My Childhood Chinese Hero: Jackie Chan

This essay is split into two parts. The first part covers the biographical essay of Jackie Chan over the years and the second part will address the main concepts of our course: globalization and the meaning of being Chinese cinema in regards to Jackie Chan and his films. Part 1 will be further broken down to discuss the different aspects of Jackie Chan’s life in details: film career, music career, martial arts practices, hollywood icon, philanthropy and his personal life.

Part 1: Over the years with Jackie Chan

1.1 Film career

As early as the age of five, Chan Kong-san, notably known as Jackie Chan by most, started his acting career. Playing small roles in Hong Kong films such as Big and Little Wong Tin Bar (1962) and The Love Eterne (1963), little Chan acted alongside famous actress Li Li-Hua.

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Fig. 1 Jackie Chan in Big and Little Wong Tin Bar (1961), his first acting role

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Fig. 2 Jackie Chain in The Love Eterne (1963), also known as Eternal Love

Chan also acted as extras in King Hu’s wuxia films such as Come Drink With Me (1966), and A Touch of Zen (1969-1971), which will later become known as classics.

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Fig. 3 Jackie Chan in Come Drink With Me (1966)

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Fig. 4 Jackie Chan in A Touch of Zen (1969-1971)

In his teenage years, he acted as extras in famous Bruce Lee films Fist of Fury (1972), and Enter the Dragon (1973), showcasing his stunt abilities.

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Vid. 1 Video of Jackie Chan talking about doing stunts in Fist of Fury (1972) with Bruce Lee

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Fig. 5 Jackie Chan as extra in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon (1973)

Jackie Chan’s first starring role in Little Tiger of Canton (1973) failed to be a commercial success and along with other failures, Jackie Chan resorted to adult film industry.

Fig. 6 Jackie Chan’s first starring role in Little Tiger of Canton (aka The Cub Tiger from Kwang Tung or Master with Cracked Finger)

However, that did not last for long after being spotted by film producer Willie Chan and director Lo Wei. Impressed by his stunt work, Lo Wei tried to mould him into the next Bruce Lee in several of his films but that did not lead to success due to the fact that Chan was not used to Bruce Lee’s fighting style. Chan’s comedic kung Fu genre was established as his own after director Yuen Woo Ping gave him freedom over his stunts in Snake in the Eagle’s shadow (1978). That led to his breakthrough after starring in Drunken Master (1978), his first official commercial success.

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Fig. 7 Jackie Chan’s Snake in the Eagle’s shadow (1978), showcasing his comedic Kung Fu genre

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Fig. 8 Jackie Chan’s breakthrough film, Drunken Master (1978)

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Vid. 2 Jackie Chan’s comedic Kung Fu style explained

He continued his success with Cantonese films before venturing out to Hollywood scene under the guidance of his manager and friend, Willie Chan. After gathering disappointments from the US market audience with his film The Big Brawl (1980) and the Protector (1985), Chan returns to Hong Kong cinema scene, where he continued his success.

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Fig. 9 Movie poster of The Big Brawl (1980), Jackie Chan’s first Hollywood film

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Fig. 10 The Protector (1985) movie poster

Author’s thoughts: From the posters above, one can’t help but notice that even the styles of the poster can be different depending on the type of target audience that they are targeting. For the Chinese posters, they are focused more on displaying the Kung Fu techniques, while the Hollywood posters focused more on the physique and the manliness of the protagonist.

Although ambitious for Hollywood breakthrough, Chan refused to take up villainous roles in fear of future typecasting. His breakthrough did come, however, when his Hong Kong film Rumble in The Bronx (1995) was released internationally and was well received by the US audience.

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Fig. 11 Rumble in the Bronx (1995) movie poster

Fig. 12 Posters for Rush Hour 1 and its sequels

He then starred alongside Chris Tucker in 1998 film Rush Hour, which is the film we are most familiar with regards to Jackie Chan. The film was a huge blockbuster success that earned multiple sequels and made Chan the Hollywood star that we recognize today.

Author’s thoughts: His films have clearly changed over the years from old traditional Kung Fu films targeted at Chinese audience, or people of Hong Kong in particular, to more modern westernized plots with elements of Chinese, South Korean, and Japanese martial arts that are more appealing to people of different cultures. These visible changes can be observed in his American-influenced films such as Police Story (1985), and Armor of God (1986).

1.2 Music career

Multitalented, Jackie Chan also showcases his vocals by singing mostly the theme songs of his films. He recorded songs in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Taiwanese, and English and released over 20 albums since 1984.

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Vid. 3 Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master 2 theme song

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Vid. 4 Jackie Chan singing Tokyo Saturday Night in Japanese

Author’s thoughts: One might be wondering the reason for the Hong Kong actor to sing in Japanese. This can be explained by the fact that even though his first venture into Hollywood failed, Chan was successful in reaching to a larger audience in East Asia, especially in Japanese market through his films The Young Master (1980) and The Dragon Lord (1982). His ability to adapt to the new conditions and the fact that he does not limit himself to particular markets have made him the actor-singer that he is today and brought about his success and fame all over the world.

