When you think about jobs that require you to risk life and limb, the dangerous vocations that come to mind may be along the lines of fireman, soldier or fighter pilot. Certainly not actors. After all, what could be dangerous about smiling or crying in front of a camera? Jackie Chan, however, is a different kettle of fish.
Born Chan Kong-Sang, Jackie Chan has been making movies since the 1960s and is so well known that there is a slew of pop culture references (including an internet meme) in his name. Besides being an international action star, he’s also a martial arts expert, director, producer and singer.
Jackie began his acting career in Hong Kong as a child actor, with a small role in a movie when he was not yet 10 years of age. He appeared in a few more movies as an extra or in small roles. At 17, he worked as a stuntman in a couple of Bruce Lee’s films. (He was one of the adversaries that Bruce Lee beat up in Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon.) His impressive stunt work soon caught the attention of Hong Kong movie directors, who were hoping to shape him into the next Bruce Lee. It soon became obvious, however, that Jackie’s style was nothing like Bruce’s. His next few movies were not successful, and in the early 1970s, he had trouble finding work both as an actor and a stuntman.
Change came about in 1978, when a certain director gave free rein to Jackie to choreograph his own stunt work. And so began the comedic kung fu genre that Jackie became globally renowned for. Using his own refreshing style in his next starring movie, Drunken Master, Jackie finally found mainstream success.
His success in East Asia paved the way for a move to Hollywood, where he gained a following with Rumble in the Bronx. His big Hollywood break came when he co-starred with Chris Tucker in the buddy cop action comedy Rush Hour, which became a huge blockbuster success, catapulting Jackie to worldwide fame and legitimate action movie star status.
World’s most injured actor
You probably know that Jackie performs all his own stunts. You’ve likely heard that he sustained some injuries along the way. But we bet you don’t know the extent and amount of his injuries.
There are few areas of his bodies that have not been injured, with one website stating that he has taken more damage than any other actor in history. And get this: Jackie Chan is actually un-insurable. In a world where Jennifer Lopez insured her butt and David Beckham his legs for millions of dollars, insurance companies have refused to insure Jackie Chan. His Guinness World Record for “Most Stunts by a Living Actor” states that no insurance company will underwrite him in movies in which he performs all his own stunts. According to some probability calculating programmes, Jackie should have died 47 times by now.
A large part of his appeal stems from the aforementioned comedic kung fu style, and this style lends itself well to certain kinds of movie characters. Jackie likes to play characters that are inherently good (he never plays villains); an ordinary, slightly bumbling man caught in difficult circumstances who has to use his wits and skills to save the day. Unlike the serious, gritty, largely invulnerable action heroes, Jackie often plays characters who get tired, who show fear, and who sometimes plain don’t want to fight.
The comedic kung fu style he developed also makes him accessible to a wide swath of audience. Instead of the stern, dour-faced kung fu master who uses sleek, deadly weapons, we get a seemingly unassuming regular Joe who grabs any object at hand – from frying pans to cement mixers to children (yes, children) – and uses them as weapons, often with a solid dose of hilarity.
It’s this brand of fighting that his audiences love. Moreover, he makes it look easy, even fun.
Truth is, it is far from easy.
In the course of kicking butt in his movies, he has sustained a painfully broad range of injuries. He has fallen from ladders, escalators and trees. He has been hit by cars, rickshaws, even a helicopter. One could make a documentary movie just cataloguing his injuries. There actually exists a poster that lists all of Jackie’s major injuries over the years.
In one of his movies, his tailbone was hit so hard that it caused temporary paralysis. In Drunken Master, his eyebrow bone was damaged, almost causing blindness. He has broken his nose during the filming of four different movies. He’s had his tooth knocked out. His lip was lacerated. He dislocated both shoulders. He broke his breastbone and a number of finger bones. He damaged his knee and ankle. He has dislocated his cheek bone and pelvis. His thighs have been crushed between two vehicles. He almost drowned. And that’s not even the full list.
In his 1985 film, Police Story, the climactic fight scene took place in an actual shopping mall. Jackie had to slide down a pole that was four-stories high and wrapped with Christmas lights. However, the Christmas lights were made of glass and were not replaced with safer ‘stunt’ lights. And they were still plugged into wall sockets. To make matters worse, there was inadequate padding at the bottom of the pole.
When Jackie slid down the pole, his hands received second-degree electrical burns and were slashed by the glass lights. When he landed at the bottom, he cracked his seventh and eighth thoracic vertebrae and dislocated his pelvis.
One of his most serious injuries, when he came closest to death, was from a relatively simple stunt in Armour of God that involved jumping from a wall to a tree branch. He did it the first time flawlessly, but didn’t like the shot and wanted to do it again. It was during this second try that he missed the branch and fell 40 feet to the ground. “I fell past the tree and hit the rocky ground head first. A piece of my skull cracked and shoved up into my brain. Blood was pouring from my ears. I had emergency brain surgery and recovered from it, but there’s a permanent hole in my head now with a plastic plug to keep my brains in,” Jackie reportedly said.
Why does he take such dangerous risks? According to Jackie, getting injured or having near-death experiences is “part of the job”.
Mr Nice Guy
Being 62 years of age, Jackie has finally decided to slow down, transitioning into more dramatic roles that require fewer stunts. In November last year, after 56 years in the film industry and having made around 200 movies, he was awarded an honorary Oscar for his decades of work.
In 2015, Forbes estimated his net worth to be US$350 million. One could say that he has paid his dues with more than his fair share of broken bones and debilitating injuries.
Beyond his work in the film business, Jackie is also quite the philanthropist. In each of his businesses (he owns restaurants and his own line of clothing, among others) a percentage of the profits goes to various charities. He is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has championed for wildlife? conservation, against animal abuse and raised funds for disaster relief efforts.
He has also been incredibly generous with those he considers his friends. In his early days before he found fame and fortune, he gave a member of his stunt team enough money to put a down payment on a house. He gifted another colleague with a new car. Another old team member reminisced that, when outdoors in winter, Jackie saw that he was feeling cold and he (Jackie) took off his jacket and gave it to his friend, even though Jackie was wearing only an undershirt beneath.
Jackie Chan is a captivating entertainer and an all-round nice guy. He is also incredibly fit and has been for his whole life. His generosity, philanthropy and work ethic are qualities to be admired and emulated. However, as a responsible, respectable health magazine, we would advise you, dear reader, to NOT emulate his death-defying stunts and intricate fight scenes. Enjoy his movies, laugh at his antics, but the take-home message for all of us mere mortals is: Do not try this at home. Actually, do not try this anywhere!