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Jackie Chan - Biography

TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Jackie Chan - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web

Jackie Chan

Personal details

Name: Jackie Chan
Born: 7 April 1954 (Age: 61)
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. Opening with a car chase through a shanty-town that destroys most of the houses and sends hundreds scurrying for cover, then ending with an unbelievable fight sequence in a shopping mall, with more flying glass than you could possibly imagine, it was utterly incredible, and spawned three sequels. Then came Armour Of God, an unashamed Indiana Jones steal that saw Jackie in Europe, battling with shady Franciscan monks. It also saw him fall 20 feet, hit his head on a rock, fracture his skull and go into a coma. He only missed a few days of filming, and would instil the same fortitude in his co-stars. Later, Maggie Cheung would need 17 stitches in her head after a Jackie stunt. Didn't stop her either.

The movies kept coming, the comedy getting sillier, the stunts more and more outrageous. By the time of 1994's Drunken Master 2, Jackie was scaling unheard-of heights of mayhem. Its seven-minute finale took four months to film, even though Jackie had brought together his own team of stuntmen, cameramen and lighting guys, plus a group of super-keen youngsters striving to move up through the ranks. Jackie claims, with much justification, that there are far more injuries when you film with stuntmen unfamiliar to you. With your own team, it becomes "more like an art, like dancing".

Now, after the illegal street-racing drama Dead Heat, came the final, and ultimately successful assault on America, with Rumble In The Bronx reaching Number One (Jackie would be closely followed by John Woo, with his Travolta-starring Broken Arrow). Here, directed by Stanley Tong and accompanied by HK pop superstar Anita Mui, Jackie would visit his uncle in New York, then have to kick his way out of a morass of biker gangs and police corruption.

Now widening his heroic characters and consciously making them more international, he reunited with Stanley Tong for First Strike, which saw him as a James Bond-like cop chasing a crim from Russia to Australia, trying out new stunts like hanging from a helicopter and skiing on one leg. He'd remain in Australia to film Mr Nice Guy with Sammo Hung, playing a Steven Seagal-style super-chef who helps out a TV reporter being threatened by drug lords. Next, Who Am I? was a return to Bond-ish action as, suffering from terrible amnesia, he battled dodgy CIA agents in Johannesburg and Rotterdam. The rooftop finale would yet again push back the boundaries of martial arts action.

After Rumble In the Bronx, the big leagues were beckoning, and Chan entered them with style by teaming up with Chris Tucker in the frenetic, hilarious Rush Hour - itself an Americanisation of his own brand of slapstick buddy movie. Here Jackie's a legendary cop in Hong Kong who busts a smuggling ring only to have the masterminds escape to the US and kidnap the Chinese consul's daughter. Chan comes to the States but his help is not welcome, so the LAPD pair him off with loudmouth renegade Tucker.Yes, it's 48 Hrs again, but this time the taciturn Nick Nolte character is a martial arts master and a king of physical comedy. On a budget of $35 million, the movie took $141 million at the US box office, a major hit. Jackie had conquered Hollywood at last.

With American filming schedules now toning down his speed of output, 1999 saw him in the failed HK romance Gorgeous, where he played a millionaire businessman combatting a fierce rival and falling for young Qi Shu. Other than this there were only cameos in Stephen Chow's brilliant The King Of Comedy, and Benny Chan's HK police roustabout Gen-X Cops. His real focus was now in the US and it quickly brought more success with Shanghai Noon. Set in 1881, this saw Chinese princess Lucy Liu escaping a forced marriage by fleeing to America where she's kidnapped and held to ransom. Jackie goes along with the rescue party and winds up in a hugely amusing partnership with Owen Wilson, a bank robber who talks and acts like a modern-day Californian surfer dude. The credits would, as so often happened with Chan movies, show a series of out-takes, mostly of Jackie cocking up or hurting himself. This would soon be the norm with US comedies, another way that Chan changed the face of film. Proof of his new-found status would now come with the hosting of Saturday Night Live and the delayed US release of 1994's Drunken Master 2 which, made for $2 million, now took another $12 million.

He moved on to another of his Bond-like escapades in The Accidental Spy. Here he played a bored exercise equipment salesman who, having become a public hero for foiling a robbery, discovers he's the long-lost son of a wealthy entrepreneur. However, daddy's also a spy, and so Jackie decides to follow in his footsteps. It was typically silly but thrilling and endearing stuff. The movie was another made for Golden Harvest. Jackie had remained on the company's board till 1998, enduring a slump in HK cinema, but had left when his commitments in America became too great.

For the next two years he would concentrate on Hollywood pictures. First came Rush Hour 2, a predictable sequel set just after the first, with Chan and Tucker holidaying in Hong Kong. A bomb in the US Embassy leads them first to a triad boss and then on to an international counterfeiting gang based in Las Vegas. It was a terribly flawed production. Jackie complained there wasn't sufficient time to prepare spectacular stunts, while Tucker was allowed free rein to ad-lib with very little quality control. Nevertheless, on a $90 million budget, it took a whopping $226 million, with Chan's $15 million raising him into Hollywood's upper echelons.

Next, he'd intended to make Nosebleed, which would have seen him as a window-cleaner at the World Trade Centre who gets involved in a terrorist attack. On September 11th, 2001, he was supposed to be filming on the roof but the script was late so filming was cancelled. As we all know, many things were cancelled that day.

