Jackie Chan lives. By his own count, the Hong Kong-born actor has worked on more than 200 movies in his 50-plus-year career. He’s also made millions of dollars in the process of becoming one of the most famous stars in the world, living an offscreen life worthy of its own film treatment. While diehard Chan fans probably know all the ins and outs of his storied five decades in the film industry, those mostly familiar with the actor from his appearances in blockbuster American films like Rush Hour are missing out on a lot of the action.
And, believe it or not, many of the juiciest tidbits don’t even involve punching, kicking or falling off of stuff. The multiple Guinness World Record holder/part-time fish trainer is a complex personality with a fascinating backstory and a diverse set of talents, who just so happens to be really great at punching, kicking, and falling off of stuff.
Here are 16 Things You Never Knew About Jackie Chan.
16. He Won an Oscar
As two-time Oscar winner and five-time nominee Tom Hanks noted last November when presenting Chan with an honorary Academy Award for his contributions to the film industry, the Academy doesn’t often pay honors to the comedy or martial arts genres. So it may come as a surprise to many to learn that Chan has a little golden mantlepiece of his very own, especially since the Oscar was presented to him at the annual Governors Awards, a ceremony months removed from the big night.
Receiving the award, the actor, who Hanks dubbed “Chantastic,” said he’d dreamed of having an Oscar for more than two decades — ever since he first laid eyes on one at his friend Sylvester Stallone’s house. Since Sly himself has been snubbed by the Academy twice in acting categories, Chan must’ve been eying the Best Picture Oscar for Rocky (1977). Either that, or he was talking about seeing Stallone’s Oscar (1991), which has a 13-percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
15. He’s Broken So Many Bones
Chan famously does many of his own stunts, but the spectacular action scenes often come at a high price for the actor, who has been frequently injured on-set. “Every movie I make, I have to risk my life to make it better,” Chan once said. A promotional poster for his 2012 movie Chinese Zodiac resembles a diagram from a medical textbook, charting all the serious injuries the actor had incurred while filming movies up to that point in his career. Some of the most cringe-worthy crackups include: multiple broken noses, cervical spine damage from a 25-meter fall, broken breastbone, broken fingers, damaged superciliary (eyebrow) bone almost resulting in blindness, and tailbone damage resulting in temporary partial paralysis.
He probably came closest to death attempting what he called a “simple” stunt: jumping from a wall into a tree for Armour of God (1986). In his book, I Am Jackie Chan, he describes falling on the rocky ground after missing the tree: “A piece of my skull cracked and shot up into my brain, and blood poured from my ears … there’s a permanent hole in my head now, with a plastic plug there to keep my brains in.” There’s no questioning this guy’s toughness.
14. He Was a Child Actor
Rumble in the Bronx (1995) is generally regarded as Chan’s cinematic breakthrough for American audiences, and 1978’s Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow is known as the movie that first established his signature style, combining martial arts action with slapstick comedy, but Chan’s first film role came much earlier, as an unnamed “Kid” in Big and Little Wong Tin Bar. The 1962 film, thought to be lost completely until a copy of it appeared on YouTube last year, is mostly known today as Chan’s acting debut.
Chan also played a similarly unidentified “kid” in the Shaw Brothers classic Come Drink With Me (1966) a film much better known for its place in martial arts movie history than for its uncredited Chan cameo. Director King Hu’s revolutionary film is noted for popularizing many staples of the wuxia genre, including a drunk martial arts master, something Chan would later employ to great effect in Drunken Master (1978) and The Legend of Drunken Master (1994), after several more years of uncredited extra work.
13. He Made Movies With Bruce Lee and Burt Reynolds
Two other uncredited parts eventually played key roles in Chan’s career: As a martial arts student in The Chinese Connection (1972) and a prisoner in Enter the Dragon (1973), he worked as an extra and a stuntman under the legendary Bruce Lee. Chan recalls Lee accidentally hitting him harder than expected during a fight scene in Enter the Dragon, and using the mishap to get sympathy and extra attention from the superstar. Oddly enough, the deceptively named Bruce Lee and I (1973), which also features an uncredited cameo by Chan, has little more of Lee himself. Director Ti Tang, capitalizing on Lee’s popularity, edited behind-the-scenes footage of the actor into a fight scene without his permission.
