Review (in detail)

By Joy C. Al-Sofi, ©2002

A new book about Jackie Chan has just been published. This one is entitled The Unauthorized Jackie Chan Encyclopedia by John Corcoran, published 2002 by Contemporary Books, a division of McGraw-Hill. Softcover, 240 pages.

Surely a new book about Jackie is a cause for celebration among Jackie Chan fans everywhere.

There is something, however, about calling your book an "encyclopedia" that raises a lot of expectations in the reader. And something about calling it "unauthorized" that gives the impression that there will be more here than the same old same old. Presumably the choice of title was that of the author's, which means it shouldn't be unreasonable to see whether he has met these expectations.

So just how good a job does John Corcoran do with meeting the challenge that comes of calling his book an "encyclopedia?"

Lets start with the good points and there are a bunch:

  • Lots of photos, Jackie stills, lobby cards, posters, and magazine covers not found in other books;
  • Photos of other Hong Kong movie actors, directors, and movie posters;
  • An extensive list of articles in US publications along with a few foreign publications in English as well;
  • A fan contributed musicography of Jackie's CD's. There is also a description of many of Jackie's music videos. This section is among the most valuable contributions of the book;
  • Entries for some of Jackie's costars;
  • Listing of some of Jackie's awards;
  • Includes some of the people important in Jackie's life;
  • Lists some names of Jackie's characters in films;
  • A chronological filmography;
  • A special, long out of print English language interview with Jackie by Neva Friedenn from 1981 that is touted as the first interview Jackie ever gave in English.

    Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, in this reviewer's opinion, the positive aspects don't come close to overcoming the not so good, the inaccuracies, the omissions, the "haven't we seen this before?" and the just plain wrong.

Here is a partial list of the many immediately apparent problems that seriously detract from this book.

  • Many of the great photos are inadequately captioned or they don't always relate to what is being said on a page;
    Click here
    for examples

  • Many cast members of Jackie's movies have no entries; examples

  • No list of the memorable villains in Jackie's movies; Click here for commentary

  • Reversing the Chinese name order; examples

  • Inaccuracies examples

  • The filmography has inaccurate descriptions of early films and is incomplete. examples

  • There are numerous inexplicable omissions. examples

  • There is no index! Want to find something quickly? Good luck!

  • Not one name in Chinese characters, or in Romanized pronunciation. commentary

  • Unhelpful
    Only names of Jackie's characters in English dubbed versions are given. None of the Chinese names of Jackie's characters in the subtitled versions are given.

  • Just plain wrong examples

To be fair, John Corcoran came to this venture with an extensive martial arts background, rather than a Hong Kong film background. He is the editor of The Martial Arts Sourcebook. (The Martial Arts Sourcebook was one of the important factors that got me to start this fan club.) So I was eagerly looking forward to a worthy effort.

If I were writing an "encyclopedia", I'd darn well want the reader to come away with the ability to go out to a Chinese video or music store and actually be able to locate whatever was available by Jackie Chan and anyone ever associated with Jackie's movies or career. A little ambitious? Perhaps, but that is what I would want. Sure accomplishing it is another matter. But not even trying? What a shame.

Instead what we got was too much of what is already out there in the way of plot synopses, cursory stunt descriptions, and injury detailing entries for each movie listed. That plus no Chinese, no index and too many inaccuracies doesn't make me a happy camper.

I can't help thinking that could have been so different. Wouldn't it have been great if John had shared with us his strong suit, his martial arts expertise and instead given a us a run down of the martial arts moves and styles Jackie has studied and displayed in each of his movies? Maybe even occasionally doing a whole scene by scene breakdown? Wouldn't that have been fabulous? This is what I was hoping for, and this is still what is missing from the current literature.

And then there is the listing of all the stuntsmen, and villains, and costars, and directors, all with photos, bios and movie cross-references that I was looking for.

The fairest warning I can give is that in my opinion, the less you know about Jackie Chan and Hong Kong films, the more chance you have of actually enjoying this book.

But of course, if you are a Jackie Chan fan, and that's probably why you are reading this, you've got to have this book that has some new photos, some depth regarding his music, even if the format has made it relatively unusable, a lengthy if not exhaustive list of Jackie articles in English, and a very early interview.

You can buy it from the fan club for $17.95 + s & h. If you want it right away, please contact me for complete price details by e-mail and you can use PayPal or click on our link to Amazon.com and do a search for Jackie Chan . They can sell it cheaper because of volume pricing.

Otherwise, look for how to order in it our October newsletter.

 

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