‘Cannonball Run: The Jackie Chan Story'
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 ‘Shanghai Noon’
franchises, and now the brand new movie, ‘The Tuxedo’ with Jennifer Love-Hewitt.
Taking some time out recently with, according to the Godfather of Soul himself, Mr. James Brown, 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.”
Did you worry that in ‘The Tuxedo’ that there are more special effects than normal and that might upset your true martial arts fans ? ”Not really, because that’s something that I really want to learn something about, special effects. I mean, there are so many things I always wondered, like wow, what is a special effect ? Sometimes it happens in front of my face and I just use my body, and sometimes it happens behind me and I just use my head. I knew it would be different because this movie uses special effects and the next movie I’m becoming a ghost and so I want to learn something about ghosts. Then I start a movie called ‘Around The World in 80 Days.’ I want to be a more better actor and not just have the people say, ‘oh, Jackie Chan …’ (again he imitates karate-type hands flailing in the air) People just shout out, ‘Jackie Chan’ and when they mention my name everybody move the body ! They say, ‘Jackie Chan’ and then (he again imitates a series of hand and arm swings and chops) , but nobody say, ‘Robert DeNiro’ and move their bodies around ! So, it’s time to do something new and change my style. Yes, I love my style, but I want to accept some other styles.”
Was it an easy correlation between the dancing and martial arts choreography in this movie for you ? ”No,” he replies adamantly. ”I have to remember the lyrics. The lyrics for me are the hardest to learn. Whenever I remember the lyrics I forget to dance and whenever I remember to dance I forget the lyrics ! Choreography is easy for me, I’ve been doing it for thirty years so I can talk and roll at the same time, but this was just so hard !”
Which was harder to learn for ‘The Tuxedo’ – the dancing or the special effects choreography ? ”Both,” he laughs. ”They were both difficult.”
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.”
What was it like working with the ‘Godfather of Soul’ ? ”The first day I see him I’m like, ‘wow, the Godfather of Soul,’ but he treats it like nothing, like he’s just normal guy. He’s like, ‘Hi Jackie, come one, let’s do the scene’ and then he starts teaching me the moves (Jackie now starts flailing his arms and torso in a dancing movement) and it was just three days where everyday I seem him very nice, in make-up even in rehearsal ! He had like twenty-six people with him and he would get touched up every time we stopped to do it again ! But he made sure everything was comfortable and for me, reassuring me all the time.”
Any behind-the-scenes secrets from ‘The Tuxedo’ ? ”Well, we had been in rehearsal for three weeks and I’m getting ready to shoot that weekend for the music number and they say, ‘no, we’re not singing “I Feel Good !” We changed it to “Sex Machine” ! I’m like no don’t change, but they’re like, ‘Jackie, trust me there’s a commercial and a TV show that sings that song so now we change it to “Sex Machine !” That drives me crazy,” he scowls. ”I practice it for three months in Ireland and now suddenly they change it in one week. That drives me crazy.”
The rope scene was amazing and looked to be the hardest to learn and pull off … was it ? ”Yes, it was the most difficult one for me because that scene for me drives me very crazy. The first day they shoot the silo scene they only want to shoot one way because of weather problems and I’m trying to act an American way to play in an American style. Then I choreograph all the fighting scenes in one way; for three days only the one way, so one month later I’m coming back to redo another scene on the silo ! How can I remember it ? Then we have to look at the monitor again and replay it and wonder if we did it this way or that way. And then we had to redo some of the shots and that drives me crazy to come back one month later just for this wide shot ! And then they find out that Jackie was right and I tell them, of course I’m right. You should have done it my way. If you’re talking about special effects, yes, I’ll listen to you, but if you’re talking the real action you’ve got to listen to me because I’ve been doing this for so long.”
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 start ‘Shanghai Knights’ and now after all this I start work on ‘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 !”
Your Director on ‘The Tuxedo’ (Kevin Donovan) has said that he truly didn’t think that there was another actor on the face of this earth that could have done all you did in the role … other than Jackie Chan ! Do you believe that also ? ”No, I don’t think so. I think a lot of movie stars could have done this movie.”
I hear that you were near to the World Trade Center on 9/11 considering a movie script called ‘Nosebleed’ ? ”Yeah, I went to the World Trade Center with the Director, Writer and my manager and we were being told all the tricks about the World Trade Center. But, the script wasn’t right, doesn’t look good so we’re now wondering if we should stop this film. But, somehow we got word about ‘The Tuxedo’ which seems ready. So we say okay, so we left to go and see ‘The Tuxedo’ script that same day. Now we have a choice of scripts, but I choose ‘The Tuxedo’ because I can’t afford any delays, but then the first day of shooting everybody was looking at the monitors watching what everybody was calling a ‘terrible accident.’ Then, the second ones comes in and right away you don’t know what to think anymore and then the whole day people were crying and calling.”
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 ?!’”
Any injuries to report from the set of ‘The Tuxedo’ ? ”Always there are the small things, but nothing memorable. Only the big things you remember, but when I slide out from the silo like a thirty or forty feet drop straight down, that hurt ! Your hands hurt and the leather boots you just put a hole straight through them and need a second pair.”
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
Back To Archives