There are so many actors in the action film genre, but none of them could probably do the things that Jackie can do. Most often, when a certain actor rises to popularity, bringing his own style to the set, numerous others would try to follow his steps and end up becoming copycats, receiving less than what they expect in terms of fame. Jackie, however, is very different in that instead of trying to follow the mainstream, he set himself apart and established a new form of martial arts films.
This is what makes Jackie very extraordinary. When he first started out in his career, everyone expected him to become the next “Bruce Lee,” but Jackie did the opposite and created his own persona which up to today still stands out and appeals to the viewing public. This is true with every area of life. As Jackie once said in an interview that if you go around copying someone else you will end up simply becoming a shadow of that person. But if you stand out and become who you are, you will be unique, and people will look up to you.
As Jackie says often in interviews:
“I always want to do something that is different from all the other movies. I’m always watching some other movie and then doing something different as a result of having seen it. That’s what makes what I do special.”
Directing, producing, acting, singing, writing, choreographing and doing his own stunts—Jackie has probably experienced them all. This is what truly makes him special. Often, actors are stereotyped to only know one style of acting (for example, an action star is generally perceived to do poorly if he stars in a comedy or drama film), but Jackie proves that he is the kind of actor that can play various roles. He has starred in numerous varieties of films and all have done well in the box office.
One unique attribute that anyone can notice in the films that Jackie produces is the different style of action sequences that occur. In most action movies, there is much violence and gore just to prove how much action there is in that movie, but for Jackie, it is not what comprises an action film. In an interview, Jackie said:
“I like action, but I hate violence. That’s why in my movies you don’t find a lot of violence. If you say, 'Your movies are violent,' I’ll respond: 'It’s good violence; I didn’t show the blood from the nose, there was no swearing' no, I never have any of this kind of dialogue. Also, I never have gunfights where there is someone shot–'Bang!'–and then blood comes pouring out of a guy’s mouth, his nose, and so forth. So that is why when I design fighting scenes, it’s more like an art, like dancing, rhythm.”
In most of his movies, Jackie always (or mostly) portrays the “good guy” persona because he wants to become a good example for children to follow. Nowadays, Jackie does movies not because he needs to make money, but simply because it is what he wants to do. In almost every movie that he has starred in, Jackie is always the kind of character who is, while comically clumsy and often subjected by his family or wife, is good to the very core. In an interview, Jackie says:
“I always tell the actors and actresses in Hong Kong, “We have the responsibility to do something for the society. Show bad things on the screen as little as possible, because we are the role models. Everybody watches us. Everybody wants to copy us as role models.”
Another amazing trait that most people can expect of Jackie Chan movies is the way he balances the roles of the characters in the film. Jackie’s produced movies do not have a hint of racism or discrimination in them, as he does not stereotype characters if they look to be of a particular ethnic group or religion. Simply put, while in Hollywood films you can always expect certain actors (Asian, African or other cultural groups) to always play a particular role (such as being the bad guy, the pushover or the geeky nerd), in Jackie’s films they play versatile roles.
This is what Jackie often points out when he is asked to compare films made in the east versus the west:
“I put in a little politics with my comedy. I don’t want to put in my movie to be like, say, a Bruce Lee movie where the Chinese are always good and the gwei-lo are always bad. My movie, I want to put in that American people can help me, and that they can also hurt me. Chinese people can help me, but Chinese people can also hurt me. Everybody is the same. There’s not only one way, there are many ways. That’s my philosophy.”
Having been deprived by fate to receive proper education, Jackie spends a great deal of his fortune and efforts to ensure that others do not suffer the same things he did. Aside from all of his achievements in the media industry, Jackie is a successful philanthropist, having established his own foundation, the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation. Through this organization, Jackie has been able to reach out to the young people of Hong Kong and help them rise from poverty by providing them the things they need to become successful in life. Aside from focusing on the area of education, Jackie also supports numerous other worldwide organizations; he is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and has pledged half of his wealth to be donated to various charitable organizations upon his death.
