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A brief history: Jackie Chan

Who doesn’t like Jackie Chan? Have you viewed one or two of his movies? Considering there are over 100 Jackie Chan movies out there and that he’s considered somewhat of a cultural icon I’m sure you have. With his thrilling stunts combined with a comedic fighting style he pioneered and perfected, it’s hard not to love him. I’m recognizable with the Hollywood Jackie Chan flicks and can say I was a casual fan, but now I’m being immersed in the vast sea of his Asian movies and I’m astounded. My curiosity had been effectively piqued and I went on a mission to know about this guy you just can’t help but like. I’m so amazed at what I’ve learned I’m going to share it with you.

Young Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan was born Chan Kong-sang in the Victoria District of Hong Kong on April 7, 1954. Reports state he was in his mother’s womb for 12 months and weighed in at a whopping 12 pounds when was finally surgically birthed. His parents aptly nicknamed him Paopao for “Cannonball” as he spent a great deal of his childhood rolling around. Jackie Chan’s parents are Charles and Lee-Lee Chan. Both were survivors of the Hong Kong Civil War and had meager careers. Charles worked as a cook for the French Embassador to Hong Kong and Lee-Lee was a housekeeper. Jackie was an energetic “naughty” little boy, living up to his insightful nickname.

Jackie’s Education @ Peking Opera School

By the time he was attending the Nah-Hwa primary school on Hong Kong Island, he was marching to the beat of his own drummer, spending his journey money on food and fighting with other boys on the way home. Jackie ended up not passing his Primary 1 and when his fellow classmates moved on to the next grade in 1960, Jackie’s father contracted his son, at the age of 7, instead to the Peking Opera School run by Shu Master Yu Jan-Yuen. It proved to be a very wise and insightful decision. This is where the boy who would be called “Jackie Chan” found his calling although at that tender age he was unaware of it. All he knew was that he saw some boys his own era engaging in sword and stick play, tumbling and doing somersaults and wanted to join in. As a result, he never returned to an academic education. He was plunged into the Opera. Even though Jackie can now speak 7 languages he still struggles with reading and writing skills, and requires assistance with his scripts.
His education with the Peking Opera Schoolwasn’t fun and games. It proved to be exhausting. From 5 am to as late as midnight, the children skilled in martial arts, music and acrobatics. One of the conditions of their contracts was that the debt for their room and board would be repaid by performing and performances were predictable to be flawless. Mercy wasn’t often shown and the exercises were brutal. Sometimes headstands were required for hours at a time. Canings and food deprivation were the punishments for mistakes, and a fault made by one meant punishment for all. Jackie, then known as Yuen Lo and bearing the family name of his sifu, later was quoted saying in a 2008 interview:
"It was really arduous, we hardly had enough to eat, enough clothes to keep warm, training was extremely tiring, and Master could cane us anytime!"
Samo Hung, another eminent Asian actor and classmate known then as Yuen Lung, was quoted:
" that time, majority of the people in Hong Kongwere poor. It was equally gruelling whichever profession you were in. We were considered fortunate. Our Master was an exceptional person, and he adopted Jackie Chan as his son, and doted on him the most. Our Master took in many disciples, but he didn't take a single cent from us, and even slept on the floor together with us."
The Peking OperaSchool turned out many successes in the Hong Kong film industry during the 1950s and 1960s under the tutelage of Master Yu Jan Yuen.
With Jackie engrossed in his training, his father Charles emigrated to Canberra, Australia, where he served as Head Cook for the American Embassy. Eventually Lee-Lee joined her husband leaving Jackie to factually be adopted by his Master who doted on him like a son. As a result, Jackie earned the nickname “Double Boy.” The pressures of being his sifu’s “son” put twice the pressure on Jackie. He trained twice as hard and exhibited twice the spirit of the other boys. Unfortunately, he was also punished twice as hard.

The Seven Little Fortunes

He became a part of the troupe known as The Seven Little lucks consisting of up to 14 members. Performances were done by only 7 at a time. This was a traveling performance group consisting of the most capable members of the Opera. They could be as young as 7 or 8 years of age. The troupe performed for both domestic and western audiences and also as extras for the film studios.
This is where Jackie began his more than 30 year association with the talented Samo Hung and Yuen Biao. The Three Brothers, as they came to call themselves, formed a remarkably synchronized action-comedy trio and performed in "Wheels on Meals" (1983) and "Dragons Forever" (1988), both directed by Hung, and the Jackie Chan-directed classic "Project A" (1983), although Jackie appear in his very first movie at the tender age of 8 in 1962 called “Big and Little Wong Tin Bar”.

Where Jackie Chan Got the Name

During his life in Australia, after leaving Hong Kong and his flagging movie career, Jackie worked in a restaurant and on a construction site. It was on the construction site that Jackie met a man named Jack who had a terrible time uttering his name, Kong-Sang. Jack began calling Jackie “little Jackie” which ultimately became just “Jackie” and the name stuck. unluckily, Jackie didn’t care much for his life in Australia. The construction work was a bore. Finally salvation came in the way of a telegram from Willie Chan who worked in the Hong Kongfilm industry. He wanted Jackie to work on a new movie. Willie had seen Jackie’s stunt work in the past and never forgot him. They spoke on the phone and Jackie found himself returning to Hong Kongin 1976. Willie would become his best friend and manager, and still is to this day. “Jackie Chan” was officially born.

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