Jackie Chan has done a lot of insane, death-baiting stunts in movies. He’d fallen from a clock tower, slid down a 21-story skyscraper, jumped down a multi-story vertical pole decked with Christmas lights, and dangled mid-air from a rope ladder off a chopper.
No offence, Daredevil, JC is the man without fear. But Chan is afraid of one thing: needles. Yes, needles. Which is funny considering the number of times he’d been hospitalised for the injuries sustained in the abovementioned stunts. That is one of many fascinating revelations in Chan’s memoir Never Grow Up, which is translated into English from the Chinese version that came out a few years ago.
In the book, Chan, 64, reflects on his days of being wild and reckless, old lovers, parenting skills, co-stars, fans, and encounters with Hollywood royalty. It also includes contributions by Zhu Mo, a longtime friend of Chan's. Closer to home, there’s a chapter devoted to the four Chinese antique buildings he donated to NTU. Here, we pick out five interesting anecdotes.
1/ He went by many names before settling on Jackie.
Chan was born Chan Kong-Sang and when he enrolled at the China Drama Academy (where he was part of the Lucky Seven troupe), he was named Yuen Lo. When he lived in Australia with his parents, his English teacher called him Steven, presumably because she had a tough time Chan’s real name.
And back at the American consulate where Chan’s parents worked, he was known as Paul because his parents’ nickname for him, Ah Pau (or Cannonball in Cantonese), sounded like Paul. When he was working as a cement pourer, his supervisor called him Jack, even though that was the name of the driver that dropped Chan off at the site.
Anyhoo, Chan stuck with Jack but didn’t like the way Jack Chan sounded, so Jack became Jacky. Later, Raymond Chow, his boss at Golden Harvest, suggested that Jacky be spelt with ‘ie’ because “it scanned better on a movie poster”.
2/ He wasn’t a good boyfriend to Taiwanese songbird Teresa Teng.
In the chapter ‘The Fling’, Chan recounts his brief romance with the late singer whom he met in the US while filming 1980’s The Big Brawl. It was a relationship that was doomed from the start, he admits. She was too much of an uptown girl for a downtown boy like him to handle, and his “deep insecurities” got in the way of their love.
“Although I loved spending time with her and was in awe of her talent, I knew there were problems. Right from the beginning, our personalities were very different, and we were unable to meet each other halfway,” Chan says. “Or, to put it another way, she was too good for me.”
They went their separate ways one night when she visited Chan during a script meeting. Chan let her sit by herself in a corner and ignored her for more than an hour. She eventually left and called Chan later.
Says Jackie: “I answered it and heard her voice. ‘Jackie, it looks like you don’t need me, so you should just hang out with your guys,’ she said and hung up. The next day, she called again and said she’d left something for me at the hotel reception desk. I went back after work and picked up the package from the concierge. It was a cassette tape of her singing ‘Return My Love to Me’. Some lyrics: ‘I was never in your heart, return my love to me.’”
3/ He called a family meeting to apologise for his affair.
In the chapter ‘Love of My Life’, Chan reminisces on how he met his wife Taiwanese actress Joan Lin Fengjiao and how they dealt with his affair with one-time Hongkong beauty queen Elaine Ng. Neither Ng nor their love child Etta is mentioned by name in the book.
Shortly after news of his affair broke, a remorseful Chan returned home to an unwelcoming wife and son Jaycee. It was during dinner time that he found a way to break the uncomfortable silence.
“I said, ‘Let’s have a family meeting for the first time in all these years.’” he says. “They waited for me to continue. ‘I’ve made an unforgivable mistake, and I don’t know how I can explain it, so I won’t. Thank you for your understanding and forgiveness. I know you’re under a lot of pressure now and will be for a while. I want to apologise to you both.’
"After I’d said my piece, Joan started crying. Jaycee glared at me and patted his mom on the back. I didn’t ask for their forgiveness again, so I just muttered, ‘Okay, meeting over,’ stood up, and said, ‘Now let’s have dinner.’”
4/ Steven Spielberg asked him for an autograph.
Actually, the ‘Berg was asking it for his son when the two met for the first time. (Chan never mentioned when that took place but it might've been in the late ‘90s; they later collaborated on the 2002 action-comedy The Tuxedo.)
Chan says, “We naturally fell silent as I signed, and I felt the moment was a little awkward. My brain whirred as I frantically tried to think of a conversation topic. When I was done, I asked him about the special effects for ET and Jurassic Park.
“‘How did you make it look so real, people and dinosaurs side by side?’
“He said, ‘Oh, that’s simple, I just keep pushing buttons — button, button, button. What about your films? How did you do all those dangerous stunts, jumping off rooftops and over cliffs?’
“I said, ‘Oh, that’s even simpler. It’s just rolling, action, jump, cut, hospital!’”
5/ Fann Wong wasn’t Chan’s first choice for Shanghai Knights.
In the chapter ‘Costars’, Chan explains why he likes to hire newcomers in his movies because he doesn’t “want the hassle of working with divas”. On 2003’s Shanghai Knights, Chan wanted a fresh face to be his co-star — he wanted Hongkong singer Faye Wong.
Recalls Zhu Mo, “[Chan] told the assistant director, ‘She’s very famous, and she sings well. She’s just like the character in the script. Her English name is Faye Wong.’" The problem is, the AD — “a foreigner” — misheard Chan and hired Fann Wong instead because her name sounded similar to Faye Wong.
On the day Fann met Chan for the first time, Zhu Mo writes: “They spoke for a few minutes, and then he went back into the trailer. Jackie called for the AD and said to him, ‘That’s not Faye Wong! That’s not who I wanted.’”
“What should we do?” the AD asked Chan. Chan replied, “It’s fine, no problem; we’ll just have her play the part.”
Never Grow Up is available at Kinokuniya in paperback ($32.10) and hardcopy ($40.05).
Photos: TPG News/Click Photos, Warner Bros