Jackie Chan is known as many things: martial artist, director and producer, philanthropist, goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, paid endorser for scores of products, and even a Guinness World Record holder for “Most Stunts by a Living Actor.” Now we can add “partially open book” to his list of titles.
In his new autobiography, “Jackie Chan: Never Grow Up, Only Get Older,” published in April in Chinese, the Hong Kong actor discussed his vulnerabilities, struggles and dreams. We combed through the text to bring you 10 revelations, plus one topic he’s still not ready to talk about publicly.
1. He says he’s seen so many beautiful women that he’s numb to them.
“I actually was very popular among girls ever since I was young. After I became a stuntman, I would go to nightclubs with my senior fellow apprentice,” Chan says in the book. After becoming rich and famous in his 20s, “girls would come to me like butterflies. Actually I’ve been numb after so many years. I have seen too many beautiful girls, Chinese or foreign. Now I don’t think anyone is particularly beautiful.”
2. When he got rich, he really didn’t know what to do.
Although Chan is known for being an philanthropist, he was once a nouveau riche who didn’t know how to deal with his wealth.
“A guy who hadn’t received proper education, I suddenly had 10 million Hong Kong dollars [more than $1.25 million] overnight. I almost bought everything I wanted in life within a week,” Chan said.
“One day I went to a luxurious watch store followed by fellow kung fu apprentices carrying a bag of HKD 500,000 cash,” which is more than $64,000. He recalled asking the shop assistant which were the most expensive watches, and bought seven of them, paying in cash.
“For one whole week, I wore a different watch every day. I would make arrangements to meet my friends of the same occupation to eat and rolled up my sleeves to expose the watch as soon as we met.”
3. He has lost millions to con men.
Chan acknowledges that he doesn’t know too much about managing finances and has been easily deceived. He says has been conned by his acquaintances, colleagues, ex-bosses and friends numerous times, for amounts exceeding $5 million in a single shot.
He recalled that he was once interested in investing a piece of land and told his set designer. The designer claimed he knew the owner and told Chan he could only rent it. Chan paid almost $40,000 in fees and $1,300 per month rent for years, waiting for the approval to rebuild some buildings on the property. Finally, an official told him there was never an application for any construction and in fact, the landlord never received any of Chan’s money; it all went to the designer’s pockets, who then vanished.
Chan says the deception hasn’t bothered him. “I always have more important things to do. … So many people lied to me, yet they haven’t gotten richer,” he said. “I have been deceived a lot, but I haven’t become poorer.”
4. He regrets being a bad student.
The young Jackie Chan failed his first year at the primary school, so his parents sent him to a Peking Opera School, where his spent most time on physical training. Looking back, he wishes he had studied harder.
“If there is one thing I regret, that I want to start over again, that is to go back to my childhood, and study.... So I won’t fail to express myself.” The actor said he has often been “misunderstood and misinterpreted.”
“I didn’t grab the opportunity to study when I could,” he said. “When I was young, how much money I had and how many awards I had was very important to me. As I grew older, these became less and less important.”
5. He got married in a coffee shop in L.A.
Chan’s wife, Joan Lin, was a Taiwanese actress. When they met, she was much more famous than Chan, with multiple awards to her name. Their romance was not well-received by the public.
“One day she told me she was pregnant. I said I wanted the baby.... Although I looked calm, I didn’t know what to do,” Chan recalled.
He packed her off to the United States. “During her pregnancy, I was working the whole time and didn’t go to the States until she was going to deliver. A form needed to be filled in before the baby was born. She then asked me if she could fill in my name under the ‘father’ column; ... my agent said we should get married first.”
A priest was hired for the ceremony, which took place in a coffee shop in L.A. It was lunchtime and it was very noisy. They went to a private room, where the bare-bones rites were held. As Chan recalled: “The priest said, ‘Do you?’ We both nodded, and that was it.”
6. He admits beating his son, Jaycee, and says, “Kids need to be smacked to be disciplined.”
At the Peking Opera School where Chan studied, the actor said, the only method of discipline was being smacked or hit.
As a parent, Chan also doesn’t believe in reasoning things out with children. “I’ve always believed kids need to be smacked to be disciplined. Parents discipline kids in the hope they can avoid making more mistakes, especially those I’ve made when I was young. If you only speak to a kid about it, he won’t listen.”
But he says he only did it once. “When [my son] was very young, I beat him hard once; I picked him up and threw him on the couch. His mother and he were really scared. I also regretted it, and so I made a promise not to beat him anymore.”
