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I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action Books

1 rating: 3.0
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1 review about I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action Books

Enter the Chan!

  • Jul 17, 2005
Pros: Here's the disclaimer: JACKIE'S A PRO. KIDS, DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME.

Cons: Character development and action do NOT mix! I guess it's gotta be there, though.

The Bottom Line: Anyone who can go through all those stunts and fights and still look pretty is worth a read.

The title just says everything, doesn’t it? I am Jackie Chan. That makes it quick, to the point, and very easy to understand. Then the subtitle, which reads “My Life in Action.” Well, there you go! Who better to write about a life in action? The cover only adds to that perception, with a photo of Chan - not even trying to present an image that makes it look like he’s “deep,” whatever that means - holding up both of his thumbs. Needless to say, the autobiography of the world’s greatest action superstar plays out like most of his movies: There may be a few moments in which Chan gets you to sympathize, but those are few because it revolves around action - fast, hard-hitting, a lot of fun, and most importantly, keeping the guff to a minimum to make for maximum readability.

There’s very little about Chan’s personal life listed in here. Nope, we just wouldn’t want to read about that, now would we? Jackie Chan on marriage and fatherhood? No thanks, not unless his wife and son turned out to be a couple of cartoonish, cheesy, faceless villains from one of his movies. So he keeps the information in I am Jackie Chan strictly professional, revolving around the various obstacles of his career. Granted, he talks a little about the bad things he did as an arrogant movie stuntman banging around in the seedier corners of Hong Kong, and he says he was stupid for doing things like that. But he doesn’t dwell on his apologies. Instead, he just says a couple of paragraphs about them, calls himself an idiot, and goes on about his life like he never even had any bad habits to get rid of.

In the grand tradition of real life being stranger than fiction, we get to learn some unexpected things about Jackie. First of all, he wasn’t trained in the fashion western folk like myself think of when we think of hard training. Chan was never trained to be a martial arts superstar. He was trained in the traditional ways of Chinese opera performers, and he actually pulled in income for his school for years by performing in Chinese operas with his classmates. Chan could have spent his life going on as a faceless stuntman, because his stardom, like that of so many others, was just a result of being in the right place at the right time. This being the case, reading I am Jackie Chan will also give you a small bit of insight into the popularization of the Chinese movie industry in general, especially the martial arts movies that have become so popular across the world and made Chan the big name he is. Chan talks about the Shaw Brothers studios, about the rise of the Golden Harvest company which made a star of Bruce Lee (who Chan worked with as a stuntman in The Chinese Connection and Enter the Dragon), and how he got his first shots at lead roles as an actor for Lo Wei, the same director who “directed” Lee. Finally, Chan goes into detail about why his ideas made him a star.

Some of the best and most interesting anecdotes in I am Jackie Chan come at the expense of Lo Wei. There’s a reason I put the word “directed” in quotation marks in the last paragraph. Despite being the first millionaire director in China, Wei’s reputation portrayed him as more of a guy who couldn’t care less about his movies and was only in it for the money and the women. While there’s never a point in I am Jackie Chan in which you’ll feel his pain (and considering some of the injuries he’s had while performing his own stunts, I really don’t particularly want to feel his pain), you definitely think his frustration in dealing with this egomaniac is justified. Anyone who’s ever seen one of Chan’s movies knows that Chan would never be able to pull off playing a Bruce Lee-like character. However, if one rule is unwritten in show biz, it’s “if it worked the first time, keep doing it.” Lo Wei was quite keen on sticking to what made him a millionaire. Furthermore, he was also a hardcore gambler who would tune in to the local race track while scenes were being shot, and he was known for falling asleep on the set. John Woo he certainly was not, and if Bruce Lee wasn’t the star of his movies AND the one who was really running things on Lo’s sets, Wei’s future in the Chinese movie business probably would have depended on family members begging his superiors.

Now Bruce Lee, according to Chan, was a different breed entirely. Lee was fiery and ambitious, and not afraid of going after what he wanted. However, he was never an egomaniac, and he always treated those who worked under him with respect. Chan says, in a nutshell, that Bruce Lee became Bruce Lee because he wanted to. Chan takes the tone that, while he has no desire to be or be remembered as the next Bruce Lee, he hopes to be remembered as the same type of person Lee was. Unfortunately, when Chan gets first shows up on the movie star radar, everyone keeps saying he’ll make everyone forget about Bruce Lee, or is the next Bruce Lee. Not something Chan ever wanted.

I am Jackie Chan is not divided into sections, but it feels like it is at times. It seems to take place in several sections: First is the innocent childhood in Hong Kong, the second is is being sent off to the Chinese opera school, the next is his early days as a stuntman, then we get a section about Jackie Chan the struggling movie star before Jackie Chan finally making Snake in Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, and coming to grips with his new life as a full-blown movie star. But even then, the divisions are blurred because Chan talks about so much in each of those non-sections. He talks about his first love, the adventures he had with his opera brothers during opera performances, his life in Australia after giving up his pursuits, and how he got into hot water as a habitual gambler in the Kowloon section of Hong Kong. He talks about meeting his best friend Willie, and after the two of them meet, Willie becomes something like what you would get if you combined a stereotypical Hollywood agent with Yoda. He’s obviously an important figure in Chan’s life and career, as is another popular Asian Kung Fu superstar, Samo Hung. Hung recently received his 15 minutes in the States as the star of the TV series Martial Law, and he’s a popular actor and director in China. He’s a graduate of the same opera school as Chan - in fact, he was Chan’s most hated bully before they teamed up in cinema.

Something any fan of Jackie Chan will appreciate is the list of appendixes in the back of the book. Chan was writing for his fans, and he knew it, so he decided to give them lists of the fights and stunts he thought were his best, some of his injuries, and a filmography. One would conclude, from reading the list, that he thinks he did his best work in the eighties.

Some of the most interesting reading in I am Jackie Chan is when Jackie talks about the differences between Chinese action movies and American action cinema. One familiar with both knows there’s a clear distinction, but Chan even talks about the film making techniques. While American directors will spend 20 days on dialogue and three days shooting action, the Chinese like to do it the other way around. The Chinese also have to use equipment that’s inferior to American equipment, with budgets that Ridley Scott or James Cameron would find unthinkably low. Yet, they still come up with amazing, well-choreographed action sequences which hold their own against any high-priced idiocy photographed by Michael Bay.

Chan ain’t Hemingway. But really, who would want him to be? Jackie Chan is Jackie Chan, damnit, and his writing style is completely fitting for the kind of person he is, or at least the kind of person he presents us with. There’s very little swearing, and the sentences are all kept nice and simple. Hey, we wouldn’t want Chan’s brain to rot so he wouldn’t be able to produce great fight scenes and stunts because he spent his creativity trying to do something he wasn’t meant to do, right?

At one point, Jackie Chan muses over what would have happened if he wasn’t sent to the opera school for being a poor student and badly behaved. He says he could have been the world’s most famous doctor instead of the world’s most famous patient. But oh well. He is what he is, and we love his for it. Besides, how many doctors would willingly jump off a building in the name of entertainment? Or rather, how many could?


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