In 1999, Jackie Chan's mother's health began to fail and his father decided to tell his son the whole family story. Jackie Chan went to visit him in Australia. Mabel Cheung and her film crew went with him.
This film follows the traces of this family, whose fate is far from unique in China. Again and again, families were torn apart by the turmoil of the Second World War, the Civil War, and, later, the Cultural Revolution...
The story goes that Jackie Chan was born into a poor Hong Kong family ? the only child of a cook and a housekeeper. But rumours had been going around that in fact Chan had some brothers and sisters on the mainland and that perhaps Chan isn’t his real name.
With the failing health of Chan’s mother in 1999, his father decided to tell him his real family background. Thankfully, Chan decided to invite a documentary film crew to record it all for posterity. It’s an amazing story ? not just about Chan and his parents, but about the entire history of 20th century China.
Much of this film focuses on this early part of the family history. The director cuts between Jackie’s father recounting the story, to news footage (very difficult to obtain in China apparently) and old photos, to interviews with Jackie’s half- brothers and sisters, interspersed with Jackie and his father gently ribbing one another. The sense of massive family and social upheaval is palpable, as is the strength of these two individuals (father and mother) during a time of immense historical change.
This is a beautifully presented biographical documentary. It’s simply put together but very well edited. It is by no means a hagiography of Jackie Chan, and what comes through clearly is his great warmth, energy, drive and humour ? characteristics that he quite obviously inherited from his parents. Their mutual affection is very evident but Chan must surely feel incredibly lucky to have arrived in this world after all the tribulations that his parents went through. Jackie and his father are also slightly vague about whether Jackie really is biologically his father’s son. It seems quite probable but neither of them seems totally convinced or seems to care - they would still remain father and son.
But director Mabel Cheung’s real achievement here is to contextualise one great family story within its wider historical framework. So many Chinese families must have gone through similar experiences, even if their children didn’t end up as film stars.