He instead moved on to The Tuxedo where he played the chauffeur of a rich secret agent. He's an Ordinary Joe but, when he puts on his boss's cybernetic dinner-suit, he becomes an all-action dancer and fighter, joining agent Jennifer Love Hewitt in a struggle against a corporate villain who intends to add a weird chemical to the world's water supply that will dehydrate everyone, thus boosting sales of his bottled water. It was an odd movie for Jackie, with not much in the way of martial arts or live action stunts. He'd didn't usually rely on CG SFX. But then he didn't usually impersonate James Brown onstage either, and that was very funny indeed.

Not one to miss an opportunity, Chan now delivered a sequel to Shanghai Noon, entitled Shanghai Knights. Here robbers steal the Great Seal of China, in the process killing its guardian, Jackie's dad. Now the Sheriff of Carson City, Jackie re-teams with Owen Wilson and sets off for London in search of the seal and revenge. Another day, another hit.

After an extended jokey cameo in The Twins Effect, a Buffy-style vampire romp starring Hong Kong Cantopop duo The Twins, Chan moved on to The Medallion, where enormous power will be granted to anyone who can meld together the separated halves of a mysterious medal. Julian Sands was the evil Snakehead with domination on his mind, while Chan was a cop attempting to foil his plot, with the aid of Interpol agents Lee Evans and Claire Forlani.

2004 was another big year. After another cameo in Enter The Phoenix, he starred in a pricey re-make of Jules Verne's Around The World In 80 Days, the story being re-jigged to make Chan's Passepartout the hero, rather than Steve Coogan's Phineas Fogg. Here Chan is a good guy thief, attempting to return a priceless jade buddha to his Chinese village. Wicked warlord Karen Mok (who earlier appeared with Chan in The King Of Comedy, The Twins Effect and Enter The Phoenix) has other ideas. Consequently endangered, Chan seizes on Fogg's offer to race around the globe and takes the chance to exhibit his incredible agility and chuckle-raising mugging. Other friends would pop up throughout, Sammo Hung being one, Owen Wilson another.

Following this came a long-awaited addition to the Police Story cannon, New Police Story, the first without Maggie Cheung as May. He'd then deliver Time Breaker, directed once more by Stanley Tong, a comedy fantasy where he'd join the trend for using Ming-era weapons. Then would come The Blade Of The Rose, a sequel to The Twins Effect that also featured the screen debut of his son, Jaycee Fong Cho-ming (also a musician, Jaycee had recently inked a deal with Sony). The inevitable Rush Hour 3 would follow soon after.

Jackie has been married to Feng-Jiao Lin since 1983, gaining his son the same year. There have also been affairs, for Jackie has always worked and played hard, one being with the former Miss Asia Elaine Ng, with whom he has a daughter. He actually has a much bigger family than he for a long time realised. After many years of secrecy, his father would inform him that his real name was not Chan but Fung (or Fong, depending on who's saying it). He also, he was told, had two half-sisters in Australia and two half-brothers in China. Intrigued by this explanation of events, and also by his parents' turbulent lives during China's Cultural Revolution, he'd make a documentary entitled Traces Of Dragon: Jackie Chan And His Lost Family.

He famously works constantly, but puts in a lot for charity too. Helped himself by the Red Cross as a child, he was told not to repay the giver, but to spread the charity onwards. He remembers as a young star being asked to spend a day with sick kids in hospital. Arrogantly giving them a mere 15 minutes, he arrived to find himself handed a bunch of presents to give the children, the staff knowing how much it would mean. Seeing the delight of the children, Jackie was profoundly moved, returning the next year - with his own presents.

Having achieved worldwide fame, he decided to split his time pretty much evenly between film and charity work. 2004 alone saw him pull all his HK star mates into a charity car race before the Shanghai Grand Prix. He was named Philanthropist for Children in China after making a massive donation. He was named Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, visiting Cambodia to help clear up landmines, then Singapore and Korea. He'd help plant forests in China and promote care of the environment. Once more he'd gather the stars of Asia for a show at Las Vegas's MGM Grand, proceeds going to the Self-Help For The Elderly project and Alzheimer's Centre he'd earlier set up in San Francisco, meaning hundreds more people could be seen to every day. He set up the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation Scholarship, then bought a 50-acre plot in Chun Ping, China, hoping to open a school for stunt-people of all nationalities. Oh, and he found time to open a restaurant at Ala Moana in Hawaii. And this was just the first HALF of 2004.

It's hard to conceive how popular Jackie Chan is today, now he has broken the West. Even years ago, he was so big in Japan that many teenage girls were pulled from railway lines and pumped empty of poison, having felt the need to die for him. One indicator is that in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood you'll find the hand-prints of the legendary Bruce Lee. You'll also see the marks of Jackie Chan's hands, feet and, yes, that big nose. He can't help but go too far, and people love him for it. 2004 would also see his hand-prints on Hong Kong's new Avenue of Stars, alongside Lee's and those of such co-stars as Sammo Hung, Tsui Hark, Maggie Cheung and Anita Mui, who tragically of cancer that same year at the painfully young age of 40.

And it could yet get bigger. There's still a hoped-for martial arts blockbuster with fellow megastar Jet Li, and plans for The Art Of War, based on the 2000-year-old writings of philosopher Sun Tzu (who's also inspired the all-conquering Australian cricket team) and set to be most expensive Hong Kong movie ever. And perhaps, just perhaps, there will be Rambo 4. Anyone who knows Jackie's movies knows the debt he owes to Stallone's Rocky (and the debt Rocky owed to Chan). Appearing in Rambo would complete a neat circle - though Jackie will NOT be appearing as a drug baron, as the original script apparently had it. As daddy said, No Triads, NO DRUGS.

Dominic Wills

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