Living in Hong Kong to Escape Chinese Civil War
Jackie Chan, as he is internationally known today, was born Chan Kong-Sang in the city of Hong Kong (which was under British rule at that time) on April 7, 1954. His parents, Charles and Lee-Lee Chan, recently arrived in the city after escaping the Chinese Civil War which greatly ravaged the country and killed millions of people. During their arrival in Hong Kong, Charles and Lee-Lee lost most of their possessions and almost considered selling the newly born Jackie to the doctor for twenty-six dollars. However, in spite of the uncertain life that lay before them, Charles and Lee-Lee chose to keep Jackie and raise him—this proved to be the wisest decision, as not long after Jackie was born, Charles started working for the French ambassador stationed in the city.
Because of his father’s work, Jackie spent a great deal of his childhood years in the French consul’s house at the Victoria Peak district. Because of this, Jackie experienced quite a good life, including the love and care of his parents early on. As a young child Jackie was nicknamed “A-puo” (which in Chinese meant “cannonball”) not only because Jackie was healthy and rounded but also because he was hyperactive and loved to roll around.
Jackie was enrolled at the Nah-Hwa Primary School for his elementary studies, but he was withdrawn from the school after he failed his first year there. When Jackie was six years old, Charlie was accepted as the head cook for the American embassy, so he took his family with him and moved to Canberra, Australia. It was during Jackie’s one year stay in Australia that he got his famous name, as he told in an interview made with him many years later:
“I was six when we moved to Australia, and my schoolteacher there thought I said my name was Paul. But I couldn't pronounce Paul very well, so I was called Steve. One of my friends didn't like the name Steve, so he would introduce me as Jack Chan. I added on the y because Jacky has a better rhythm. Later, Raymond Chow of Golden Harvest changed my name to Jackie.”
Attending Peking Opera School and Training with Yu Jim-Yuen
In 1960, when Jackie was seven years old, he was sent by his parents back to China to study at the Peking Opera School which was operated by a well-known martial arts master, Yu Jim-Yuen. Jackie made a ten-year deal with Jim-Yuen and spent the next decade rigorously training in drama and martial arts. When Jackie was interviewed years later about his first encounter with Jim-Yuen, he said:
“When I joined the school, I wanted to learn kung fu. I was asked if I want to join for three, five, or ten years. I didn't know how long these times were, so I just chose ten. Ooops! Waaa! That's a looong time.”
While he was training in the Peking Opera School, Jackie became a part of the famous “Seven Little Fortunes”, which was a group of the school’s best students. Jackie also became very close friends with his fellow students (who was also part of the Seven Little Fortunes) Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung, who he would often work with in his later years. Jackie, Sammo, and Yuen Biao were known as the Three Dragons due to their outstanding performances in both acting and martial arts.
Even at the age of five, Jackie already started having small roles in various films. These gradually increased as he studied further in martial arts and drama, and at the age of seventeen Jackie worked as a stuntman in numerous movies, most particularly the films made by his idol Bruce Lee such as “Fist of Fury” and “Enter the Dragon.” During the filming of a scene in Enter the Dragon, Jackie was accidentally injured by Bruce while the former was attacking the latter as in the script. After the director shouted “Cut!” Bruce immediately approached Jackie to apologize and tend to his injuries. In interviews with him later, Jackie recalled how this was one of his most memorable moments because he saw for himself how good of a man his idol was.
In 1976, Jackie returned to Australia and attended Dickinson College for a short period of time. Afterwards, Jackie worked as a construction worker where a fellow worker named Jack became his mentor, resulting in him being called “Little Jack.”
Jackie’s Early Movie Career
Sometime around that same year, Jackie received a telegram from Willie Chan, a movie producer in Hong Kong, offering him a title role in a movie that was planned to be modelled after Bruce Lee’s “Fist of Fury.” The widely renowned martial arts actor died in 1973, and after Willie saw Jackie’s stunt work in previous films, noted the potential that the young Jackie had to become the next biggest martial arts star. And so, Jackie returned to Hong Kong to film the “New Fist of Fury,” but since he was not accustomed to Bruce’s style of martial arts the film did poorly and was unsuccessful. In spite of this disappointment, Jackie did not become discouraged; his friendship with Willie grew that up to today, they remain very good friends. Willie became Jackie’s manager for over thirty years.
