Jackie Chan was born in 1954, the son of a poor couple who had just come to Hong Kong from the Province of Shandong, China. When he was born, his parents could barely raise the money for the hospital bill, and were almost forced to adopt him out to the delivering doctor. His parents tried very hard to raise money to pay the hospital bill and took Jackie, their only child, home. They named him Chan Kong-sang, which means “born in Hong Kong”, to celebrate their safe arrival in Hong Kong.
The family lived in the French Embassy for a while because Jackie’s father worked as a cook there and his mother as a housekeeper. Jackie did not like school so much and he left after finishing Primary One. When Jackie was seven years old, his father was hired as chief chef in the American Embassy in Australia and went there to improve the family’s financial status. At the age of seven, Jackie’s life changed direction as he studied at the Chinese Drama Academy, studying and working 19 hours a day under the famous Chinese Opera Master, Yu Jim-Yuen.
The students practiced Kung Fu, stunts, flips and somersaults, and helped with cleaning and washing up. Jackie was named Yuen Lou by his Master. Together with six other pupils whose names also had the same prefix “Yuen” – Yuen Lung (Samo Hung), Yuen Tai, Yuen Wah, Yuen Mo, Yuen Kwai and Yuen Biao – they were chosen for the leading role in an Opera called Seven Little Fortunes. From then on, Jackie and his “Yuen” brothers were referred to as the Seven Little Fortunes and often staged public performances at the then Laiyuen Amusement Park and other venues.
At the time, Chinese Opera was declining. Their “Si-fu” (meaning teacher) started to loan the Seven Little Fortunes and the other kids out as stuntmen in films. Then at the age of 17, Jackie left the Drama Academy and became Jackie the fearless stuntman, undertaking many dangerous assignments in Shaw Brothers Film Company. Jackie then met with old friend Samo Hung, who referred jobs to him. At the same time Hung signed a contract with Golden Harvest to provide them with stuntmen.
This was Jackie’s introduction to Golden Harvest. He was soon doing stunts for the famous 1971 Bruce Lee movies “Fist of Fury” and “Enter the Dragon”. When Jackie returned from Australia, he met Willie Chan. Willie invited him to be the leading actor in a new film. Willie was then General Manager of the newly founded company run by Lo Wei, the popular film director known as the “Millionaire Director”. Lo Wei wanted to model Jackie on Bruce Lee and changed his name to Shing Lung, meaning ‘become a dragon’.
This has remained Jackie Chan’s Chinese name. In the 1976 movie “New Fist of Fury”, Jackie imitated Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, Bruce Lee’s style didn’t suit Jackie so it wasn’t surprising that the movie was a disaster. Lo Wei, however, kept on filming the same genre of films including “Shaolin Wooden Men,” “Killer Meteor” and “Magnificent Bodyguard. ” Unfortunately the box office showed no improvement, and Jackie became a box office disaster with no film distributors willing or daring to release his films.
In “Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin” (1978) with his good friend Chan Chi-Wah directing, Jackie had more freedom to develop the character and have input into the film’s fighting scenes. One of his innovations was to use household utensils as fighting tools. In 1978, Jackie was loaned to Seasonal Films, owned by Ng See-Yuen, and cast in the film “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. ” In an unexpected turn, the film established Jackie’s popular and unique style of acting, and was well received by audiences.
Jackie became famous when “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow“ went a different way than other kung fu movies at that time by mixing a big amount of humour to the plot. His opponent Hwang Jang Lee was a tremendous kicker … as Jackie found out when he kicked out one of his teeth (accidentally) while they were making this film. Also while he was shooting a fight scene, his arm was accidentally slashed by a sword that should have had a blunted edge. Blood went everywhere, and Jackie fell down screaming … and the camera kept rolling! That’s real pain you see in the movie!