Long before computer effects helped keep leading actors safe during stunts, Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan achieved international acclaim by putting his body and life at risk—often for multiple takes. Films like The Legend of the Drunken Master and Police Story showcased Chan’s willingness to endure traumatic injury for his comedic ballets of violence. Here are a few things you might not have known about the man who seems to have the cinema DNA of both Bruce Lee and Charlie Chaplin.
1. HIS MOTHER WAS AN OPIUM SMUGGLER.
Born Chan Kong-sang in 1954, Chan’s early life has been the subject of much discussion. His parents left him behind in Hong Kong when Chan was just seven years old: They fled a Communist regime and settled in Australia, working for the American Embassy. Chan lived at a boarding school that emphasized performance arts. Only in more recent years did Chan discover more about his parents. His father, Fang Daolang, was involved in illicit criminal activities and may have been a Nationalist spy; his mother had once been arrested for smuggling opium and had connections to the Shanghai underworld. Chan reunited with his father in 2003. His mother passed away in 2001.
2. HIS SCHOOL EDUCATION WAS GRUELING.
Enrolled at boarding school from ages seven to 17, Chan was subjected to some of the most physically and emotionally grueling training imaginable. The Chinese Opera Research Institute in Hong Kong put its students through arduous training to prepare them for a career in theater, including singing, dancing, and martial arts. Some days, Chan said, lessons would last 19 hours. By the time Chan graduated, however, ending up in Peking opera was unlikely. Instead, Chan turned his skills to martial arts films.
3. HE WENT FULL-FRONTAL FOR AN ADULT MOVIE.
Virtually all of Chan’s films treat violence with a comedic bent, and few have any excessive gore or content that would make them unsuitable for general audiences. But Chan does have one entry on his resume that probably wouldn’t qualify for family movie night. In 1975, Chan appeared in All in the Family, a Hong Kong softcore feature that starred a prominent adult film actress and featured Chan naked, albeit not engaged in any sexual activity. “I had to do anything I could to make a living 31 years ago,” he said in 2006 of his reasons for making the film, “but I don’t think it’s a big deal. Even Marlon Brando used to be exposed in his movies. The porn movie at that time was more conservative than the current films.”
4. HE TOOK BRUCE LEE BOWLING.
Early in Chan’s career, he made brief appearances in two Bruce Lee films: 1972’s The Chinese Connection and 1973’s Enter the Dragon. Months later, Chan was headed to a bowling alley when Lee spotted him in the street and asked to join him. Chan agreed, and the two played while Chan kept busy rebuffing autograph-seekers eager to get to Lee. Just about 10 days later, Lee would be dead of cerebral edema at age 32. “I was totally shocked,” Chan said.
5. HE SOMETIMES USES STUNTMEN—FOR WALKING SCENES.
While Chan is willing and able to perform his own stunts, that doesn’t mean he’s put stuntmen completely out of business. In 2013, Chan told Yahoo! that stunt performers are sometimes used as stand-ins for his movies when scenes require his character to walk around, drive, or perform other menial tasks so Chan can rest. The actor also said he has stuntmen perform stunt tests so he has an idea of what to expect when he steps in front of the camera.
6. HE THOUGHT RUSH HOUR WAS TERRIBLE.
Though Chan experienced some success as a cult movie figure thanks to re-releases of his earlier movies in the 1990s, his big American break came as a result of 1998’s Rush Hour, which paired him with Chris Tucker. With limited opportunity to do his own stunts and the film relying on the culture clash between his character and Tucker’s, Chan didn’t really understand the appeal. “That’s a terrible movie,” he remembered telling his manager. “They don’t allow me to do my own style [of action]. The English, I’m not good. Chris Tucker’s English, I don’t understand. Terrible movie!”
7. HE HAD AN ARMED STANDOFF WITH THE TRIAD GANG.
Chan’s celebrity in Hong Kong has led to considerable wealth: His stature and fortune eventually led to him crossing paths with the notorious Triad gang in China. According to Time, Chan has said he has frequently been harassed by the criminal organization over the years, including one instance where members shot at him as he deboarded a plane. Tired of the conflict, Chan claimed he once confronted them with a gun and had grenades ready for a more explosive standoff. Because firearms carry heavy criminal penalties in Hong Kong, authorities contacted Chan after he told the story. After Chan told them the incident took place out of the region, they declined to pursue the matter further.
8. HE LIKES ASKING CELEBRITIES TO POSE WITH HIS TWO STUFFED PANDAS.
In 2010, Chan visited a Build-a-Bear Workshop in London and constructed two stuffed panda bears that he named Chan La and Chan Zy. The actor is fond of traveling with them and asking fellow performers to pose with them for photos. His pandas have met Ang Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, and Bill Clinton. The two also escorted him to the Academy Awards in 2017.
9. HE OWNED A SEGWAY DEALERSHIP.
Excited by the clean-transportation potential of the Segway scooter, Chan opened a dealership in 2006 and secured distribution rights to peddle the product throughout Asia. The actor wanted to promote a low-emission vehicle, though it was a pricey option: The retail cost of the Segway at the time in the U.S. was $5000. In China, it went for $10,000.
10. HE HAS A PERMANENT HOLE IN HIS HEAD.
Considering Chan’s prolific stunt career, it’s slightly amazing he’s still with us. But he had a very close brush with death shooting 1986’s Armour of God. Describing the action as “simple,” Chan swung from a tree and hit his head on a rock, necessitating a surgically-inserted metal plate and a permanent, quarter-sized indentation in his skull. Chan will sometimes invite people, like co-stars or talk show hosts, to stick their fingers in it.
11. HE HOLDS THE GUINNESS WORLD RECORD FOR MOST CREDITS ON A MOVIE.
Chan often directs, produces, and stars in his Hong Kong films, but some projects have inspired him to take on additional responsibilities. For 2012’s Chinese Zodiac, Chan earned a Guinness World Record for most credits (15) in a single film. In addition to directing, producing, and acting, he is also credited as fight choreographer, composer, art director, unit production manager, gaffer, theme tune vocalist, writer, cinematographer, stuntman, prop work, and catering coordinator.