Jackie Chan was born in 1954, the son of a poor
couple who had just come to Hong Kong from the Province
of Shandong, China. When he was born, his parents could
barely raise the money for the hospital bill, and were
almost forced to adopt him out to the delivering doctor.
His parents tried very hard to raise money to pay the
hospital bill and took Jackie, their only child, home.
They named him Chan Kong-sang, which means "born in Hong
Kong", to celebrate their safe arrival in Hong Kong.
The family lived in the French Embassy for a while
because Jackie's father worked as a cook there and his
mother as a housekeeper. Jackie did not like school so
much and he left after finishing Primary One.
When Jackie was seven years old, his father was hired as
chief chef in the American Embassy in Australia and went
there to improve the family's financial status. At the
age of seven, Jackie's life changed direction as he
studied at the Chinese Drama Academy, studying and
working 19 hours a day under the famous Chinese Opera
Master, Yu Jim-Yuen. The students practiced Kung Fu,
stunts, flips and somersaults, and helped with cleaning
and washing up.
Jackie was named Yuen Lou by his Master.
Together with six other pupils whose names also had the
same prefix "Yuen" - Yuen Lung (Samo Hung), Yuen Tai,
Yuen Wah, Yuen Mo, Yuen Kwai and Yuen Biao - they were
chosen for the leading role in an Opera called Seven
Little Fortunes. From then on, Jackie and his "Yuen"
brothers were referred to as the Seven Little Fortunes
and often staged public performances at the then Laiyuen
Amusement Park and other venues.
At the time, Chinese
Opera was declining. Their "Si-fu" (meaning teacher)
started to loan the Seven Little Fortunes and the other
kids out as stuntmen in films. Then at the age of 17,
Jackie left the Drama Academy and became Jackie the
fearless stuntman, undertaking many dangerous
assignments in Shaw Brothers Film Company. Jackie then
met with old friend Samo Hung, who referred jobs to him.
At the same time Hung signed a contract with Golden
Harvest to provide them with stuntmen. This was Jackie's
introduction to Golden Harvest. He was soon doing stunts
for the famous 1971
Bruce Lee movies “Fist of Fury” and
“Enter the Dragon”.
When Jackie returned from Australia, he met Willie Chan.
Willie invited him to be the leading actor in a new
film. Willie was then General Manager of the newly
founded company run by Lo Wei, the popular film director
known as the "Millionaire Director". Lo Wei wanted to
model Jackie on
Bruce Lee and changed his name to Shing
Lung, meaning 'become a dragon'. This has remained
Jackie Chan's Chinese name.
In the 1976 movie “New Fist of Fury”, Jackie imitated
Bruce Lee. Unfortunately,
Bruce Lee's style didn't suit
Jackie so it wasn't surprising that the movie was a
disaster. Lo Wei, however, kept on filming the same
genre of films including “Shaolin Wooden Men,” “Killer
Meteor” and “Magnificent Bodyguard.” Unfortunately the
box office showed no improvement, and Jackie became a
box office disaster with no film distributors willing or
daring to release his films.
In “Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin” (1978) with his
good friend Chan Chi-Wah directing, Jackie had more
freedom to develop the character and have input into the
film's fighting scenes. One of his innovations was to
use household utensils as fighting tools.
In 1978, Jackie was loaned to Seasonal Films, owned by
Ng See-Yuen, and cast in the film “Snake in the Eagle's
In an unexpected turn, the film established Jackie's
popular and unique style of acting, and was well
received by audiences. Jackie became famous when “Snake
in the Eagle's Shadow“ went a different way than other
kung fu movies at that time by mixing a big amount of
humour to the plot. His opponent Hwang Jang Lee was a
tremendous kicker ... as Jackie found out when he kicked
out one of his teeth (accidentally) while they were
making this film. Also while he was shooting a fight
scene, his arm was accidentally slashed by a sword that
should have had a blunted edge. Blood went everywhere,
and Jackie fell down screaming ... and the camera kept
rolling! That's real pain you see in the movie!
