Known throughout the world for his acrobatic martial arts movies, Jackie Chan is an icon bigger – probably - than Buster Keaton or even Bruce Lee. Known, too, as an all-round good guy, his fanbase reaches round the world, and to all ages. Less known is Jackie’s philanthropy. And it’s this interplay of excellence and ethics that led the University’s Philosophy, Politics and Economics Society to invite Chan to Oxford.
None was more amazed than Jackie himself that he accepted. “I couldn’t sleep last night - so scared! Why did I accept? Oxford’s no ordinary school – what can I say to you? I’m just here as me, no speeches. What do you want to know?” And so began nearly two hours of highly entertaining and revelatory conversation between Chan and his audience.
Beginning with Jackie’s childhood years at the Peking Opera School – ten years of kicking, punching, acrobatics and singing – Chan energetically and entertainingly recounted his ambitious rise through Hong Kong’s film industry. “My first job – I played a dead person! But I learned about films by watching the director, cameraman. Soon they wanted a stuntman. Then a stunt co-ordinator. Most stunt people never learn. But I wanted to learn all about the movie business.”
And it’s there that you meet the real Jackie Chan and the key to his success in films and in financing so many world-wide charity projects. “I didn’t go to school – but I was born clever!” Honest about his early superstar years when all he cared about was “the number of zeros” on the paycheck, Jackie’s real passion now isn’t movies – it’s his foundations providing education, healthcare and shelter.
In a series of video clips, Jackie showed the audience the extent of his charitable activities. The event itself, in a packed Sheldonian, was in aid of the Chinese earthquake relief. Less charitable onlookers might have baulked at such a display of giving – but that would’ve missed the point.
Talking to an audience primarily of young students, Jackie clearly had a message – you can change the world too. “When you have confidence, people listen to you. It would have been easy for me to follow Bruce Lee. But to find your own way – that’s the challenge. That’s my message to you - find your own way!”
Genuinely thankful for western aid to China in the aftermath of the recent earthquake, Chan speaks from the heart. Some might say his school-building projects across China and his whole-hearted support for China’s staging of the Olympics, ducks the issue of Chinese politics and control. Perhaps surprisingly the audience never asked any political questions.
The only potentially tricky query – ‘If you met the Dalai Lama, what would you talk about?’ – was met with Chan’s brand of canniness. “I’d talk about movies! That’s all I know. I don’t know anything about politics”.
But for several in the audience it was simply a chance to indulge in self-centred fanship – can you sign my tee-shirt? Can I be in your next film? Can I kiss you? Disappointing for most of the audience and probably for the organizers too, and especially from a world-class university: if Chan hadn’t upped the tone with his own charity-videos, you suspect there’d have been more low-rent interjections. The irony probably wasn’t lost on Jackie.
But when he donned his Oxford University hoodie at the end of the evening, and stood proudly wearing the word ‘Oxford’, it really came home to everyone that Jackie Chan was here! Beaming happily - “I could chat all night now!” - Chan clearly enjoyed his time. And the multi-cultural audience did too.
In an age of hollow celebrity and multi-million paychecks, Jackie Chan is the last of his kind – a super-talented superstar with an unspoiled heart of gold. Appropriate, after all, that the youth of a world-class university should want to bring him to Oxford: we can all learn a thing or two from Jackie Chan.
See also: Jackie Chan question and answer session