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 Shadow.”
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.