"Never Grow Up" by Jackie Chan

Book Summary:

“Never Grow Up” by Jackie Chan is a candid memoir from one of the most recognizable, influential, and beloved cinematic personalities in the world.

Everyone knows Jackie Chan. Whether it’s from Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon or The Karate Kid, Jackie is admired by generations of moviegoers for his acrobatic fighting style, comic timing, and mind-bending stunts.

In his book, Jackie Chan reflects on his early life, including his childhood years at the China Drama Academy (in which he was enrolled at the age of seven), his big breaks (and setbacks) in Hong Kong and Hollywood, his numerous brushes with death (both on and off film sets), and his life as a husband and father (which has been, admittedly and regrettably, imperfect).

Book Lessons:

1) Jackie Had A Rough Childhood

I spent more time in the hallway outside the classroom than inside it, and became notorious in the school...I kept playing pranks, blowing off my homework, misplacing my books, getting into fights, and being a headache for the teachers.
— Page 15

Jackie’s childhood was not an easy one. He had difficulty paying attention in school and was a rebellious kid. The only class he cared about was gym and found class lectures to be beyond boring. With that kind of behavior, it isn’t a surprise that he was kept back at the end of his first year.

Jackie’s parents figured he wasn’t going to be an academic, so they sent him to boarding school, Jackie was 7 years-old at the time. The school was called the China Drama Academy, there he learned martial arts, dancing and acting–all skills which would help him become a successful actor.

Here was his school schedule:

  • Wake up at 5 a.m. for breakfast.

  • Practice kung fu until noon.

  • Lunch.

  • Practice until dinner at 5 p.m.

  • Dinner.

  • Practice until bedtime at 11 p.m.

  • Do it again the next day.

Jackie writes that for “ten years, I got only six hours of sleep, night after night.” Even when he caught a fever, the teacher still made Jackie practice kung fu, no exceptions.

It may seem brutal, but the school taught Jackie the importance of hard work, discipline and allowed him to gain the necessary 10,000 hours needed to become an expert at acting and martial arts.

2) Work Hard In Every Role

For a long time, Jackie only got to play background roles where his face wasn’t shown, or as a bad guy who got smacked in the face, or someone in a crowd who gets kicked by the hero.
— Page 45

Jackie Chan didn’t always play the lead role, especially in the beginning of his career.

He started out as a stuntman and often played one of the bad guys that the main character would knock out with a single punch or kick, and most of the time, had little to no lines in the film.

In one of his earliest roles, he played a corpse on set. Jackie was so good at holding his breath and not moving that the director pointed at him and announced “That guy is the best corpse, make sure we get him in tomorrow as well.”

No matter how big or small the role, Jackie would always give his best because he knew that although he wasn’t the best actor around, he would at least be the hardest working one.

Jackie writes that he became known “as the first to arrive on set and the last to leave. My attitude was enthusiastic and committed. I got into the habit of volunteering to do the most difficult or dangerous jobs...and never let on about how much pain I was in.”

It didn’t matter whether the pay was low or none at all, nor did the size of the role matter, Jackie was determined to get as much experience under his belt as possible and each gig got him one step closer to becoming a global movie star.

Even when things got difficult and Jackie had to move back in with his parents, who lived in Australia, and work construction, he didn’t give up on his dream. When the opportunity arose to play a lead character in a small movie, he decided to go back to China and continue to pursue his dream.

Years of hard work and commitment soon paid off, as Jackie writes, “After fifteen years of hard training, I was an overnight success.”

3) Jackie Sacrifices Himself For His Art

My ankle joint pops out of its socket all the time...my leg sometimes gets dislocated when I’m showering...I’ve been delaying shoulder surgery for three years now..the cartilage in my kneecaps has been worn away, so I can’t go running.
— Page 123

Many artists suffer for their art, some even go so far as for dying for it, Jackie Chan’s commitment to partaking in real stunts for his films have resulted in dozens of injuries and even a couple of near death experiences.

Here are a few of his injuries:

  • Head: After a stunt went wrong while filming Armour of God, he needed brain surgery.

  • Ear: He also has permanent hearing loss in my left ear.

  • Nose: He broke his nose on To Kill with Intrigue.

  • Cheekbone: Broke cheekbone while filming Police Story 3: Super Cop.

  • Shoulder: Dislocated shoulder during City Hunter.

  • Back: Jackie almost snapped his spine between the seventh and eighth vertebrae during Police Story and hurt his back again when a wire snapped and he fell to the ground while filming Chinese Zodiac.

  • Pelvis: Dislocated during Police Story.

  • Ankles: Broke his ankle during Rumble in the Bronx.

The list goes on.

Since people were paying money to see his films, Jackie wanted to give the audience their moneys-worth by making the stunts as realistic as possible and thus giving his fans a thrilling and enjoyable cinematic experience.

Although Jackie Chan hasn’t broken every bone in his body, he says, “From my hair to the tips of my toes, every inch of my body has been wounded.”

Now that’s commitment.

With Jackie Chan at a book signing event in NYC.

With Jackie Chan at a book signing event in NYC.

Book Review:

“Never Grow Up” gives readers a deep insight into Jackie Chan’s journey from starving stuntman to global movie star. Learning about his childhood and adolescence was fascinating, Jackie had a rough childhood and was sent to boarding school away from his parents at an early age to study martial arts and acting.

The book details the many early roles Jackie took on, many of which he worked for little to no pay and usually had no lines. However, most of latter half of book is spent retelling the typical mistakes made my many stars: spending money on silly items, gambling, having affairs, the list goes on.

At some point, you start to dislike Jackie because of his childish behaviors, however, it also proves that everyone is human, even the rich and famous make mistakes.

For the average person, this book doesn’t offer as many life lessons as one would like, I preferred reading “Total Recall” by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it seems a tad cliche at times.

Nonetheless, hardcore Jackie Chan fans will enjoy this book, as will aspiring actors and stuntmen since the book shares Jackie’s inspiring struggle and what is takes to become a world famous film star.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

If you’re interested in this book, you can get it here.

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