Though Chan has never appeared in a film with the ubiquitous Kevin Bacon, the two actors can be linked through Burt Reynolds, because Chan, in an early Hollywood outing, played a minor role in Cannonball Run (1981). Credited as Subaru Driver #1, the proudly Chinese actor was reportedly upset to learn that his character was identified as Japanese throughout the film.
12. He Can Sing
As a student at a small and extremely strict performing arts boarding school run by a retired Peking Opera star in the early 1960s, Chan learned not just kung fu, but acrobatics, dancing, and singing. Starting with “Kung Fu Fighting Man” – which plays over the closing credits of his 1980 film The Young Master – Chan began putting his musical training to use, singing the theme songs for many of his films.
The Hong Kong Police used “Hero Story,” his theme for Police Story (1985), in recruitment ads in the 1990s, and Disney has also made use of Chan’s vocal talents in the Chinese releases of Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Mulan (1998). In 2008, Chan was asked to perform “We Are Ready,” the theme song for the Summer Olympics in Beijing, at the event’s closing ceremony. And perhaps the most memorable scene in 2016’s Skiptrace finds the actor leading a Mongolian village in a rendition of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”
11. He’s a Fashion Designer
Chan’s most characteristic fashion accessory is probably the cast disguised as a shoe he wore to finish shooting Rumble in the Bronx with a broken ankle, but the actor has an entire line of clothing and accessories bearing his name. Many of the items sold by JC Design are casual and athletic wear – sweatshirts, T-shirts, socks and underwear – featuring simple logos or just the words “Jackie Chan” emblazoned across them, but more stylish items like jackets, watches, and long-sleeve button-downs embellished with dragons, deer, and Chinese characters are also available.
According to the website, “All of Jackie Chan Design’s products are designed exclusively by Mr. Jackie Chan. … Whether for lifestyle or fashion, Jackie is involved in every step of the design process to ensure that all products satisfy his strict requirements for style, durability, safety, value and quality.” And, unlike most celebrity clothing lines, JC Design features a “Stunt Sports Collection” that includes padded pants, shirts, and belts.
10. He’s a Cartoon and Video Game Character
Chan has also licensed his name and image to several different video game companies, beginning with 1984’s Project A, based on the movie of the same name and produced by Pony Canyon for the MSX, a home computing system sold primarily in Japan. A sequel and adaptations of Police Story and The Protector followed. Spartan X – released as a tie-in with the film more commonly known in the West as Wheels on Meals – was released in U.S. arcades as Kung-Fu Master and on the Nintendo Entertainment System as Kung-Fu. Jackie Chan’s Action Kung-Fu followed on the NES and TurboGrafx-16, and Jackie Chan’s Stuntmaster for PlayStation was designed based on direct input from the actor. J-Mat Fitness allowed players to run and jump on a Dance Dance Revolution-style floor pad, anticipating Wii Fit by two years.
Though Chan’s voiceover talents appear in animated films such as the upcoming LEGO Ninjago Movie and the Kung Fu Panda franchise, the actor ironically only lends limited contributions to the series Jackie Chan Adventures, leaving the bulk of the part of “Jackie Chan” to voice actor James Sie.
9. He Feuded With Gangsters (in Real Life)
Chan has faced off against nearly any imaginable form of cinematic baddies during his five-decade-long career, but in a 2012 interview with the South China Morning Post, Chan described having real-life difficulties with members of China’s notorious organized criminals the Triads, who Chan said attempted to intimidate him and other Hong Kong actors. “I was at dinner once when more than 20 people with watermelon machetes surrounded me,” Chan said. “I had three guns with me and told them that they had gone too far.” The actor also described gang members opening fire on him as he was exiting an airplane, and said he was ultimately forced to confront them with “two guns and six grenades.”
