How Jackie Chan got his name and his struggles at age 13: 'I would stay hungry for hours'

9 August 2016 / 2 months 2 weeks ago

The Straits Times
Monday, Aug 3, 2016

Hollywood ace Jackie Chan wowed hundreds of people at the Sydney Opera House last Saturday with an honest take on how he got started in show business and the ups and downs he had experienced in achieving success.

Chan, in Sydney to film his latest flick Bleeding Steel, was speaking at his first public Sydney talk.

"I came to Australia when I was 13. I think at that time there was only something like 13 million people in the whole country and this is a huge country, it's very little compared to Hong Kong, but there (in Hong Kong) everywhere you go you see people, people, people, but in Canberra, when I walk on the street at 5pm, there is nobody," he said.

He recalled how he had to use hand gestures and facial expressions to communicate in his early days in Canberra as he hardly spoke a word of English.

"My father used to leave me at the shopping mall daily before heading to work. He would also give me money to buy food. As I couldn't speak a word of English then, I had a hard time buying food.

"When people spoke to me in English, I would just nod my head and walk away because I didn't know how to answer. In the end, I would stay hungry for hours and, by the time my father came (to pick me), I would be starving. That's when I decided that I could no longer go on (and that) I needed to learn English," he said.

His father arranged for him to attend a government school that was offering free English lessons. But he was the only Chinese student at the school and Chan said his teacher decided to give him an English name as his original name was difficult to pronounce.

"At the school, the teacher asked me what my name was and I said Chan Kong San, the teacher said nope, your name is Steven, I said okay," he said, sparking laughter.

But Chan later took on the name Jack, which was first given to him by a Taiwanese man he had befriended in Canberra.

"This man had found me a job at a construction site. The owner of the firm asked him what my name was, and, since his name was Jack, my name became Jack as well. This was also the first time I learnt how to use the words such as 'cement' and 'shovel'," he said.

He later decided to use Jack permanently, adding "ie" at the end after a feng shui expert told him it would bring him better luck.

Chan, now 62, soon worked his way up and became a world sensation for his lead roles in gongfu movies.

Bleeding Steel, the most expensive Chinese movie to be produced in the country, is his first movie to be filmed in Australia after 20 years, following Mr Nice Guy (1997).

His first foray into the sci-fi genre, it is about a hardened special force agent (played by Chan) who fights to protect a young woman who is an important witness in a major case.

Also to be filmed in Beijing and Taipei, it co-stars Australian actress Tess Haubrich, China's Erica Xia-Hou and Taiwan's Show Lo and Ouyang Nana.


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