Director Yuen Woo-Ping would eventually
direct his first feature in the Eagle's Shadow. Yet, it was
the following film entitled “Drunken Master,” also starring
Jackie, that truly propelled both men into mainstream
success. In 1999 the Wachowski brothers, themselves fans of
Hong Kong cinema, would tap Woo- Ping's skill in creating
their vision of an action comic book come to life in “The
Matrix” (1999). Jackie added his own brand of humour and
comic elements to these films and popularized this type of
movie, giving them a high box office rating.
Once Jackie had established his own acting style, he wished
to leave Lo Wei' Co. and eventually joined Golden Harvest
Entertainment Co. Ltd. Willie Chan became his agent. The
first film he shot for Golden Harvest was “The Young Master”
in 1980. Many popular films for Golden Harvest followed,
including the “Police Story” series in the 80s and 90s. He
also cooperated with his stunt "brothers" - the members of
the Seven Little Fortunes (Samo Hung, Yuen Wah and Yuen Biao),
in many movies including “Project A,” “My Lucky Stars” and
“Dragons Forever,” all of which achieved great success.
Jackie tried to break into Hollywood in the early 80s. He
starred with Kristine de Bell and Jose Ferrer in “Battle
Creek Brawl,” directed by Robert Clouse in1980. The
producers chose Clouse because he directed
Bruce Lee’s first
Hollywood movie, “Enter the Dragon”, hoping that he would do
the same with Jackie.
Jackie's first American movie was considered a failure. He
had very little control over the stunts, although he'd been
choreographing Kung Fu in Hong Kong for almost 10 years.
Jackie was deeply disappointed.
He also had a minor role in the “Cannonball Run” in 1980.
This movie featured a huge cast of American celebrities such
as Burt Reynolds, Roger Moore, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr.
and Farrah Fawcett as well as Hong Kong movie star Michael
Hui. It was a hit and made $100 million US worldwide.
However, Jackie is not the star so he passes almost
unnoticed. He did learn something interesting from this
film, though. The showing of unsuccessful shoots after the
final credits received popular applause from the audience.
Jackie adopted this same practice and has been using it in
his movies ever since.
In 1983, Jackie appeared unwillingly in Cannonball 2, as he
was still bound by contract at the time.
His last try was “The Protector” in 1985. “Protector” was
another of Jackie's disastrous attempts to break into
Hollywood, co-starring Danny Aiello and Roy Chiao. At the
time, some Chinese films shot abroad were achieving box
office success. They gave Golden Harvest the idea of
portraying Jackie as a tough guy, but that just wasn't
Jackie's style. He didn't get along well with director James
Glickenhaus and finally took over the production, making
extensive changes, including cutting the swearing and
gratuitous nudity scenes and re-shooting the final fight
scene. In this last fight scene he fights against Bill
“Superfoot” Wallace. If this fight had been shot in Hong
Kong it would have been a must. Here it is an average
“Hollywood-style” fight scene. Anyway, Jackie was so
disappointed that he was not willing to try again in the US.
American filmmakers and
producers had a whole different way of doing things than
their Hong Kong counterparts. They did not like long
time-consuming action sequences and American stunt directors
were not as proficient and innovative as the ones in Hong
Kong. This explains why talented martial artists like Jean
Claude Van Damme have very poor fighting choreographies on
their films. The Hong Kong film industry may lack good
scripts but when it comes to action, there is a whole
industry that is dedicated to creating action movies.
In the mid 90’s, things started to change. Many Hong Kong
directors like John Woo were working in the US and American
directors like Quentin Tarantino talked a lot about Hong
Kong style movies. Jackie again tried to break into
Hollywood, this time acting in his own style. Films like
“Rumble in the Bronx” in 1995 and “Mr. Nice Guy” in 1997 are
both produced in the "Jackie Chan style". The film “Rush
Hour” in 1999 aroused great attention from the American
media, and finally made Jackie the first Hong Kong movie
star to successfully break into Hollywood.
Some of his new movies like “The Tuxedo” are not cheap
productions but mainstream Hollywood films. I must admit
though that Jackie is not as young as he once was and uses a
lot of wires in his stunts. His movies are more comedies
than martial arts films, so that makes me feel a little bit
nostalgic about Jackie’s golden era, when he was working in
Hong Kong for Golden Harvest.