My family and I love to watch Jackie Chan films. I bought I am Jackie Chan: My life in action as a Christmas present for my brother. Jackie Chan’s autobiography was first published in 1996 and my brother and I wanted the book but we were kids and couldn’t afford it. As I grew up I couldn’t find the book anywhere and it’s only now as an adult, that I purchased the book off Amazon. I have the updated edition of the biography which contains new information and was released during the time when Jackie was making the first Rush Hour movie.
The biography is a rare insight into Jackie’s life. He recounts his childhood, love life and film career. Jackie was born on April 7th 1954 to Charles and Lee-Lee Chan in Hong Kong. Both his parents were servants to the French ambassador in Hong Kong. Charles Chan was the cook and Lee-Lee was the housekeeper. They named their son, Chan Kong Sang.
Jackie was enthusiastic and energetic child. He got up to mischief and had fights with the neighbourhood children. At school, he could never sit still. He found school boring and was often in trouble.
School was the place where the neighbour’s kids wasted all the best parts of the day. It meant dressing up in sissy clothes, spending hours in stifling classrooms, and learning things that were of no use to anyone. I could learn everything I needed to right here at home.
.....Actually, now I regret not having paid more attention at school. You can’t ever go back again, and I’ll never know the pleasures of the classics, or higher mathematics, or the great lessons of history.
Excerpt from I am Jackie Chan: My life in action p. 15 and 16.
Life at the academy was tough. We would call it child abuse. Master gave Jackie a new name, Yuen Lo. All the children were given new names so that they left their old identity behind. All the boys were Yuen something, such as Yuen Ting, Yuen Lung etc. The students had a vigorous routine of singing, dancing, acting, acrobatics and martial arts training. Everything had to done perfectly or the master would whip you. There was a hierarchy among the children according to age, Biggest brother and big brother were in charge of discipline as well. Jackie had an antagonistic relationship with his “big brothers” and they frequently fought and teased him.
Although the work was hard, the students were motivated to keep going. Jackie felt that he couldn’t run away or quit because he had worked too hard. He wanted the chance to perform in front of an audience. Jackie got his chance when he was chosen by master to be a part of the Seven Little Fortunes, a travelling troupe comprising of the best students.
The popularity of Chinese Opera started to wane with Hong Kong cinema on the rise. Opera schools started closing and the Seven Little Fortunes were getting less bookings. Master hired the students out to film studio to act as extras and stunt men to pay the bills. Students started to leave the school and eventually Jackie left the school at seventeen.
Jackie was all alone in Hong Kong as his mother had joined his father in Australia. He lived in a tiny flat with no furniture and worked in films as a stunt man. Whenever he was free he would visit his first love, Oh Chang. Oh Chang was an opera student at different school. Jackie loved her kind and gentle nature. The young couple, use to sneak out at night to sit at the park and talk (yes just talk no funny business). All Jackie wanted was someone to talk and share his sensitive side. He respected her and saw her as a delicate flower so he didn’t want to take advantage of her.
Unfortunately Oh Chang’s dad found out about the relationship and forbid his daughter from seeing Jackie. Oh Chang’s family didn’t approve of her dating a poor boy.
“Goodbye,” she said. “Will I ever see you again?” Stuffing my hands in my pockets, I turned and began to walk.” “No”, I said, my voice flat. “Not like this.”
No the way I am today, I thought to myself, as I turned the corner and began to run. When you see me again- If you see me again –it will not be as Yuen Lo, the poor stunt boy.
I hated Yuen Lo. I had nothing but contempt for him-lazy, good-for-nothing, loser Yuen Lo. He would have to die, I realised. For me to be what I wanted to be, I would have to kill Yuen Lo. And become someone else.
Excerpt from I am Jackie Chan: My life in action p. 147.
Jackie became determined to work hard to become a stunt coordinator. He also got a few acting roles in some action movies. He even worked on a Bruce Lee movie! When Bruce Lee died 1973 everyone was devastated. The public didn’t want to see action movies so it was hard for Jackie to find work. So, Jackie moved to Australia briefly to live his parents.