Following the publication of the interview, Hong Kong Police announced they were investigating to determine whether Chan had violated weapons laws, which require a license to own a firearm, but eventually announced they’d dropped the investigation, citing a lack of evidence. Good news for Chan, considering such an offense is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
8. He Loves Buster Keaton
“I wanted to be like a Chaplin or Buster Keaton,” Chan told The New York Times in 1996, “but all the martial arts directors I worked with wanted me to copy Bruce Lee.” Chan said he developed his signature slapstick style in direct response to Lee’s more serious and graceful fighting. “When Bruce Lee yowled, I’d punch doing a funny face like it hurt. Whatever Bruce Lee did, I’d do the opposite.” Chan’s films contain many direct homages to iconic stunts from silent-era films by Keaton, Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd, and it’s easy to see why Chan would identify with the stars.
Keaton, too, sustained on-set injuries – including a fractured neck suffered during the filming of the classic Sherlock, Jr. (1924), an injury he didn’t find out about until he underwent a routine medical exam several years later. In Project A, Chan recreates a stunt from Lloyd’s Safety Last! (1923), which required Lloyd to dangle from a ledge above Los Angeles traffic, a feat all the more dangerous because Lloyd lost two fingers during a previous shoot. “They didn’t have protection–elbow pads, knee pads or special effects computers,” Chan explained, “that’s why I learned everything from them.”
7. He’s a Philanthropist
In 2006, Forbes called Chan “Philanthropy’s Hardest Working Man,” highlighting his work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and other charities and commending his generosity with both his time and his money. “Others may give more or get more attention, but probably nobody works harder for more causes than Chan,” the magazine reported. The Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation, launched in 1988, originally offered scholarships to Hong Kong youth, but has since broadened its scope to provide medical services and aid to the victims of natural disasters. After the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, Chan donated more than $1.3 million to relief efforts, and following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the actor organized a benefit concert that raised approximately $3.4 million.
Encouraged by the efforts of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, Chan has pledged to will at least half of his estate to charity upon his death. “When I give somebody something and see their face, it just makes me so happy,” the actor said.
6. He’s Caused Political Controversy
Much like Chan’s Rush Hour co-star Chris Tucker, Time magazine columnist Austin Ramzy struggled to understand the words coming out of Chan’s mouth following a statement the actor made while sitting on a panel at the 2009 Boao Forum for Asia. “I’m not sure if it’s good to have freedom or not,” Chan reportedly told the audience. “If you’re too free, you’re like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic…We Chinese need to be controlled. If we’re not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want.” In response, Ramzy wrote: “It’s tough to figure out what he’s talking about, since he doesn’t explain what he means by ‘chaotic.‘”
Pro-democracy Hong Kong legislators were more certain in their reactions. Leung Kwok-hung said, “He’s insulted the Chinese people. Chinese people aren’t pets.” Albert Ho called Chan’s comments “racist.” Chan incited ire again in 2012 when he criticized Hong Kong for becoming a “city of protest” suggesting that, “The authorities should stipulate what issues people can protest over.” A 2013 Washington Post op-ed decried Chan’s “anti-Americanism” after he told a Chinese TV interviewer that the U.S. is the “most corrupt” country in the world.
5. He (Usually) Doesn’t Play Villains
In Demolition Man (1993), Sandra Bullock’s character Lenina Huxley says she learned martial arts from watching Jackie Chan movies. Reportedly, Sylvester Stallone, the film’s protagonist, originally lobbied for his friend Chan to play the role of the violent sociopath Simon Phoenix, but the iconic part went to Wesley Snipes after Chan refused to play an evil character.