List of Movies
After several other films with Willie Chan, Jackie met Yuen Woo-ping, a well-known director who offered Jackie the lead role for the film “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow.” This time, Jackie was given total freedom over the stunt work, and as a result of this the movie became both a critical and financial success. The success of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow not only established Jackie’s career as a mainstream actor, but it also introduced the comedy kung fu genre, which appealed very much to viewers for being a ‘breath of fresh air.’ Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow was soon followed by “Drunken Master,” with Jackie in the title role as “Wong Fei Hung,” a famous martial arts master way back in the early 1900s. Drunken Master not only became Jackie’s most successful film, but it also propelled him into mainstream success.
During the early to mid-eighties, Jackie became busy with making films left and right—some of the films were well received by the viewers, while some did poorly. In 1981, while playing a minor role in the film “The Cannonball Run,” Jackie became very impressed with the outtakes (bloopers) that were shown in the closing credits; this inspired him to also include outtakes in the future films that he made. Jackie’s most successful films during this period were: “Project A,” which won a Best Action Design Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards due to introducing a stunt-driven style of martial arts; “Police Story,” which was a Hollywood-influenced action comedy that won Best Film; and “Armour of God,” which featured Jackie as ‘Asian Hawk,’ an Indiana Jones-type of character.
The following decade saw Jackie doing sequels of his most famous films, all of which were equally or more successful compared to its predecessors. Some good examples of these films were “Armour of God II: Operation Condor,” “Police Story 2” and “Police Story 3: Super Cop,” which won Jackie the Best Actor and Best Action Choreography Awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards. All three films were well received in the international screen, and established Jackie’s career as a world-renowned action star. Jackie’s fourth instalment of the Police Story series, “Police Story 4: First Strike,” became more successful locally, earning more at the domestic box office and getting more awards, but getting less earnings in the foreign markets.
In spite of this setback, Jackie continued to aim high and reach Hollywood status. However, he rejected early attempts to get him to play villains in some Hollywood films because he did not want to stray away from his “good guy” persona, and because he did not want to be typecast in future films. One movie that Jackie turned down was “Demolition Man,” where Sylvester Stallone offered him the role of villain Simon Phoenix.
From Hong Kong to Hollywood: Jackie’s Rise to International Stardom
In 1995, Jackie finally achieved his goal of establishing himself in the United States market when he released the movie “Rumble in the Bronx.” The film not only was both a financial and critical success, but it also gained a cult following that was quite rare for actors from Hong Kong (the only other well-known actor to have a cult following was Bruce Lee). Rumble in the Bronx’s success opened the door for Jackie’s earlier works to be released in the United States as well, which caused Jackie to have a massive number of fans in the country.
In 1998, Jackie filmed and released the film “Who Am I?” which centered on the story of a Chinese national that lost his memory after being involved in a convoy ambush. Who Am I was well received by critics and earned well at the box office, and even won at the Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Action Choreography due to a scene where Jackie slid down at the side of the building.
That same year, Jackie finally had his big Hollywood debut when he starred alongside Chris Tucker in the film “Rush Hour.” In the film, Jackie played a Chinese cop who was partnered with a New York City detective in searching for a triad boss. Rush Hour became Jackie’s first Hollywood blockbuster, with the film earning more than one hundred thirty million dollars in the United States alone. Because of his title role in Rush Hour, Jackie finally established himself as a Hollywood actor, thereby achieving the dream that he had always wanted since he started acting. Rush Hour became such a success that it spawned two more sequels, each becoming more successful than the first in terms of box office earnings—Rush Hour 2 (which was released in 2001) and Rush Hour 3 (released in 2007).