Chan says he hasn’t been a model father because he was always busy with work.
“When he was a kid, he could only see me around 2 a.m.,” said Chan, adding that he was constantly with colleagues and friends and rarely ate with his family alone. “I’m not a good dad, but I’m a responsible dad. I will be very strict in good times, support him to pull through in bad times when he is punished and aware of his mistakes.”
Jaycee Chan, also an actor, was released from prison in China in February after serving a six-month sentence for a drug offense. Before the trial, the elder Chan didn’t try to bail out his son and told a reporter from the state-run New China News agency that “the country is disciplining him, to correct his bad habits.” And said he hoped his son’s jail term would “turn the bad thing into a good thing.”
7. Americans’ ignorance of geography inspired his signature costume.
Chan often wears the Chinese-style costume known a tangzhuang, but it didn’t become his signature attire until he came to the U.S. Chan says when he was still a nobody in the States, people often mistook him for Japanese.
“I would explain that Hong Kong isn’t part of Japan,” says Chan. (The city of 7 million located off the southern coast of mainland China was a longtime British colony and became a semi-autonomous Chinese territory in 1997.)
“For many people, Asians look the same.... So I thought, I have to let them all know I’m Chinese straight from my clothes. So I started wearing tangzhuang,” he said. “After I became famous internationally, tangzhuang has become my label.”
8. The Hollywood media brought him to tears.
Chan now has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and his handprints at the TCL Chinese Theater. But at first, Chan says, Hollywood was rough on him.
“To me, Hollywood is a strange place,” Chan says. “It hurt me hard, and also has given me the most honors. It offered me $20 million paychecks, yet also filled me with the most insecurity.”
Once he was well-known in Asia, Chan came to the U.S. in the 1980s. When promoting a film, American reporters asked him: “Can you break bricks barehanded?” “Can you do karate?” and asked him to show off his martial arts chops during interviews. “I was very annoyed by these questions,” he said. “I was already a very popular star in Asia; everybody respected me, so why do you tease me like a monkey?”
Chan said he went back to his hotel room after several rounds of such questioning and had a good, hard cry, asking himself, “Why did I leave the Asian market and come to a place where no one likes me?
9. He is obsessed with cleanliness and has mild obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Jackie Chan has posted detailed rules about how to use the bathrooms in his offices in Hong Kong. Instructions tell visitors to “lift the seat before using it and wipe it if it gets dirty,” and to not use too many tissues to dry one’s hands.
Once, one of Chan’s employees went to visit him wearing a pair of very dirty shoes. The man left them by the door before entering his house. On his way out, he found Chan brushing them clean.
When counting cash, Chan will always place the notes in one direction.
10. Jackie Chan is afraid of needles.
Chan has performed countless dangerous action scenes and has had several near-death experiences; he has slid from a 21-story skyscraper, fallen from a clock tower and snowboarded onto a helicopter. He should be used to basic hospital procedures, but it turns out, he’s extremely afraid of needles.
“I’ve always been afraid of injections,” he said. “I have never feared for anything else except the syringe. Snakes, roaches and rats can’t scare me, but I will be terrified by the sight of syringes. Imagine a needle in your flesh and a tube of liquid injected in your body.... So scary!”
When shooting the film “Spiritual Kung Fu” in Taiwan, Chan fell and bled profusely; the doctor prescribed a tetanus shot. Chan waited for the injection, lying on a bed with wheels. “As soon as the nurse showed up with a syringe, I got so scared that I fled by pushing the bed forward,” he recalled.
The nurse couldn’t catch up, but eventually he was surrounded by people, so he had no choice. “Before the nurse injected me, I had already started shouting and screaming. People gathered around me and laughed really hard when they found out the reason.”
11. He’s not ready to discuss his affair in detail.
In his book, Chan talks about his first love, his wife and a few girlfriends, including the famous Taiwanese pop singer Teresa Teng. But he does not mention by name Elaine Ng Yi-Lei, a former Miss Asia with whom he has acknowledged having an affair. Ng gave birth to a daughter in 1999 named Etta; Ng says Chan is the father, but Chan has never publicly acknowledged the girl as his daughter.
In the chapter called “The Love of My Life: Joan Lin,” Chan revealed he was extremely reluctant to discuss the affair with his wife and contemplating simply proposing a divorce rather than trying to explain. In the book, he refers only obliquely to the affair, calling it “that serious mistake.”
Nicole Liu in The Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.