Other than the minor roles he took as nameless thugs opposite Bruce Lee and a few others in his early career, Chan has only played a villain once. As the “Gang Leader” in 1973’s Police Woman, Chan antagonizes a cab driver (Charlie Chin) in possession of incriminating evidence until the driver’s sister, the titular female police officer (Qiu Yuen) comes to her brother’s defense. Chan’s role is primarily notable because the film was later renamed Rumble in Hong Kong in an effort to capitalize on the actor’s success in the U.S., and the video box art features Chan as though he’s the main character. Shinjuku Incident (2009) features Chan as a dramatic antihero, and though it could not be released in China because of its graphic violence, it’s about the closest he’s strayed from being an onscreen hero since.
4. His Parents Deserve Their Own Movie
According to filmmaker Mabel Cheung’s documentary Traces of a Dragon (2003), Chan’s father, Fang Daolang, was a gangland boss and a spy for Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party in the 1930s and ’40s. Chan’s mother, Lee-lee, meanwhile, was a gambler and opium smuggler known as “Third Sister” in the Shanghai underworld. The two reportedly met when Fang – working as an anti-Communist intelligence officer – arrested Lee-lee for running drugs by the docks, but took pity on the mother of two and let her go. Chan’s parents later fled to Hong Kong, where they lived considerably more comfortable lives under different names.
While this all sounds like the plot of an action film, Cheung explains that Chan’s parents’ struggle to survive during this turbulent point in history is typical of the difficult decisions people faced in the violent lead-up to World War II – a tragic time when a civil war and a Japanese invasion caused mass death and poverty. “Every single Chinese family has a story more or less like this,” she explains.
3. The “Jackie Chan” Curse
As one of the most recognizable movie stars in the world, Chan is often hired as a commercial spokesperson, and he has appeared in advertisements for health and beauty products, automobiles, appliances, food, and anti-virus software. Chan’s popularity, however, doesn’t seem to translate to automatic success for these companies. Last year, some Chinese news outlets began to speculate that the opposite was closer to the truth, reporting that many of the products he endorsed failed in highly visible ways and suggesting the actor’s blessing might actually be a “curse.”
Some examples of “cursed” businesses include: a shampoo company whose stock prices plummeted 96% after reports surfaced that its product contained a carcinogen, a compact-disc manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy and had a manager jailed for fraud, a frozen-food company that had disease-causing bacteria in its dumplings, an auto-repair school hit by a diploma scandal, and an air-conditioner that sold poorly following reports that one of the units exploded. A newspaper editorial on the “curse” called Chan “A man who can destroy anything.”
2. He Made an Adult Film
“I had to do anything I could to make a living 31 years ago,” Chan said in 2006 – a less-than-glowing recommendation of 1975’s All in the Family, the Archie Bunker-less adult film in which Chan strips down to play the role of Little Tang, the rickshaw driver. “The porn movie at that time was more conservative than the current films,” Chan said of the movie, which would not be considered pornographic by today’s standards, and is also notable in the actor’s filmography for its lack of action scenes.
Described as a “comedy”, All in the Family is remembered today almost exclusively for the fact that it contains Chan in an extremely rare sex scene, a sight not seen again until 2009’s banned-in-China Shinjuku Incident. The historical epic 1911 (2011) was also rumored to feature the actor in a steamy bedroom scene, but the shots were cut from the film before its release.
1. He Doesn’t Like Rush Hour
The Rush Hour films have made more than $500 million at box offices worldwide, and even many critics seemed to enjoy the first film in the series, calling it a “glossy blend of amiable comedy and beautifully choreographed action” and a “good-natured comedy … set off by the high spirits of its stars.” One person who didn’t enjoy the film, however, was Jackie Chan himself. “When we finished filming, I felt very disappointed because it was a movie I didn’t appreciate and I did not like the action scenes involved,” Chan wrote in a blog entry quoted by the Associated Press.
Not surprisingly, Chan seemed no happier with the critically panned Rush Hour 3, writing, “Nothing particularly exciting stood out that made this movie special for me…I spent four months making this film and I still don’t fully understand the humor.” The one “irresistible” element that kept the actor returning to the franchise, he wrote, was the money being offered.
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