The Book of the Week is “I Am Jackie Chan” by Jackie Chan, published in 1998. This is the autobiography of Jackie Chan, a kung fu movie stuntman.
Born in April 1954 to parents who worked as household help in a foreign embassy in Hong Kong, Chan was frequently subjected to cruel physical punishment by his father. When he was about seven years old, unable to sit still in a formal classroom, he was sent to China Drama Academy, a boarding school. There, approximately fifty kids of all ages were taught kung fu, and for a fleeting time, basic academic subjects by a series of tutors. When Chan left the school after ten years, the kids numbered about thirty, due to attrition. Discipline was meted out with the painful striking of a cane on the hands by the master for even minor infractions. The master’s senior underlings were into bullying.
After leaving the Academy, Chan had difficult periods in his life as a young adult, involving a romantic subplot, poverty, more bullying, and dangerous physical work, among other adventures. He spoke no English. He could take jobs that required minimal literacy, but those were all menial, with no chance for growth. Formal education was not for him. He came to the realization that his career options were extremely limited because the only marketable skill he possessed was as a stuntman.
Much later, during the making of the movie, “Rush Hour” Chan writes, “Three insurance guys were standing around the director… It took several hours for them to rig padded mats so that they’d catch me if I fell… ” It took a while for Chan to get used to the hassles associated with litigious American culture.
The making of Hollywood’s movies cost many times more than Chan’s Hong Kong movies. Many American producers spared no expense whenever they needed props or equipment but stuck to a strict shooting schedule, which meant reluctance to re-shoot scenes that weren’t perfect. Chan’s culture in Hong Kong was the opposite. He would resourcefully use whatever props or equipment were on hand and re-shoot a scene innumerable times to get it perfect with no insurance, no… “private jets, no mansions, no luxurious trailers, no fancy food.”
Read the book to learn how Chan separated his identity from that of Bruce Lee, and became a director, producer, film editor and stuntman in his own movies.