He was also the performer for 2008 Beijing Olympics 2008.

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Vid. 5 Jackie Chan Singing at Beijing 2008 Olympics

1.3 Martial arts practices

In Canberra, Australia, little Chan attended China Drama Academy and excelled at martial arts and acrobatics under Master Yu Jim-yuen. Although Chinese opera school gave him flexibility and tumbling experience, his stunts only composed of rolling and gymnastic moves which are not suitable for action scenes.

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Fig. 13 Jackie Chan with his master, Yu Jim-Yuen

Chan then trained in Hapkido under grand master Jin Pal Kim, earning himself a black belt. The grandmaster is a well-known South Korean Hapkido master who also trained several well-known actors and actresses such as Angela Mao, Carter Wong, and Smo Hung. Kim himself was pursuing the acting career and noted that before Bruce Lee’s high kicking style exploded on Hong Kong screens, the martial arts cinema only consisted of Kung Fu styles: traditional Chinese weapons and animal hand techniques. After Bruce Lee popularized the more realistic looking high jump kicks, many actors who wanted to do well cinematically also had to learn the Korean style of kicks, from Taekwondo and Hapkido. Seeing the opportunity, Kim seized and opened up a Hapkido instruction school, where Chan would later come to learn his kicking techniques.

Below videos shows the similarity of Jackie Chan’s kicks to Hapkido kicks.

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Vid. 6 Jackie Chan’s kicks in his films

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Vid. 7 Video showcasing different Hapkido kicks

Chan was also exposed to other martial arts over the years, such as Karate, Judo, Taekwondo, and Jeet Kune Do.

Author’s thoughts: Although many would compare Jackie Chan to Bruce Lee, on the basic that they are both Chinese actors promoting martial arts through their films, they are the complete opposite. Jackie Chan practice comedic Kung Fu style, which the fighting scenes are more of a necessity than personal. Bruce Lee, on the other hand, portrays hardness, masculinity and invincibility. His fights are usually one-on-one and there is a meaning and purpose attached to each of his fights. Jackie Chan’s fight scenes are more well received as it softened the image of the action and make it more relatable and seem achievable.

One of Chan’s trademarks is also that he uses the materials around him as weapons rather than actual weapons while Bruce Lee tend to use actual weapons in his fights.

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Vid. 8 Jackie Chan’s funny fight scenes

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Vid. 9 Bruce Lee’s fighting scene in the Game of Death

1.4 Hollywood icon

Jackie Chan is undoubtedly an icon. From having his own action figures, video games and even his own animated show (Jackie Chan Adventures, 2000-2005), Chan is possibly the only celebrity icon that earned so many different genres of him.

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Fig. 14 Poster of Jackie Chan’s Adventure, animated series ran on Kid’s WB, Cartoon Network, and Disney channels

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Fig. 15 Video game adaptation of Chan’s movie Around the World in 80 Days

Fig. 16 Playstation games, Jackie Chan stuntmaster and Jackie Chan Adventures

Author’s thoughts: With so much success from his Rush Hour sequels and Shanghai Noon sequels, he performed extremely well in the Hollywood scene, making him world famous. With his martial arts stunt films that captured the hearts of the Hong Kong watchers, his fame is undeniably the best in Chinese cinema. When there is hardly anyone who cannot recognize Jackie Chan, it is of no doubt that people will exploit him to make merchandise of him.

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Fig. 17 Jackie Chan at Hollywood walk of fame

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Fig. 18 Jackie Chan at Hong Kong Avenue of Stars

He also received stars on Hollywood walk of fame and Hong Kong Avenue of Stars, officially recognizing him as the cultural icon.

1.5 Philanthropy

If you talk about Jackie Chan, you simply cannot ignore his generosity and his kind outlook on life. This aspect of him, reflected in his saint like image on screen, is one of the reasons that make Jackie Chan seem so likable. He is a UNICEF goodwill Ambassador, and has campaigned for various causes such as for conservation and against animal abuse. He is also an advocate for education as his Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation, founded in 1988, provides scholarships to Hong Kong youths. He also donates to many relief efforts to supply aids to nature disaster victims. He founded another organisation called Dragon’s heart foundation in 2005 to help children and elderlies in rural China.

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Fig. 19 Children under the Dragon’s heart foundation program showcasing their backpacks

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Fig. 20 Jackie Chan visiting Smile foundation community project in India

The most shocking contribution he made would be when he made the pledge to donate half of his asset to charity upon his death, following the steps of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.

1.6 Personal life

Chan is married to Joan Lin, a Taiwanese actress and had a son named Jaycee Chan with her. Jaycee Chan also grew up to be a singer-actor, following his parent’s footsteps, although his fame could never reach to the height of his father’s. Jackie Chan had an affair with Elaine Ng, an actress, who bore a daughter named Etta Ng. Etta Ng was raised by Elaine Ng without Jackie Chan.

