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Chan the Man
Ali_Catterall from London, England
12 November 2009
As the Chinese proverb has it, a tree may grow sky high, but its leaves
fall back to its roots. In Traces Of A Dragon, directors Mabel Cheung
and Alex Law document how Jackie Chan re-traced his roots and those of
his father, Chan Chi-Long (real name Fang Daolong) - whose story makes
up the backbone of this remarkable 'home movie'.
In 1999, having always assumed he was the only child of a cook and a
housemaid, Jackie was surprised to learn that not only was he just one
of numerous siblings, but also that his kung-fu fighting father had a
previous life as a Shanghai gangster - then as a hit-man for statesman
and Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek.
His mother, meanwhile, whose failing health precipitated his father's
belated confessions, had been an opium dealer known locally as the
'Third Sister', whose idea of fun was striding into a casino with a
The product of a Brady Bunch-style marriage between these two extreme
personalities, Jackie was separated from his parents aged eight after
they emigrated to Australia, spending the next 10 years in a Peking
Opera school. So his shock and bemusement as the irascible rogue
relates these tales is genuine, particularly when Fang describes his
narrowly-avoided decapitation by the Japanese ("They cut off nine
heads! The neck shrunk into the body!"), accompanied by graphic stills.
The film's narrative often becomes overwhelming, as it encompasses
decades of political upheaval caused by the Sino-Japanese War, World
War II and the Cultural Revolution, during which entire families were
torn apart. But the emotive moments as the disbelieving star comes to
grips with his heritage render the historical immensely personal. This
is especially true in the final scenes, as Fang hunkers down among his
sons and their relatives for a long-overdue family portrait. An old man
finally at peace.
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