Throughout the early 2000s, Jackie’s Hollywood career continued to rise higher with the release of Shanghai Noon (in 2000), where he played a dishonoured Chinese bodyguard who joined an outlaw leader (comedy actor Owen Wilson) to rescue the princess (played by Lucy Liu). Shanghai Noon became a box office success and spawned a sequel, “Shanghai Knights,” which also became equally successful. Jackie’s comedic style of action was greatly appreciated by American viewers due to the fact that it gave them a breath of fresh air from the typical action films that always involved serious actors and bloody fight scenes.
Of course, Jackie did encounter several disappointments in his career in Hollywood, such as when he starred in the films “Tuxedo” and “The Medallion,” both of which did poorly in the box office and received negative reviews. At some point in his time in Hollywood, Jackie became frustrated at how limited his roles could become due to the typecasting of Asian stars, and as a result of this Jackie started his own film production company, the JCE Movies Limited.
Going His Own: JCE Movies
After setting up his own production company, Jackie started to involve more drama into his films, as evidenced by the change in tone of his later movies such as “New Police Story” (released in 2004, where Jackie portrayed a chief inspector who becomes a drunkard after losing his entire team in a hostage crisis), “The Myth” (released in 2005) and “Rob-B-Hood” (released in 2006, this movie is the first of its kind where Jackie portrays an anti-hero in the form of a robber with gambling habits). While some predicted the decline of the films’ popularity due to the heavy use of dramatic scenes, all of the three mentioned films produced by Jackie actually became a success.
Jackie ran into a controversy in 2004 when he remarked on the results of the Taiwanese elections and called the re-election of the Democratic Progressive Party candidates as the ‘biggest joke in the world.’ Numerous Taiwanese officials and media personalities criticized Jackie for his statement and threatened to ban his movies in the country. In response to this, Jackie made a public apology stating that he did not intend to insult the Taiwanese people with his comments.
During the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which killed hundreds of thousands of people in the affected countries, Jackie was among the actors who campaigned for the disaster relief efforts and also donated for the recovery of those who survived in the event.
More Successful Movies
In 2007, Jackie produced and released the film “Shinjuku Incident,” which was his first film to have pure dramatic scenes and not have him do any martial arts stunts. The film, whose story revolved around a Chinese national who illegally immigrated to Japan, was both a critical and financial success, and showcased Jackie’s ability to take on dramatic roles.
In 2008, Jackie collaborated with fellow well-known martial arts actor Jet Li to produce the movie “The Forbidden Kingdom.” The film, where Jackie starred as a drunkard warrior, became an international phenomenon, not just because of its wonderful story and heavy use of effects and wires, but also because it marked the first time that the two martial arts superstars worked together. That same year, Jackie started a career in voicing when he played the voice of Master Monkey in the hit comedy CGI animation movie “Kung Fu Panda” alongside actors Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu and Dustin Hoffman.
That same year, Jackie was honoured and privileged to be a part of the torch relay at the Summer Olympic Games that was held at Beijing, China. During the event, Jackie openly spoke against the demonstrators who for several times delayed the relay to protest against the Chinese government. In one of the interviews made with him during that time, Jackie referred to how the protesters were not really that interested in reforming their nation compared to seeking publicity. Jackie defended the Chinese government by stating that the Olympic Games was a chance for China to open itself internationally. He later said in an interview:
“We are not right about everything. Things are getting better in China but we can change and are changing. We want to learn from the rest of the world as well as teach others about our ways and our culture.”
The following year, Jackie left the United States to begin filming “The Karate Kid” (known in China as “The Kung Fu Dream”), which was designed to be a reboot of the successful original series which featured Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. Released in 2010, The Karate Kid saw Jackie as an initially unwilling master who teaches the young Dre (played by Jaden Smith) kung fu. The Karate Kid was highly anticipated and upon its release became a financial and critical success, even earning Jackie and Jaden awards for their performances in the film.
In 2012, Jackie released the third instalment of the Armour of God series, CZ12, where he reprised his role as the Asian Hawk who is in search of the missing heads of the golden statues of the Chinese Zodiac. After the release of the film, while he was attending the Cannes Film Festival, Jackie announced his partial retirement from action films in an effort to take care of his body more. He has recently accepted Sylvester Stallone’s offer to star in the third instalment of the “Expendable” movie series and plans to make a sequel for the “Karate Kid” and “Rush Hour.”
