Personal detailsName: Jackie Chan
Born: 7 April 1954 (Age: 59)
Where: Hong Kong, China
Height: 5' 8"
Awards: No major awards
All about this star
In childhood, he suffered terrible poverty and the most painfully rigorous of educations. In his early career, he was almost cast aside as just another in a long line of failed Next Bruce Lees. In perfecting his craft, he's broken his nose three times, and also cracked his ankle, most of his fingers, both his cheekbones and his skull (patched together with a steel plate). You can't say Jackie Chan hasn't paid his dues. But finally, after nearly 40 years in the business, the guy's reached worldwide stardom. As he always wanted, pretty much everyone knows his name.
Jackie Chan was born Chan Kong-Sang (meaning Born In Hong Kong) on the 7th of April, 1954, naturally enough in Hong Kong. He was the only child of Charles and Lee-Lee Chan, having, reports say, spent 12 months in the womb, finally being removed surgically and weighing 12 pounds (his mum nicknamed him Pao-Pao, meaning Cannonball). Charles borrowed money from friends to pay for the operation, turning down the doctor's offer to take the child in payment. The family lived in a mansion in the exclusive Victoria Peak district. Not that his parents owned the mansion - Charles worked as a cook for the French Ambassador, while Lee-Lee was the housekeeper.
Jackie attended the Nah-Hwa primary school on Hong Kong Island, often spending his travel money on food and walking home, fighting on the way with Caucasian kids attending special schools in the area. He was not academically bright, failing to pass Primary 1 as his peers moved on to Primary 3. This was noticed by Charles, who decided to enrol the boy, now 7, at the Peking Opera School, operated by Shu Master Yu Jan-Yuen. Walking in with his dad, Jackie saw tens of kids, between 7 and their early teens, somersaulting and playing with swords and sticks. He recalls that he felt like kids must feel today on entering Disneyland. He would never return to academic education. Though he speaks 7 languages, he still cannot read or write with great proficiency, and has someone else write his scripts for him.
It didn't stay like Disneyland. Charles now moved to Australia to work at the Chinese Embassy, and Jackie, now named Yuen Lo, saw the true nature of the Peking Opera School. The training in music, acrobatics and many martial arts lasted 18 hours a day. Exercises were brutal, the kids performing headstands for hours on end. Beatings were commonplace, both at the hands of the Master and the other boys. Eventually, Jackie's mother left too, to join Charles in Australia, Jackie being adopted by the single-minded Master.
Being something of a prodigy, Jackie was introduced to public performance early. He belonged to a school troupe known as The Seven Little Fortunes, other members including Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah, all of whom would go on to be big names in Hong Kong cinema. In 1988, Sammo would star in Alex Law's Painted Faces, about their early lives together - the Jackie character being called Big Nose! The film would show them as young stars of the traditional stage, yet still grooving to the new sound of The Beatles.
Painted Faces also featured the kids' efforts to break into cinema, not easy, as everyone treated them as schoolboy non-entities. But Jackie was lucky. At age 8, he was cast in Big And Little Wong Tin Bar, with the great Taiwanese star Li Li-hua as his mother. She took to the boy and had him appear in her next series of features. Good experience, though his Master took his paychecks.
Leaving school, having been protected from reality for so long, Jackie took time to adjust. Having studied hapkido, tae kwondo, judo, wing chung and many other martial arts, now he took to soccer, then boxing, then gambling, then pool. There were many 24-hour pool-halls in Hong Kong and Jackie played hard, often sleeping at the halls. This was a potential disaster, as these were hang-outs for the Triads, who'd often attempt to recruit the young boy. Seeing some of his friends join, and deal drugs, he attempted to distance himself from the gangs, often by playing dumb and innocent (his dad's sternest advice had been "No Triads, no drugs"). There were fights, though. Once he recalls he and two friends beating up six motorbikers. Fleeing down the street, he heard his slipper slapping on the ground. Looking down, he saw it was soaked in blood. His hand throbbing, he noticed a white thing protruding from his knuckle. Thinking it to be his bone, his tried to push it back in - to no avail. When it later fell out, he realised it was one of his opponents' tooth.
Fortunately, he soon got into bowling, the alleys being Triad-free. Despite great pressure, he would never join them, even when they attempted to muscle in on the film business. He famously challenged them to come break up his office, and led a march against them. By then too famous to be touched, he won the heart of Hong Kong, being henceforth known as Big Brother.
Jackie's extraordinary athleticism and inventive stunt-work quickly brought him a lead role, in Master With Cracked Fingers. This role, where he learns kung fu and eventually uses it to battles an extortion ring, would set the stage for many to follow. But for the next couple of years, Jackie would play second fiddle to the man credited with bringing kung fu to the West - Bruce Lee - appearing as an extra in both Chinese Conection and Enter The Dragon. When Lee died, though, in 1973, the path was open. There were many pretenders - Bruce Li, Bruce Le, Dragon Lee - and Jackie was at the forefront. It didn't work.
Having searched for a screen persona, as a villain in Rumble In Hong Kong and a spear-fighter in Hand Of Death (an early John Woo effort), he took off to spend time with his parents in Australia. This was where he found his present screen name, having previously been billed as Yuen Lo, Chen Yueng Lung and Sing Lung (meaning Already A Dragon). Taken down to work on a construction site by a friend of his dad's, named Jack, he was asked for his name by his co-workers. Thinking they'd have trouble pronouncing it, his dad's mate replied "He's called Jack too". So now he was Jackie Chan.
Returning to Hong Kong, he signed up as lead actor in Lo Wei's film company, purveyors of fairly poor material (he also signed up with Willy Chan, still his manager to this day). First there was another attempt to make him the New Bruce, with the rather obviously titled New Fist Of Fury. Again, it was a wretched failure. After a few more features with Lo Wei, he was loaned to Ng See Huen's Seasonal Films for Snake In Eagle's Shadow. Combining comedy with furious action, this revealed Jackie's previously unutilised comic strengths and was a hit, followed by another in the famous Drunken Master, which broke box-office records in Hong Kong and made Jackie a star across Asia.
Jackie now had power. He co-directed and choreographed Fearless Hyena for Lo Wei, directed the fast and tellingly silly Young Master on his own, then signed to the Golden Harvest Company, whose Raymond Chow had also discovered Bruce Lee. Now it got messy. Threatened both by Lo Wei and the Triads, he was sent to the US to make The Big Brawl (by the director and producers of Enter The Dragon), then joined the star-studded cast of Burt Reynolds' Cannonball Run. Having by now been bought-out from Lo Wei for 10 million Hong Kong dollars, he returned to learn the directing craft and create ever more fantastic stunts. Jackie is a stunt historian, explaining how Hong Kong stuntmen had always used traditional punches and parries till Steve McQueen's The Sand Pebbles was filmed there, using many local workers. It was then that the HK pros learned a new style of hitting and being hit. Soon, led by the likes of Jackie and John Woo, they would elevate the stunt to undreamed-of levels and would, of course, be ripped off by an American industry that inspired them in the first place.
Having, while in the US, discovered the works of silent stars Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, now Jackie concentrated on a mix of slapstick comedy and terrifying stunt work. Again he attempted to break America, with 1985's The Protector (co-starring Danny Aiello) but, again coming over too mean, he failed once more.
In terms of cinema history, this failure was vital. Films are cheaper to make in Hong Kong and, with insurance companies less paranoid, more death-defying stunts can be attempted. Jackie's new picture, Police Story, certainly tested that limit.