Jackie Chan's real-life hero


Time seemed to drag on as reporters waited for the arrival of one mega Hong Kong star who was scheduled to appear 40 minutes earlier. Suddenly, there was a flurry of activities and hushed whisperings. Be fore you could say “action!” Jackie Chan strode into the VIP Lounge in KLIA and instantly lifted the glum mood that permeated the room just seconds before.

“Hello everybody!” Jackie greeted reporters with his trademark beam and looking fresh and energetic despite jet-setting to China and Germany just days before.

This time, his visit to Malaysia was not for business but for something much more meaningful and sentimental. Jackie had chartered an entire plane for his friends to celebrate his father’s 90th birthday in Kuala Lumpur.

Hollywood movie star Jackie Chan pushing his father Chan Zhi Peng out of the arrival hall at the KL International Airport when they arrived last weekend.

There was little doubt that Jackie is as nice as he comes across on the silver screen. He gestured enthusiastically and spoke a smattering of English as he noted that there were non-Chinese-speaking reporters present. In an endearing mix of halting English and fluent Cantonese, Jackie explained on his act of filial piety: “All the years I have been working or championing charities but lately I began to wonder what have I done for my own father.” Thus the resourceful one decided to plan a huge birthday bash for Chan Sr.

“I was wondering where to hold the party. Macau? Too close to home. Chartering a whole yacht? I am afraid I am sea-sick,” he said with a chuckle. “Then Malaysia came to mind because my manager (Willie Chan) is a Malaysian and he was quite sure that this would be a great choice.”

As proof of his meticulous planning, he suddenly stood up and pointed to the T-shirt he was donning.

“I made everyone on the plane wear this,” Jackie declared with an infectious grin. He enthusiastically showed off the T-shirt with the Chinese characters “Ba Ba 90” (father 90) printed on the front and the adorable caricature of an old man with a pipe printed on the back.

Apparently, Chan Sr was so touched to see a plane full of his friends that he promptly burst into tears.

Jackie recalled with a fond smile: “I lied to him that his grandson Jaycee and me were going to have a small celebration for him in Malaysia. So he was truly surprised when he got onboard and saw all his friends wearing the identical T-shirts.” According to Jackie, the money was well spent when he saw the expression on his father’s face.

“He went like this,” described Jackie as he proceeded to act out an expression of total shock and emotional recognition.

“And then after that he went like this,” he continued as he slouched on the couch, shut his eyes and snored loudly. Everyone in the room was in stitches by now.

Jackie’s father, Chan Zhi Peng, is not all that he seemed, as Jackie discovered about five years ago. Beneath that unassuming demeanour is a past life that was rife with trials and tribulations, sorrow and struggle, secret identities and narrow escapes.

You see, Chan Zhi Peng is actually Fong Dao Long – a former spy for the Chinese Nationalist Party under Chiang Kai Shek before the war.

The twice-widowed Zhi Peng had changed his family name Fong to Chan after fleeing to Hong Kong from the communists who took over China. He has two sons from his first marriage and Jackie is the only son from his second marriage to Lily, who was once an opium smuggler (cue incredulous gasps) in China.

”I have always admired my father because he never gave up on anything, though he did try to give me away to the British doctor who delivered me because we were too poor.”

Chan’s revelation was simply amazing. Who would have thought that the real life story of his parents would surpass even the drama and adrenaline-pumping storylines of his movies?

It was clear, judging from Chan’s gregarious demeanour and positive energy, that he had inherited the never-say-die attitude of his parents. After all, here is a man who had endured the torturous regime of a traditional Hong Kong film academy where he was trained as a stuntman for 10 years. His parents, in the meantime, had relocated to Australia.

Furrowing his brows, Chan mused: “All the years while I was in the academy in Hong Kong, I always wondered why my father was not with me. Everyone had their parents taking them out during the holidays but where was my dad?”

It was only when he was more grown up that Jackie realised that his dad was working hard in Australia to provide him with a better life.

What started out as a project meant only for familial memorabilia purposes turned into a full-blown documentary as Jackie realised that his father’s story would strike a chord with many Chinese families around the world.

He recorded his father’s revelations with the help of directing duo Mabel Cheung and Alex Law (of The Soong Sisters fame), which culminated in a film called Traces of A Dragon: Jackie Chan and His Lost Family.

“As my dad told me his life story, I realised how important it was to all Chinese families out there and also to everyone who is interested in Chinese culture,” Chan explained on his decision to make the film.

Suddenly, Jackie’s eyes lit up. His father has just been wheeled into the room. Chan Sr, with a mane of braided long white hair, was seated in a wheelchair, with pipe in mouth. Slowly, he walked up to the mini podium to pose with his son for the eager photographers.

Grinning roguishly as would befit a former man-of-mystery, Zhi Peng also wore the very same T-shirt as his son. Almost instantaneously and right before our disbelieving eyes, Jackie became the adorable “little boy” fussing over his dad.

Most people look up to Jackie as their hero, but Jackie clearly has one closest to his heart.