Jackie Chan is probably the most well-known Asian actor working today, and he has a pretty incredible legacy. From his early martial arts films to his eventual break into Hollywood, his reputation as one of the world’s foremost stunt performers is assured. His off-screen life is just as fascinating, filled with amusing, staggering and sometimes utterly unbelievable tales. Here are 20 of the best.
20. His father was a spy for the Chinese Nationalists
Chan was born in 1954 to Lee-Lee and Charles Chan, but the circumstances were far from ordinary. Charles, his father, was an orderly for a Nationalist general at 20, and ended up working as a secret agent during the Second Sino-Japanese War. When the Communists took over, he was forced to go into hiding.
19. His mother was an opium smuggler
Chan’s mother and father actually met when he arrested her for drug trafficking. Indeed, Lee-Lee Chan smuggled opium to get by after moving from Wuhan to Shanghai. Charles caught her concealing it during a port inspection, but ended up taking pity on her. The rest, as they say, is history.
18. He has his own stunt team
To say that Chan is a good stunt performer is a stark understatement. But did you know he even has his own stunt team? The aptly-named Jackie Chan Stunt Team has been active since 1976, and members are contracted for individual films, so it almost operates like an agency.
17. He almost died during a shoot in Yugoslavia
It’s no secret that Chan has been injured countless times during shoots, but one accident nearly cost him his life. While in Yugoslavia shooting Armour of God, Chan was tasked with jumping from a wall onto a tree. He missed, smacking his head hard on the ground below and firing a skull fragment into his brain. Ouch!
16. The actors who work with him have to wear padding
It’s hard not to wonder how much actual contact happens during Chan’s infamous fight scenes. In fact, it’s a lot, so Chan makes sure the actors he works with wear special padding. This extra protection stops them from getting hurt when he’s jabbing away at them.
15. He’s also in the music business
In the West we know Chan as an actor, but in China he has a reputation for singing as well. In fact, he’s been releasing albums there since 1984. To date, he’s produced more than 20, and sung on over 100 different tracks in as many as five different languages. Is there anything he can’t do?
14. He once got someone else’s tooth embedded in his hand
In the early days, Chan supplemented his income by working as a nightclub bouncer. After one incident, he spent several days trying to push a protruding bone back into his knuckle, only to find that it was actually somebody else’s tooth. Gross!
13. He has a plastic plug in his skull
Remember that accident that nearly killed Chan during the Armour of God shooting? Well, he may have survived, but he also has a permanent reminder in the form of a plastic plug in his skull, covering the hole that was made. As a result of the accident, he also has partial hearing loss in his right ear.
12. He’s a world record holder
In 2012 Chan was awarded with not one, but two Guinness World Records. He has the most credits in a single film of any actor, and he has more stunts under his (black) belt than any other actor alive today. Indeed, he has a whopping 15 different credits in the film Chinese Zodiac, four more than the previous record holder, director Robert Rodriguez.
11. “Jackie” is actually a nickname
Jackie Chan’s given name is actually Kong-sang. He picked up the anglicized “Jackie” while he was working on a construction site in Australia. In fact, another builder called Jack took a shine to him, earning him the moniker “Little Jack,” which in turn was shortened to “Jackie.”
10. He used to carry a lot of weaponry
Being an actor in Hong Kong used to be far from safe. Performers were often menaced by triad gangs and Chan was no exception. One time he was even shot at when he stepped off a plane, and after that he took matters into his own hands. He carried gunshe and even grenades in a bid to ward the gangsters off.
9. He trains fish to do tricks
Training dogs to perform tricks on command is impressive enough, but fish? Come on now. Remarkably, Chan has managed to train catfish and koi carp to “roll over” on command, as demonstrated in a video which appeared on his official website.
8. He once broke 12 concrete blocks with his hand
Breaking blocks is a popular demonstration of precision and control among martial artists, one which Chan used to build his way to top. On one TV show he broke 12 concrete blocks with his bare hand, and he did it while holding an egg. Incredibly, the egg remained intact after the stunt.
7. He jumped from a plane onto a hot air balloon
Once again, this happened during the Armour of God shoot. Chan was supposed to leap from a cliff face onto a hot air balloon, but instead he skydived from a plane and shot the cliff jump separately. He was wired for that, but the plane jump was aided by nothing but gravity.
6. He speaks eight different languages
Many Hong Kong residents have to know at least two languages, but, astoundingly, Chan knows eight. As well as English, Mandarin and Cantonese, he speaks some German, Thai, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. He’s also fluent in American Sign Language.
5. Bruce Lee once hit him
Bruce Lee is Chan’s hero, and they actually once worked together. Chan was a stunt performer in Enter the Dragon and during the shoot Lee accidentally cracked Chan on the head. Lee’s desire to make up for the accident gave Chan the chance to actually get some one-on-one time with the Hong Kong legend.
4. He sang in the Chinese version of Disney’s Mulan
As well as his impressive back catalogue of albums, Chan has sang on film soundtracks. In particular, he sang the Chinese version of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Disney’s Mulan. The original version was recorded by Donny Osmond.
3. He was almost sold as a baby
When Chan was born, he parents were severely impoverished. In fact, they were so destitute that they couldn’t even afford the hospital bill for his delivery. As a result, he was nearly sold off to a British physician to cover the cost of the birth.
2. There’s a detailed diagram of all his previous injuries
Chan’s reputation as a talented stuntman is only matched by his reputation for getting damaged on the job. He uses it to his advantage, though, often including outtakes of stunts in the end credits of his films. And, in 2012, he used his mishaps to promote CZ12. Indeed, a diagram of all his past injuries (and the films during which he acquired them) was incorporated into the film’s poster.
1. He can catch a fly without even looking
Famously in The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi is seen catching flies with chopsticks. Chan was clearly the perfect choice to play him in the 2010 remake, as actor Jason Isaacs once recounted that he saw Chan catch a fly in his hand on the set of The Tuxedo. Then, just to make the point, he did it a second time without even looking.