Jackie Chan (成龍) is arguably one the most recognisable and influential cinematic personalities in the entertainment industry. No doubt thanks in large to his fast-paced action movies that are often infused with his genius dose of slapstick comedy.
However, behind the scenes is a different story altogether.
First published in Chinese back in 2015, “Never Grow Up” – Jackie’s confessional memoir has now received an English-language treatment courtesy of Singaporean translator Jeremy Tiang. The book delves into the icon’s glory days of his action-packed career but also his dark past.
“I was pleasantly surprised by how frank and open this book is. Though there was a co-writer involved, it felt as if Jackie Chan was speaking very much from the heart, and coming clean about even the less noble aspects of himself and his past. Chan is clearly a complicated person, and this book will allow fans to learn about aspects of his personality they may not have previously been aware of,” Tiang was quoted as saying.
“Never Grow Up” reveals Jackie’s previous encounter with prostitutes and gambling dens, struggles with alcohol, family drama, and more. For starters, Jackie (real name Chan Kong-sang) was born on 7th April 1954, in Hong Kong, weighing a hefty 5.4kg. His dad worked as a cook at the French consulate while his mum earned a living as a maid.
As a kid, Jackie only received minimal formal education as emphasis was given on martial arts. At age 17, he worked in the Hong Kong film industry as a stuntman. His big break came when a filmmaker wanted someone who could “vault a high balcony railing, fall with his back to the ground, flip in mid-air, and land steadily before continuing his fight”.
At the time, kung fu films were dominated by Bruce Lee. In order to craft his own path, Jackie knew he had to play to his unique strengths. “Bruce Lee would scream and roar while fighting in order to demonstrate his power and rage, but I prefer to cry out and pull faces. Bruce Lee is superhuman in the audience’s eyes, but I just want to be a regular guy. I want to play ordinary, flawed people who sometimes despair. They aren’t heroes; there are things they can’t do,” he recalled.
Here are 5 more shocking revelations from Jackie’s memoir – in his own words:
1. Overspending his fortune
“For a while, as I adjusted to my fame, I had a big chip on my shoulder. When I was a lowly martial artist, I’d often walk by the Peninsula Hotel and gaze in the window and feel small, like I didn’t deserve to set foot in there.
“One day I took HK$500,000 in cash and brought my entire stunt team to (media mogul) Albert Yeung’s watch emporium… I strutted in and said, ‘Show me your top 10 watches. Are those the most expensive? With the most diamonds? Good, I’ll take 7 of them. No need to wrap them. I’ll wear them out. And I’ll pay cash!’ And with that, I turned and walked out. 7 watches, one for every day of the week.”
2. Drinking problems
“Going out and drinking every night did start to erode my professionalism. I went through a phase that was known as ‘1 before lunch, 1 after lunch.’
“If I was called to the studio at 7 in the morning, I’d arrive at noon […] I’d show up in dark glasses, looking listless. Why the dark glasses? To hide the fact that my face was puffy from a night of drinking.
“I drove drunk all the time. In the morning I’d crash my Porsche, then in the evening I’d total a Mercedes-Benz. All day long, I went around in a haze.”
3. His favourite prostitute
“Even though I made next to nothing, I spent all my wages on drinking, gambling, and girls. We all did.
“I remember the first time I went to a club. I was shy but acted like a big man, anyway. The girl who served me – I knew her as Number Nine – was beautiful, with a sweet personality. On my second visit, I simply asked, ‘Is Number 9 here?’ And that’s how it was every time after that.
“Every night, Number 9 and I would squeeze into her dingy little cubicle, the low ceiling right above us. The room wasn’t soundproof either, and we could hear pretty much everything around us, clear as crystal. There were times when I’d notice people trying to peep through the cracks in the door at us. Yet this little cubicle seemed like paradise to me.”
4. Domestic violence
“(After an argument with his wife Joan Lin Feng-jiao, she) was on the sofa, laughing and chatting with a female friend. That made me angry […] Just as I was about to say something to her, (son) Jaycee ran in, his hands pointed at me like guns, shouting ‘Bang! Bang!’ like he was shooting me to avenge his mother. Then he snatched the keys out my hand and threw them on the floor. When I bent down to pick them up, he kicked my hand away! I was furious.
“I picked him up with one hand and flung him across the room, and he crashed into the sofa.”
5. His affair with actress and former Miss Asia Elaine Ng
“In 1999, I made a serious mistake.
“When the news broke about an affair I’d had that resulted in a child, the media frenzy was like a bomb going off. I wanted to phone Joan but I didn’t know what to say. I wouldn’t be able to explain this.”
Joan cried while Jaycee stared at him, but they eventually forgave him. The book, however, completely avoids mentioning anything about his love child with Elaine – Etta Ng, who recently got married.
The English version of “Never Grow Up” debuts today.