Jackie Chan ('Shanghai Knights')
”Cold Days, Hot Knights!”
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; 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 but at aged seven was enrolled by his father at the Peking Opera School, operated by Shu Master Yu Jan-Yuen. He would never return to academic education.
His father then 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. Soon Jackie's mother left to join Charles in Australia leaving Jackie to be adopted by the single-minded Master of the Peking Opera School.
At age eight, Jackie 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.
After leaving school Jackie's extraordinary athleticism and inventive stunt-work quickly brought him a lead role, in ‘Master With Cracked Fingers.’ 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 Connection’ and ‘Enter The Dragon.’ When Lee died though, in 1973, the path was open and Jackie was at the forefront. But nothing quite fell into place.
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 of Jackie Chan. Returning to Hong Kong, he signed up as lead actor in Lo Wei's film company where their first film attempt was to make him the new Bruce Lee, with the rather obviously titled ‘New Fist of Fury.’ 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 unutilized 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. Things now got a bit messy between Jackie, Lo Wei and the Triads, so he was sent to the US to make ‘The Big Brawl’, 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 in such movies as 1985's ‘The Protector,’ ‘Police Story’ (which spawned three sequels), ‘Armour Of God,’ and, amongst others 1994's ‘Drunken Master 2,’ ‘Rumble In The Bronx,’ the hilarious ‘Rush Hour’ and ‘The Tuxedo,’ and now the follow-up to ’Shanghai Noon,’ ….. ’Shanghai Knights’.
Taking some time out recently with, according to the Godfather of Soul himself, Mr. James Brown, (on the set of ’The Tuxedo’) the “hardest working actor that I’ve ever seen,” I first wondered how it had been growing up with three different names ! ”When I lived in Hong Kong my name was Chan Kong-sang. When I live in Australia with my parents my nickname was ‘Pao,’ but it’s not like the English word ‘Pao.’ It’s a cannonball because I was born twelve and a half-pound. So, because I worked in the American Embassy with the American Army, everybody thinks my name is ‘Pao.’ Then, when I had to move to Australia and be with my parents I have to go to school and start my English and so my first teacher asked me Chan Kong-sang, ‘what is your name ?’ And I was like, I don’t have a name and so they said, ‘ok, we’ll call you Steve.’ So, I agree, and then everybody in the American Embassy call me ‘Pao’ at night at Steve during the day ! Then later on I find out that just every day going to school not enough and so I try and help my parents. So, I find a job on a construction site and so the guy there asks me my name and I was like, I don’t know. I don’t really know what’s my name ? So, he calls me Jack; so working I am Jack, at night I’m Steve and at home I’m ‘Pao,’” he laughs. ”But I didn’t care ‘cause in the end it doesn’t mean anything to me. Somehow when I go back to Hong Kong a few months later I meet an English man who tells me ‘Jack Chan’ is no good so I put on a ‘y’: Jacky Chan. But then when I have been in Hong Kong for a while people would then say, ‘y’ is no good and I should change it to ‘ie’ ! So, well, I’m Chinese and we believe in Feng Shui, but I don’t believe in it, but my boss, he believed in it. Then, after I changed it to ‘ie’ then my career became big so maybe it was all worth it after all,” he smiles
Was your time spent at the Peking Opera School hard on you ?”Yes, it was very disciplined. You’d get up at five o-clock, put on your shoes and make sure everything was facing the right way around your bed: just like the Army. But the Army wouldn’t punish you the way these people did ! If there was a grain of rice on the table, ‘pow’ (he now makes his first of many animated hand movements – this time reflecting a rap to the knuckles from a stick !) and if one fell on the floor, ‘pow’ (more animation) another slap would hit you ! I hated them sometimes, ‘cause every day in the morning when the teacher come in you’re just shaking. You start shaking ! Then, it would be one thousand sit-ups, then stop, then push-ups another five hundred, stop. It was very disciplined. Too disciplined, I think !”
Was Chris Tucker very disciplined in the ‘Rush Hour’ movies ? ”Chris Tucker has no discipline,” he laughs. ”He has no discipline, he thinks he’s just the star. Look at my son,” he suddenly exclaims tangentially. ”One shoe’s in the kitchen and one shoe’s in the dining room ! I’ve been telling him for eighteen years put the shoes together, but he never listens. But, if they can let me belt-strap him he would never forget ! My son, wearing new socks every day walking in the garden because he never wash his own socks ! A lot of young children are missing on discipline. They don’t care.”
Did you have to change your acting style to accommodate an American public ? ”Yes, I did have to change it. After I make ‘Rush Hour’ I was thinking what kind of movie I want to do next: an acting movie, a comedy ? I don’t understand that movie though,” he shrugs sheepishly yet truthfully informs about ‘Rush Hour.’ ”I not really met Chris Tucker and I was hiding in the trailer and on the set I was very confused at times. When he speaks the dialogue he not follow the script which makes it funny to me, but then the movie comes out and I am very surprised ‘cause I think the movie will bomb ! Then, everybody shouting out my name and wanting me ! Then we started ‘Rush Hour 2’ and then ‘Shanghai Noon,’ and they are filled with American jokes. See, I have to make two movies a year: one for each market. One for the Asian market and one for over here, because in ‘Rush Hour’ I say ‘What’s up my n****rs’ and the whole theatre over there would be … (now he crosses his arms with a confused, non-plused expression on his face) but when we showed the movie in Mann’s Chinese Theatre in LA the people were just like ‘ha, ha, ha’ ! All this will help me succeed in the American market but not the Asian market.”
