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Jackie Chan's Road to Martial Arts Mastery

Jackie Chan is a truly global phenomenon — a Hong Kong stunt man turned action movie star, he's an on-screen master of martial arts who also provides his own comic relief.

His new movie, The Forbidden Kingdom, marks a momentous first-time collaboration between Chan and Jet Li. The movie can pretty much be summed up as The Wizard of Oz with lots of martial arts — set in a mythic, ancient China.

In a conversation with Robert Siegel, Chan says that he learned to fight — and act — at an early age. When he was 6 years old, he began studying in a school in Hong Kong where he received instruction in singing, dancing, acrobatics and fighting. He describes the process of mastering martial arts as "very painful."

"In our day... we get up at 5 o'clock in the morning... [to practice] 1,000 punches, 1,000 kicks," says Chan.

Other kids dropped out of the school, but Chan stayed for 10 years. He had nowhere to go; his parents were living in Australia at the time, where his father was working as a cook in the U.S. Embassy. Years later, when his father was 80, Chan learned that his father had been a spy for Taiwan against China.

Chan's fighting skills are on display in The Forbidden Kingdom, notably during an extended fight sequence with Jet Li.

The scene took nearly a week to film, says Chan, who contrasts the safety measures of American filmmaking with those in Hong Kong:

"[In America], they spent a lot of time to choreograph how to make me and Jet look good," he says. "[In Hong Kong], we save time, save money and risk life for the movie."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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