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Fig. 19 Jackie Chan’s family

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Fig. 20 Jackie Chan (left) and Etta and Elaine Ng (right)

Author’s thoughts: Seemingly holy and saint-like in his on-screen persona, it is unimaginable that Jackie Chan would be involved in extra-marital affairs. Although public news, this fact of Jackie Chan is not well known to many. We see Jackie Chan as a heroic asexual character in many of his movies, that it is quite impossible for us to imagine him as a real person with sexual desires. This seems to tell us that cinema has the ability to influence the way we view a person, regardless of what his real personality is.

This could be one of the reasons why Propaganda films were such a favorite tool for many of the militaries during wars. And of course it is of no surprise that China government would use him as one of the celebrities to promote nationalism among people of Hong Kong, who are wary of China government’s actions after their merger.

Part 2: Globalization and the meaning of Chinese cinema

2.1 Globalisation & exploitation

Working between Hollywood and Hong Kong cinema, speaking over 8 different languages, having received education from different countries, and being famous globally, Jackie Chan is no doubt the walking and living form of globalization. He makes a living from globalization, as he jumps between countries to promote his films and spread his fame. Initially ambitious for the US market, his venture into Hollywood market has made him world famous actor from just a Hong Kong martial art stuntman. Although it may seem that Jackie Chan was the one riding on globalization for his personal interest of being famous, it can be argued that in later years, it has been the globalization that has exploited him.

With the success of Rush Hour and many of its sequels, you may think these are the favorite films of Jackie Chan. However, he has denied that assumption saying he has no liking to the movies, as he did not like the action scenes and the American humor in it. So then why did he continue to make these movies? Well, the fans demanded. When there is a fan base, it is of everyone’s interest to make the movies happen, because that will surely bring in huge revenues. And who can say no to money? So the American market exploited him and Chris Tucker for the racist comedy films that the Hollywood fans so enjoy and love. The same can be said for his film, The Forbidden Kingdom, which he acted alongside his fellow world-famous Hong Kong American actor, Jet Li. He claimed the movie was not meant for the Asian eyes but for the US audience, clearly exploiting his Asian roots and exoticism.

If you are not convinced, perhaps this pepsi commercial would make you think twice.

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Vid. 10 Pepsi commercial with Jackie Chan

So did globalization ruin Jackie Chan and his authenticity? Had it been better when his more “authentic” films such as Rumble in the Bronx and Supercop were popular among the US audience? Did the trilogy of Rush Hour and his other Hollywood films ruin his image as the Hong Kong martial arts actor? Or did he ruin himself when he ventures out into US market on his own will? One can argue in many ways but I would like to take a stand that globalization is inevitable and cannot be pinpointed as the blame factor for Jackie Chan losing his authenticity. Even if Jackie Chan did not venture out into the US market, his films would still be globalized. Starting from his martial arts, it has elements of South Korean and Japanese martial arts. Being born in British Hong Kong, he was exposed to the western culture since young age. He himself was not authentic from the start and as I mentioned above, he is the embodiment of globalization itself.

In conclusion, globalization is not as simple as East v.s. West but rather the flow of information between countries. In this day and age, it is almost impossible to find a real authentic and traditional person who has never been exposed to globalization. So who are we to say what is authentic and what is not? In my opinion, we should not be so hung up on the authenticity but rather enjoy the perks of globalization which brings about collaborations between the greatest artists that will evolve cinematic art to the new and modern media that is applicable across many cultures.

2.2 The question of being Chinese

Before we can answer the question whether Jackie Chan’s films are Chinese or not, we must first determine if he himself is a Chinese. To a non-Chinese like myself, whoever that has the Chinese ancestry is considered a Chinese. However, some might disagree. There are American Chinese, Chinese from Hong Kong, Mainlander Chinese, Taiwanese, Singaporean Chinese, and so on. And then there are dialects, that are spoken differently for many different types of Chinese. In the case of Jackie Chan, he is born in British Hong Kong, but has ancestry in Wuhu, Anhui, China. So does he identify himself as Hong Konger or a Chinese? As we know Hong Kong is greatly influenced by western culture under the British rule, and the fact that Jackie Chan is now a Hollywood star, does it still make him a Chinese actor? Jackie Chan also sings in Japanese, English, Taiwanese, Cantonese, and Mandarin, does it still make him a Chinese entertainer?

Fig. 21 Jackie Chan’s film posters over the years

In my definition, Jackie Chan is a Chinese but he is a global singer-actor. He is Chinese in race and ethnicity, but as a celebrity, he is global. And as an extension of that, the films that he acts in, especially now that he is a global star, is no longer considered solely Chinese or Hong Kong films. Even if the films are targeted at Hong Kong audiences, non-Hong Kong viewers who are fans of him will still watch these films, thus globalizing such films.

On a different perspective, the production companies or the directors that approach Jackie Chan will also see his potential on a global market and will only offer him projects that will reach out to a larger audience, and as such, one way or another, the films will be targeting audiences across cultures and will no longer be purely Hong Kong or Chinese.

In my conclusion, Jackie Chan’s films, although it may used to be, can no longer be purely Hong Kong or Chinese films but rather belonging to the global market.

Word Count: 2885 words

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**Disclaimer: I am a year 2 student from Nanyang Technological University, creating this article for an assignment for my course CS8009. I have no intention to offend anyone in particular. 

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