Tell me more about the story line of ’Shanghai Knights’ ” I start from China again, where my sister and father have some problems. You know, in all the scripts I’m always from China, yet I'm from Hong Kong! I cannot be born in the U.S, my English is not that good yet. Not like ’Big Brawl’ twenty years ago! Now I'm ABC: American Born Chinese. My kind of English, how can I not be anything else?! Wrong script is what I say, but now they have to say I'm from China. Anyway, my sister comes to Carson City looking for me to help my father. Then I know Owen Wilson in New York. I have to go to New York. I thought he was rich but he's just cheating people. I'm helping him and then we take the boat to England and to Ireland and then we start the story. It's a fun story,” he smiles broadly.
It seems that your movies are so popular that they spawn sequels like there’s no tomorrow ! Is there one planned already for the ‘Shanghai’ franchise ?! ”Well, we’re talking about another one, yes. We’ll call it, so we think right now, ‘Shanghai Dawn,’ but I can’t say any more about it. There should also be ‘Rush Hour 3’ coming next year (2004) again with Chris Tucker and possibly even a ‘Drunken Master III,’” he nods, winks and smiles at me all at the same time!
What are you memories of working as a stuntman on such notable films as both ‘Fist of Fury’ and ‘Enter the Dragon’ with Bruce Lee ? ”It was exciting seeing Bruce Lee on the set. To meet this superstar. He’s so far away sometimes I just wave, (he motions a wave with his hands) like if he were across the street I would just wave. When he became a superstar he was like a King, ‘cause everything he say people did around him. Suddenly I’m picked for the action scene with him and so I get in there and pow, one stick right to my face. I almost fainted, but I just finished my shot quietly until cut. And then Bruce Lee turn around and say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ He didn’t really know my name, but he kept saying sorry. And I had this bruise around my face but I took the pain because that’s what I was getting paid for,” he laughs. ”The next day I think he’s feeling sorry for me though ‘cause he’s asks me to do the simple shots ! But then the scenes get more physical and suddenly I’m going through a window by myself: in just one shot ! He then asks me if I’m okay and I just lay there and tell him, ‘yeah, I’m okay,’” he fakely grimaces through clenched teeth. ”Then I see him on the street and he asks me where I’m going and I tell him bowling and he asks me if he can come with me. So I say yes and so now all I can think is, wow, I have Bruce Lee with me and I’m in a Bowling Alley ! But he didn’t want to play he was just watching me and some games later he said, ‘Jackie, I gotta go’ and I remember his face at that time as he turned around. I kept asking myself why he came with me that time to the Bowling Alley. I can remember his brown shows this high (he notes with his hands apart) and bell-bottom khaki pants and that was the last time that I saw him when he turned around, because three days later he died.”
On the set of ‘The Tuxedo’ James Brown called you the “hardest working actor that he’d ever seen” … do YOU believe this of yourself ?! ”Yes, that’s true,” he laughs loudly a huge smile on his face. ”For the last fifteen years I’ve almost worked non-stop. I mean, as soon as I finished ‘Accidental Spy’ in Turkey I start ‘Rush Hour 2.’ I then finish the movie and the next day I fly to Ireland for ‘Highbinders’ which we film for only one month and then we start filming ‘The Tuxedo.’ Then after that I fly back to do more work on ‘Highbinders’ and as soon as that is finished I fly to Prague and we started ‘Shanghai Knights’ and then after all this I’m just finishing up ‘Around The World 80 Days.’ And then I fly to Hong Kong to talk to them about my next film !”
How long do you think you can seriously keep going at that pace ? ”As long as I can. Sometimes I think how long I can stay doing it in America, but I don’t know. How long do American audiences like to see my movies, I don’t know. I just do the best I can. I’ve been very lucky in the film business, doing it for forty years now. In Asia, I think I’m almost the longest successful people that is still at the top. Sometimes I even look in the mirror and say, ‘Jackie, you’re really lucky,” he smiles broadly. ”But, I’m old in Asia and new in America and so still have to do the rounds for promoting the movies. And I hate promotion. I hate it. I hate all the travel. Every city, city by city. I’d rather stay here, the whole day, yes. Twenty hours straight through, but now, we’ve got to fly again. It’s exhausting !”
With regard all your injuries, would you say the cracked skull now held together with a steel plate incurred on the set of ‘Armour of God’ was the worst so far ? ”It was a very painful injury and I really feel that I am dying. But I’m still standing up finishing the whole shot. I remember pow and then I just get up, but always it hurt. But I look at the cameraman who ask me if I’m okay and all I ask them is, ‘did you get the shot ?!’”
Would you classify yourself as a sex symbol ? ”No, I think movies is my job so I have to make good movies and make sure they’re a success. If making a movie I can make happier people, that’s a great place to be. Everything good for society I will do and if the girls say that I’m sexy I say ‘thank you’ ! But if they say I’m not a sex symbol it doesn’t matter I’ll remain an ambassador and a role model by making movies. There are some movies I don’t like to make; the ones that are too violent or too dirty … no, no, no. I do something that I really like to do. Something clean that children can go see it and there is not even one person smoking in the movies: not even the bad guy ! If I can help in society and help the children by doing this kind of thing I hope that through the movie I can educate people.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
To win an Exclusive 'Shanghai Knights' Baseball Cap AND a 'Shanghai Knights' CD Soundtrack just tell me the English name of the 1997 film that Jackie starred in that translates from 'Yatgo ho yan' ? Then, just send an e:mail to me with the subject title 'SHANGHAI' and the answer in the text to:
Back To Archives