One of the most popular film personalities in the world, Jackie Chan came from a poverty-stricken Hong Kong family -- so poor, claims Chan, that he was almost sold in infancy to a wealthy British couple. As it turned out, Chan became his family's sole support. Enrolled in the Chinese Opera Research Institute at the age of seven, he spent the next decade in rigorous training for a career with the Peking Opera, excelling in martial arts and acrobatics.
Billed as Cheng Lung, Chan entered films in his mid-teens, appearing in 25 productions before his 20th birthday. Starting out as a stunt man, Chan was promoted to stardom as the potential successor to the late Bruce Lee. In his earliest starring films, he was cast as a stone-cold serious type, determined to avenge Lee’s death. Only when he began playing for laughs did Chan truly attain full celebrity status. Frequently referred to as the Buster Keaton of kung-fu, Chan’s outlook on life is a lot more optimistic than Keaton’s, but in his tireless devotion to the most elaborate of sight gags and the most awe-inspiring of stunts (many of which have nearly cost him his life), Chan is Keaton incarnate.
From 1978’s The Young Master onward, Chan has usually been his own director and screenwriter. His best Hong Kong-produced films include the nonstop action-fests Project A (1983), Police Story (1985), Armour of God (1986), and the Golden Horse Award-winning Crime Story (1993)—not to mention the multiple sequels of each of the aforementioned titles. Despite his popularity in Europe and Asia, Chan was for many years unable to make a dent in the American market. He tried hard in such films as The Big Brawl (1980) and the first two Cannonball Run flicks, but American filmgoers just weren’t buying.
At long last, Chan mined U.S. box-office gold with 1996’s Rumble in the Bronx, a film so exhilarating that audiences never noticed those distinctly Canadian mountain ranges looming behind the “Bronx” skyline.
Chan remained the most popular Asian actor with the greatest potential to cross over into the profitable English-speaking markets, something he again demonstrated when he co-starred with Chris Tucker in the 1998 box-office hit Rush Hour. In 2000 Chan had another success on his hands with Shanghai Noon, a comedy Western in which he starred as an Imperial Guard dispatched to the American West to rescue the kidnapped daughter (Lucy Liu) of the Chinese Emporer.