When Jackie came to Australia, he tried to learn English at school. He found school boring and English was hard to learn. He decided to work instead and it was at work, that he got his name Jackie. The Australians found it hard to pronounce his name, Chan Kong Sang or Yuen Lo. His father got him a construction job with his friend Jack. When they went to work, the other workers asked what his name was and Jack replied that his new Asian friend’s name was Little Jack. Eventually, he became Jackie.
Jackie wasn’t happy living in Australia. He missed his old life in Hong Kong. So, his parents made a deal with him that he could go back to Hong Kong and try to make a career in the film industry for two years and if that didn’t work, he had to come back to Australia.
When Jackie did come back to Hong Kong he was signed to the Lo Wei Motion Picture Company. He did not get along with Lo Wei. Lo Wei wanted Jackie to be the new Bruce Lee and he asked that Jackie copy his style. Jackie just wanted to be himself. In those days, actors didn’t have managers and agents. They were controlled by the studio and the studio decided what films they did. In the book, Jackie is very candid about his time with Lo Wei. Lo Wei died in 1996 so I guess, Jackie must have waited till he died because he doesn’t say very flattering things about him.
After a costly ordeal, Jackie managed to be released from his contract and signed to another film company called Golden Harvest. At Golden Harvest, he was able to do films his way. He wanted to show that Kung Fu movies didn’t always have to have an intense lead burning for revenge. That is why most Jackie Chan films has him playing an easygoing fellow. He also thought Kung Fu didn’t have to be set in a historical setting and have so much wirework. Jackie wanted to show that when you fight, you always get hurt whether you win or not.
As he became famous, he met and dated Chinese singer, Theresa Teng. The two broke up after Jackie became a big jerk and let fame get to his head.
I would hit the town wearing short pants, a t-shirt, and as much gold as my wrists and neck could carry. She was a wonder of politeness, a miracle of manners. I thumbed my nose at authority, laughing in the faces of hotel managers and haughty waiters, putting my feet up on the tables.
And, while she was content to go out alone, with no one but me as her gentleman escort-not that I was much of a gentleman- I refused to be seen anywhere without my boys: a gang of stuntmen in glasses.
Excerpt from I am Jackie Chan: My life in action p. 269.
Fortunately he realised he was arrogant jerk when she dumped him and the movie that he directed had flopped. He was only a young man at the time and had come from a poor background so I can understand how he got carried away by fame and fortune.
He later met Taiwanese actress Lin Feng-jiao (also known as Joan Lin) at a party. The two had a long distance relationship with Jackie flying from Hong Kong to Taiwan on the weekends. He knew that Lin Feng-jiao wanted a more stable and traditional relationship. So one day he surprised her during the middle of filming to reassure her of his commitment.
Feng- jiao, “I said, taking both of her hands again. “Marry me.” She let out a gasp. I went down on one knee. “Marry me!”
Excerpt from I am Jackie Chan: My life in action p. 293.
Jackie also writes about his attempts to break into the American film industry. He was frustrated when they wanted him to be the next Bruce Lee. All his American movies had little success until he made Rumble in the Bronx which was more to Jackie Chan’s style. The book ends with him mentioning that he was currently filming the first Rush Hour movie. Fortunately for him, it was a huge hit, with two sequels made afterwards. There are rumours that there will be a Rush Hour 4.
I recommend this book to all Jackie Chan fans. It was easy to read, humorous, touching and insightful. I wished that the book included Jackie’s charity work and music career but maybe in the future he’ll have another biography. The book also features lots of lovely old pictures of Jackie growing up as well as some pictures of his films. At the back of the book, there is a filmography of all of Jackie Chan’s movies and his thoughts on them. He also has a list of top ten stunts and injuries. I like to look at that lists when I watch a Jackie Chan movie to gain a greater insight into the making of the film.
So are you a fan of Jackie Chan? What is your favourite Jackie Chan movie?