Jackie Uses His Net Worth for Philanthropy
Ever since he began his rise to stardom, Jackie has never forgotten to give back to the community. Along with the rise of his acting career, Jackie also made every effort to reach out to more people as his wealth grew. In 1988, Jackie established the “Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation,” an organization whose main focus is to provide scholarships to the young people and give them active help through a variety of necessary causes.
Since its inception, the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation has grown into a large organization and has broadened its scope to reach more people in need. Through the efforts put in by Jackie, the JCCF has not only reached out to the youth but also to the sick, the poor, and those who are affected by natural disasters. Some of the major donation projects that the foundation has accomplished are the Jackie Chan Gymnasium (located at Lingnan University), the Jackie Chan Whole Person Development Center, medical funding for Operation Smile in mainland China, and the Jackie Chan Family Unit.
In 2005, Jackie launched the Dragon’s Heart Foundation to take care of the young people and the elderly in the remote parts of China. By providing school uniforms, books, and paying for children’s tuition fees, Jackie, through the Dragon’s Heart Foundation, has been able to touch the lives of thousands of children in the parts of China where education is much needed. The Dragon’s Heart Foundation has also been key in the construction of more than twelve schools, and also embarks on providing the needs of the elderly in those areas. Jackie spends a lot of time travelling to the areas that the Dragon’s Heart Foundation supports, proving that he truly has a heart for helping others live the good life. Whenever he travels to these places, Jackie often speaks in various events, encouraging and empowering his listeners to never give up on life.
In 2006, Jackie joined the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates when he pledged half of his assets to various charitable organizations in the event of his death. Two years later, when he was invited to be the guest of honour at the Australian National University, the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presented Jackie the “Jackie Chan Science Centre” located in the grounds of the university.
In 1982, Jackie married Joan Lin, a famous Taiwanese actress. Joan bore Jackie a son whom they named Jaycee. Due to Jackie’s popularity as a martial artist, he was often asked about whether or not he would encourage his son to follow his footsteps in the martial arts genre. In one interview, Jackie said:
“The days at opera school were very long. Every day we would train from dawn to midnight, and anyone caught taking it easy would be whipped and starved. I don't know how the intense training affected me as a child or shaped me as an adult. I do know that I draw all my creativity for fight directing from those years of arduous training. But I would never put my kids through it, and I would never tell anyone to do the same thing.”
In 1999, actress and Miss Asia winner Elaine Ng revealed that she and Jackie had an affair and as a result, claimed that the child she was carrying during that time was Jackie’s. Although unconfirmed, Jackie did not deny the affair but did not formally acknowledge Elaine’s child Etta as his own daughter.
Today, at the age of 59, Jackie continues to amaze his fans and billions of people around the world with his work as an actor, singer, producer, director and philanthropist. Jackie’s life story continues to remind us that no matter how difficult your situation may have been before, it will never stay that way if you have the willingness to reach out for your dream. His attitude towards acting also gives us a wonderful lesson to learn about life—be yourself. It is those who are confident in who they are that succeed in life, not the ones who try to copy others.
“I make films now because it is my hobby. I don't need the money, so I must be happy with what I do. I won't compromise my artistic values as a fight choreographer. I won't play the bad guy. My fans in Asia expect me to be funny and be the good guy; I won't disappoint them.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation
- Dragon’s Heart Foundation
- Operation Smile
- Red Cross
- Camp Quality
- Kids Wish Network
- World Smile Foundation
- The Salvation Army
- Rotary International
- Camp Quality
- Action In Mental Health
- Save China’s Tigers
Awards and Achievements
- 1989: Received the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Picture (Rouge)
- 1992: Received the Golden Horse Award for Best Actor (Police Story 3: Super Cop)
- 1993: Received the Golden Horse Award for Best Actor (Crime Story)
- 1993: Received the Asia-Pacific Film Lifetime Achievement Award
- 1995: Received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the MTV Movie Awards
- 1996: Received the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Action Choreography (Rumble in the Bronx)
- 1998: Received the Maverick Spirit Award
- 1999: Named Actor of the Year at the Hollywood Film Festival
- 1999: Received the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Action Choreography (Who Am I?)
