Family & Companions
While he has not yet wooed Western audiences with the success of his "younger brother" international superstar Jackie Chan, producer-director-actor Sammo Hung has been an even more important creative force in the development of contemporary Hong Kong film. Sadly, to the Western viewer, he may still be best known for fighting Bruce Lee at the start of "Enter the Dragon" (1973). In fact, like Chan, he has achieved distinction as a director and producer in addition to being a popular performer. While both are comparable martial artists, Hung is generally acknowledged to be far superior as a director and storyteller, most notably in full-blooded kung fu films. Significantly he served as helmer on several of Chan's most memorable features including the landmark action comedy "Project A" (1984). When Chan directed himself, his films had great visual inventiveness but the pacing would sag in the middle and physical comedy and gags were emphasized over action. As a director, Hung brought harder-edged action scenes, a more brisk sense of timing, polished compositions and an inspired use of locations to their collaboration. Not known for his ego, he happily played second fiddle to his old school chum.
As a producer and director, Hung helped launch the careers of several HK stars including Michelle Khan (a.k.a. Michelle Yeoh), Yuen Biao and Leung Kar Yan. More often than not, they were better served by Hung's productions than by projects of their own. He breathed new life into the fighting females sub-genre in the 1980s by producing such landmark films as "Yes, Madam" (1985) which introduced the popular woman warriors Michelle Khan and Cynthia Rothrock as a distaff "buddy" cop team. He was also a major force in the horror-kung fu-comedy subgenre directing and acting in films like "Spooky Encounters" (1981), "Hocus Pocus" and "Mr. Vampire" (1985). The large-scale comedy "Shanghai Express" (1987) has been described as a Chinese equivalent of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" as it is filled with stars, sight gags and stunts.
Behind-the-scenes, as the primary martial arts choreographer at the leading HK film studio Golden Harvest, Hung determined the fighting style employed by some of the industry's most popular stars. He had a gift for being able to take actors untrained as fighters and put them through their paces so convincingly as to fool even the most savvy HK audiences. Hardcore martial arts film fans treasure many of Hung's films including "The Iron-Fisted Monk" (his 1978 directorial debut), "Warriors Two" (1978) and, his own favorite directorial outing, "The Prodigal Son" (1981). The latter two are particularly notable as Hung's Wing Chun movies. This was a southern Chinese fighting style that rose to prominence in the West as word spread that Bruce Lee had received his basic training in this effective close-range fighting system that helped a smaller, weaker combatant defeat a larger, stronger opponent. Hung routinely instructed his writers to research the development of Chinese kung fu so as to find story ideas.
General wisdom pinpoints Hung's failure to achieve stardom outside of Asia on his plump physique--which incidentally, has not stopped him from being an awesome martial artist. Further clashing with Western ideals of male attractiveness, Hung has augmented his non-glamorous Everyman persona with haircuts reminiscent of The Three Stooges' Moe Howard. He tends to favor an innocent expression that gives him the appearance of a large child yet he often incurs facial bruising in his films' punishing fight scenes. Hung's early roles had him playing a screen "heavy" who menaced the more conventionally attractive stars. He did not start landing leads in Golden Harvest films until 1977 in films like "Sholin Plot" and his own "The Iron-Fisted Monk." Though loyal to Golden Harvest, Hung accepted an outside offer to helm, choreograph and star in "Enter the Fat Dragon" (1978), playing a swineherd who idolizes Bruce Lee. Hung also proved effective in dramatic roles such as a turn as a harsh instructor teaching young boys in a Peking Opera School in Stanley Kwan's "Painted Faces" (1988).
"Painted Faces" was loosely based on Hung's own childhood experiences learning at the Chinese Opera Research Institute where he studied mime, acrobatics, singing, kung fu and other techniques of Peking Opera under Sifu (Master) Yu Jim Yuen. He entered the school at age 10 and soon became the foremost member of the Seven Little Fortunes children's performance troupe. More than seven of these children (including Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao) grew up to become leading lights in the HK action film industry. Nicknamed 'Big Brother', he eventually aided in the martial arts instruction of his younger classmates and became the first member of his group to gain success as an adult working in the movies. Eventually Chan would emerge as the superstar of the group but even he continued to look to Hung for advice and encouragement.
Hung helped revitalize Chan's career as the helmer and co-star (with Biao) of "Project A" (1984), an uproarious pirate picture set in the early 1900s which set the mold for many of Chan's subsequent action comedies. One of the best of these was the follow-up "Wheels on Meals" (1984), also directed by Hung, a contemporary film that place the trio in Barcelona for an outlandish adventure. The three former classmates joined forces once again to play change-of-pace roles in the Hung-lensed "Dragons Forever" (1987), the least of their collaborations but still far superior to the standard HK action fare.
Ironically, Hung's best work as a director--the Eastern Western "The Millionaire's Express/Shanghai Express" (1985) and the war movie "Eastern Condors" (1987) and the 30s-set comedy-drama "Pedi-Cab Driver" (1990)--coincided with his commercial decline in the industry that he had served for some two decades. After a string of box-office disappointments, he left Golden Harvest in 1991 after a dispute with studio head Raymond Chow over the premature withdrawal from theaters of the Hung-produced thriller "Into the Fire." While continuing to produce films through his company Bojon, Hung failed to equal his early successes. His fortunes improved somewhat as the helmer of "Mr. Nice Guy" (1997), a long-awaited reteaming with Chan.
In 1998, CBS surprised many by scheduling "Martial Law," a one-hour comedy-drama built around Hung on Saturday nights. Preceding "Walker, Texas Ranger," the show, executive produced and occasionally directed by Stanley Tong, proved successful, appealing to the same demographics as "Walker." Hung, the only Asian headlining a primetime network series, soon found himself besieged by the press for interviews.
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Dance (Feature Film)
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Joined Sifu Yu Jim Yuen's Peking Opera School
Film debut at age 11, "Education of Love"
Hired by Golden Harvest studios as a martial arts choreographer
Went to South Korea to study the martial art Hapkido directly under master Ji Han Jae
First lead in a Golden Harvest picture
Feature directorial debut, "The Iron-Fisted Monk", arguably the first kung fu comedy
Directed "Warriors Two", the first of his two films featuring the Chinese fighting style Wing Chun
With director Karl Maka and former actor-choreographer Lau Kar Wing, formed Gar Bo Films
Accepted an offer from outside Golden Harvest to star as a swineherd who idolizes and impersonates Bruce Lee in the comedy "Enter the Fat Dragon"
Directed and co-starred with former Chinese Opera classmates Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao in "Project A", one of Chan's most highly regarded films
Directed and co-starred with Chan and Biao in "Wheels on Meals"
Directed and co-starred with Chan and Biao in "Dragons Forever"
Left Golden Harvest after 21 years following a string of box-office failures and a falling out with studio head Raymond Chow
Served as stunt director on "Thunderbolt", a Jackie Chan racecar movie
Directed Chan in the Australian-filmed feature "Mr. Nice Guy"; reputedly the first HK film to be shot in English
US TV series debut as star of the CBS drama "Martial Law"
Starred with Jackie Chan in the Disney live action feature "Around the World in 80 Days"