Book Review : I am Jackie Chan

, in Books, Nonfiction

Jackie Chan was one of the biggest film stars in the 80's and 90's, famous for his face-paced and deliberately silly action films filled with incredible stunts. This autobiography was released in 1998 and covers his life up until his Hollywood breakthrough (Rush Hour).

I Am Jackie Chan cover
His story starts in the poorer parts of Hong Kong, where his parents ended up after fleeing the Chinese civil war. His father managed to get a job at an embassy, eventually leading to a job in Australia. Always a rambunctious child, Jackie was left behind at a Chinese Drama Academy where, under the very struct tutelage of an aged master, he spent the next decade learning the skills of Chinese opera (including acrobatics and martial arts.) There was a lot of overlap between stage performance and the Hong Kong film industry, so the move to film was natural. The book chronicles his rise (with many setbacks) through the world of stuntmen as a callow youth, eventually maturing enough to star in and produce his own brand of infectious comedies that eventually earned him fame and fortune. Roll Credits.

The book is fill with amusing photographs like this one. Who would win in fight?
sounds suspiciously like one of his movies (pretty much all of his early films, at least.) Chan tells his story with broad brush strokes and much wit, and the result is certainly an entertaining read, but I never really got the feeling that it revealed much about the man. As a young man he admits to drinking and gambling to excess, and then all of a sudden he doesn't. He finds first love, which her parents forbid. She dies years later, unmarried, and Jackie admits to secretly helping her out without her knowledge in a quick paragraph. His wife and child are briefly mentioned in a single chapter and then disappear. Part of this may be that Chan is a workaholic that is always on set, but people expecting a warts-and-all tome of introspection will be disappointed.

Nevertheless, I am Jackie Chan is an enjoyable and informative look into the Hong Kong film industry and the disappearing world of Chinese opera schools. And just like his films, the book ends with a blow-by-blow account of his worst stunt injuries - how is he still alive?

Highly recommended.