addicts play his games, music lovers hear his name in songs, and grateful people know how generous he is in extending his help.
He seems to have had an instant success in the movie industry given his status today. It’s easy to assume that every movie he did made it big, though his story shows otherwise.
Born in Hong Kong on April 7, 1954, his parents named him Chan Kong-sang simply meaning “born in Hong Kong.” His parents who were refugees from the Chinese Civil War, Charles and Lee-lee Chan, were poor they even had to borrow money from their friends to be able to pay the doctor.
As a child he always had very high energy to play around that his parents nicknamed him Pao-pao which is the Chinese word for “cannonball.” Since both of his parents worked for the French ambassador as a cook and housekeeper, Jackie spent his young years in the diplomat’s residence in the Victoria Peak. To put this energy to good use, his father woke him up early everyday to practice kung fu which Charles believed would help the young Chan to build his character, and learn patience, strength, and courage.
He was not the kind of student who excelled that his parents withdrew him from Nah-Hwa Primary school located in Hong Kong Island. In 1960, when Jackie was only seven years old, his father got the opportunity to work as head cook for the American Embassy in Canberra, Australia. His father thought it would be best for his son to stay in Hong Kong and learn some skills so he enrolled Jackie in the China Drama Academy.
He spent 10 years of his life in this academy where he learned different forms of arts such as singing, acting, and martial arts and acrobatics where he excelled. But just as with most training schools by the Chinese, life for the young Jackie inside was not easy. Instructors were very strict – punishing the students if they break any rules or even made mistakes during practice as they were being trained for the Peking Opera. He endured this tough kind of life most probably because he had nowhere to go since his parents were far away from him.
He had been acting since he was five but his acting debut was in the Cantonese movie entitled Seven Little Valiant Fighters: Big and Little Wong Tin Bar at the age of eight. Later on, he joined the group The Seven Little Fortunes, who are considered the school’s top students. Because of this he gained the stage name Yuen Lo, in honour of his master, Yu Jim-yuen. Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao who were also members of the group became very close friends of Jackie that they became known as The Three Brothers.
He and Sammo Hung also both trained under master Jim Pal Kim in Hapkido where he got his black belt.
When he was 17, with the screen name Chan Yuen Lung, he got the chance to work as one of Bruce Lee’s stuntmen in Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon. Then his starring role came, in Little Tiger of Canton that had a limited release in Hong Kong the year of 1973.
His career didn’t progress much as he also had trouble getting stunt work that in 1975 he slightly diverted in his line when he made his first nude sex scene in the comedic adult film entitled All in the Family. This movie is the only project he made with absolutely no action scene done. He was also made to do a similar kind of scene in Shinjuku Incident.
Still the movie industry in Hong Kong was not doing well that he was forced to go to Australia to live with his parents in 1976. He attended Dickson College in a very short period of time and worked at a restaurant and a construction site. One of his fellow workers named Jack had trouble pronouncing his name Kong-sang and called him “Little Jack” instead which eventually became “Jackie.” Yes, he did not get his name from making action movies.
He was not happy living that kind of life in Australia. Thanks to the telegram he received from Willie Chan, a film producer in Hong Kong, he came back to his country to star in the film New Fist of Fury. With the intention of introducing him to be the next Bruce Lee, his screen name was changed to Sing Lung meaning “become the dragon.” Again the film was far from being successful, as most action lovers would know, his style was very different from Bruce Lee’s. Despite that, New Fist of Fury director Lo Wei continued making films though produced little improvement in audience feedback.
His breakthrough movie was Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978) which has a comedy-action theme. He finally got the right role for him. His next project after that was Drunken Master (1978) which really boosted his status in the mainstream.
However, it was still not easy to expand his playing field. He did roles in Hollywood movies as well but was practically ignored by the audience because of the more established American actors in the industry. Some would be surprised to know that it took him almost a decade before returned to Hollywood. His project Rumble in the Bronx (1995) finally gave him the success he was aiming for where he got a cult following – a significant achievement for actors coming from a different country.
And the rest is history. Rush Hour was everybody’s favourite, though it was surprising that Jackie shared he did not personally like the said movie as he did not appreciate the fight scenes and did not understand western humour.
It has been a very long journey for Jackie’s career, discouraging even. But now, who can contend the fact that he is Kung Fu? Almost all rising action stars nowadays look up to him and sees him as an inspiration.
Jackie has been successful in many other fields, too, such as singing. He has released 20 albums in his entire career and sang most of the theme songs of his films. He also has a production and distribution company – the JCE Movies Limited. Moreover are JC Group China, Jackie & Willie Productions and Jackie & JJ Productions. He also owns successful businesses like restaurants, cafes, clothing line, gym and a jewellery store.
With all the success and achievements, he always makes sure to share his blessings to the people most in need. He is known to have made numerous charitable works. He also helps people achieve their dreams through his companies. For instance, the Jackie Chan – Yaolai International Cinema aims to help young filmmakers showcase their films and talents to a larger audience. Jack Tu, the winner of his reality show The Disciple, who aspires to be the next Jackie Chan will also be supported by the man himself wherein the three movies he is scheduled to make will be co-produced by JCEML. One is even written by Jackie. He is most happy when he is able to help others. Like what his idol, Run Run shaw, once said: “Establishing a business and earning money was a type of satisfaction; distributing money and donating funds was a kind of pleasure.”