- 1999: Received the MTV Movie Award for Best On-Screen Duo (Rush Hour)
- 1999: Received the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Duo – Action Adventure (Rush Hour)
- 2000: Received the Special Award for Global Impact at the International Indian Film Academy Awards
- 2002: Received the MTV Movie Award for Best Fight (Rush Hour 2)
- 2002: Received the Taurus Honorary Award
- 2005: Received the Asia-Pacific Film Special Jury Award
- 2005: Received the Golden Phoenix Award for Best Actor (New Police Story)
- 2005: Honored for Outstanding Contribution to Chinese Cinema at the Shanghai International Film Festival
- 2005: Received the Professional Achievement Award
- 2011: Received the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Action Star
- 2013: Received the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Action Choreography (CZ12)
- Received the Grand Prix des Ameriques
- Received the American Choreography Innovator Award
- Holds the Guinness World Record for Most Stunts by a Living Actor
- 1995: Honorary Doctor of Social Science from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University
- 1996: Honorary Doctor of Social Science from the Hong Kong Baptist University
- 2009: Honorary Doctorate from the University of Cambodia
FILMOGRAPHY: Movies Starred in, Worked as Stunt Coordinator or Produced
- 1973: Enter the Dragon
- 1973: Police Woman
- 1973: Little Tiger of Canton
- 1976: New Fist of Fury
- 1976: Dance of Death
- 1976: Shaolin Wooden Men
- 1976: Hand of Death
- 1976: Killer Meteors
- 1977: To Kill with Intrigue
- 1978: Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin
- 1978: Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow
- 1978: Drunken Master
- 1978: Spiritual Kung Fu
- 1978: Half a Loaf of Kung Fu
- 1979: The Fearless Hyena
- 1979: Dragon Fist
- 1979: Immortal Warriors
- 1979: Master with Cracked Fingers
- 1980: The Young Master
- 1980: The Big Brawl
- 1981: The Cannonball Run
- 1982: Dragon Lord
- 1983: Fantasy Mission Force
- 1983: Fearless Hyena Part II
- 1983: Project A
- 1984: Wheels on Meals
- 1984: Cannonball Run II
- 1985: Police Story
- 1985: The Protector
- 1985: My Lucky Stars
- 1985: Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars
- 1987: Armour of God
- 1987: Project A Part II
- 1988: Police Story 2
- 1988: Dragons Forever
- 1988: Rouge
- 1989: Miracles
- 1991: Armour of God II: Operation Condor
- 1992: Police Story 3: Super Cop
- 1992: Twin Dragons
- 1993: Once a Cop
- 1993: City Hunter
- 1993: Crime Story
- 1994: Drunken Master II
- 1995: Thunderbolt
- 1995: Rumble in the Bronx
- 1996: Police Story 4: First Strike
- 1997: Mr. Nice Guy
- 1998: Who Am I?
- 1999: Gorgeous
- 1999: Rush Hour
- 2000: Shanghai Noon
- 2001: The Accidental Spy
- 2001: Rush Hour 2
- 2002: The Tuxedo
- 2003: Shanghai Knights
- 2003: The Twins Effect
- 2003: The Medallion
- 2004: Around the World in 80 Days
- 2004: The Twins Effect II
- 2004: New Police Story
- 2004: Enter the Phoenix
- 2005: The Myth
- 2005: House of Fury
- 2006: Rob-B-Hood
- 2007: Rush Hour 3
- 2008: The Forbidden Kingdom
- 2008: Kung Fu Panda
- 2008: Wushu
- 2009: Shinjuku Incident
- 2009: The Founding of a Republic
- 2010: The Spy Next Door
- 2010: Little Big Soldier
- 2010: The Karate Kid
- 2011: Shaolin
- 2011: Kung Fu Panda II
- 2012: CZ12