Friday, 25 April 2014

The Avenue of Stars: A Guide For The HK Film Ignoramus Part 3

In case you hadn’t had enough of my verbal diarrhoea and tenuous grasp of HK film and the significance of some of these people (although believe me, I have learned a hell of a lot about it and them since I started doing this particular project – so mission accomplished for me at least), here is part 3.

If you are a late arrival (shame on you, where have you been?) here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2. Once again, all photos are courtesy of Thomas at HKCinemagic.com unless noted otherwise.

This section sees some stars that I have actually heard of! I say I'm an ignoramus (which I am in the general scheme of HK cinema taken as a whole) but I do have a little bit of knowledge of many of the following people simply by virtue of being prominent in the industry when my early childhood interest was piqued. Yes, my interest was strictly limited to films of the action/kungfu genre, but seeing as this was one of the primary outputs of the HK film industry during the 70's, 80's and 90's it’s not surprising I can profess a little less ignorance – but only just. Anyway, let’s get cracking with…

51. Leonard Ho Kwong Cheong (1925 – 1998)

Anyone who has watched a Golden Harvest production will probably recognise Leonard’s name because as one of the original founders of the company his name - Leonard K.C. Ho - was always in the credits as an executive producer.


52. Raymond Chow (1929 – )

Speaking of Golden Harvest, Raymond (with Leonard above) was really at the forefront of HK film-making through the 70′s to late 90′s. Arguably, it was Raymond that gave us all Bruce Lee, but then again it was also Bruce’s appeal that really got the fledgling Golden Harvest off the ground with the success of his films - some of the first the company made. 

After dropping out of film production when they lost their famous Hammer Hill studio site in the late 90's, Chow took the company into cinema management and continued to concentrate on distribution. He later sold his controlling stake to a Mainland firm who are currently re-branding it and hoping to launch it back into film production. So the film-making history of GH is far from over. Chow himself has just recently been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s (2011) 5th Asian Film Awards.


53. Bruce Lee (1940 – 1973)

Many people only have a vague knowledge of Lee's childhood films – of which there are 20 - because it is his kungfu films of the early 70's that really set him up as the superstar he became (and still is to many). Lee had an early introduction into the HK film industry thanks to his father’s career as actor and opera performer, so it’s no surprise to see that his first role in a movie was at the age of just a few months when he was still in the US just after his birth.

Many of his early films though have yet to see any decent release. A few, such as The Guiding Light, An Orphan’s Tragedy, My Son A-Chang, Thunderstorm etc have been released in HK on DVD by a company called “Pearl City”, and there is also a box set that contains these plus another 3 that have Mandarin dialogue only (with no English subtitles – so if you want to buy it you really need to be a serious fan).

The HK Film Archive also has a 'lost' colour print of his last teenage film The Orphan. The story behind this is that in the late 50's, HK didn't have the technology for colour processing and so a copy of the undeveloped film was sent to Rank in London to be colour-processed. This colour print was lost and forgotten about until an archivist unearthed it afew years ago and was nice enough to send it back to HK.


54. Ng See Yuen (1944 – )

One of my best bargain buys as a teenager was going into a dodgy video shop in Chinatown in 1989 and picking up a copy of 1976's Secret Rivals– a classic kickfest directed by Ng See Yuen, one of the top action directors in HK throughout the 80′s and 90′s. I believe Secret Rivals was Ng’s first film produced from his 'Seasonal Films' company and launched the HK film career of perennial bad guy – Wang Jang Lee.

Ng’s was also largely responsible for Jackie Chan’s rise to fame when he was on loan from Lo Wei's production company, after making film after film of less-than-stellar product. Ng and Seasonal stuck JC in Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (both also starring Wang Jang Lee as Chan’s nemesis) and a star was born. A lesser known fact is that Ng also helped launch Jean Claude Van Damme's career via No Retreat No Surrender in 1986 – which he produced.


55. Michael Hui (1942 -)

I didn't realise it at the time, but I had already seen Michael Hui in action when I was a youngster because he was Jackie Chan's sidekick in Hal Needham's The Cannonball Run in 1982. Obviously though he was a major star in HK before that film was made. He started as a TV presenter (actually, he was also a science teacher at St Francis Xavier School in Kowloon as well) before founding a joint venture with Golden Harvest to produce comedy films with two of his brothers, Sam and Ricky. They were a huge hit and launched the three Hui’s into HK celebrity status. Hui is still very active and just recently performed a stand-up comedy show at the HK Coliseum. Here is his website: http://www.michaelhui.com.hk/man.htm


56. Sam Hui (1948 – )

Younger better looking version of Michael who had/has a sterling acting as well as singing career. Other brother Ricky also was a singer but for some reason failed to make it onto the “Avenue”. Sam started out as a co-star on the Hui Brothers comedy TV show before hitting a chord (quite literally) as a trendy singer fusing western and eastern influences in his tunes. Sam and his wife even used to hang out with Bruce Lee and his wife Linda.


57. Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia (1954 – )

Taiwanese Lin was discovered as a young 17 year old and made her film debut 2 years later in Outside the Window. I know of her for 3 reasons and all are because of roles in films that made it to the UK (either on VHS or via the more enlightened of the then 4 channels…Channel 4). She played the female witness in JC’s Police Story (and got thrown through lots of glass as a result), she also had a role in Zu: Warriors from Magic Mountain (a Tsui Hark film that made it onto the playlist for a Channel 4 Asian cinema festival) and finally for her portrayal of the bizarre blond-wigged woman in Chungking Express. I’ll be honest, I didn’t recognise her under the blonde hair. She retired in ’94 after getting married to the man who launched Esprit in Asia, Michael Ying. I believe they live in some huge house somewhere on the slopes of Kowloon peak.


58. Sammo Hung Kam Po (1952 – )

A.K.A Fatty Sammo – not known for his adonis-like physique but that didn’t stop him being one of the most flexible and acrobatic fat guys the world has ever seen. Most people (like me) caught their first glimpse of Sammo, although unbeknownst at the time, at the beginning of Enter The Dragon when he played the…well...fat guy who fights Bruce in a big pair of black underpants ( I still think this scene would have had more impact had they both been wearing argyle socks and white Y-fronts – but that’s just me hehe). 

Of course, these days he is the grand old daddy of the HK film industry and is still capable of showing the young guys a thing or two: just watch him go toe to toe with Donnie Yen in S.P.L to see what I mean.


59. Jackie Chan (1954 – )

Once HK’s favourite son, he has had a turnabout in his local fortunes and seems to be the #1 pariah these days – largely because of some rather unfortunate comments he has made about HK-related stuff in the past couple of years. I won’t bother expanding on that stuff here but let’s just say these days he is better at putting his foot in his own mouth as opposed to the mouths of his on-screen opponents. JC has just celebrated his 60th birthday and still seems to show no sign of stopping despite promising to retire about 20 years ago. 

I pretty much tuned out of his films in the late 1990's but do still love watching his old stuff, which still seem to me to be far better choreographed than a lot of modern wirework stuff (which I am liking not very much...at all).


60. John Woo Yu Sum (1952 -)

Woo’s Hard Boiled was one of several Chinese/HK films I managed to catch at the Hyde Park Cinema in Leeds as a sweaty long-haired undergraduate (the other two films being Farewell My Concubine and the censored UK-version of Enter The Dragon). I was in HK-film heaven living near to that cinema and it truly made a big difference compared to watching all these things on VHS – as most of us earlier UK-based fans had to make do with. Of course with that film, as well as A Better Tomorrow and The Killer, Woo caught the eye of some US studios (as well as the Beastie Boys) and headed to the US to make Hard Target. The latter film was well below par for Woo but he had his foot in the door and has never looked back. I think (?) that Woo still rents offices in the row of shophouses that front the Flower Market on Prince Edward Road.

I recently watched a couple of his older Golden Harvest produced efforts (The Hand of Death and Last Hurrah For Chivalry) and was quite impressed by them.   


61. Yuen Wo Ping (1945 – )

It’s hard to imagine looking at him but Yuen Wo Ping is one of the most prolific action choreographers in the world today. Even an ignoramus of greater proportions than myself couldn’t have failed to noticed YWP’s choreography in some fairly popular films such as: The Matrix (and sequels), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill (1&2), Kung Fu Hustle and many more. He also directs and recently made a return to that role with True Legend. Incidentally he is the son of Simon Yuen, who played Beggar So in a couple of JC films (i.e. Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagles Shadow) so he is from a well-connected film family.


62. Ann Hui On Wah (1947 – )

You’ll find a reference to Ann Hui in part 2 as she was the director of the Miranda Yang-produced movie Boat People starring (a then, chubby) Andy Lau.

Half Japanese and half Chinese, Hui was born on the mainland but moved to HK (via Macau) at the age of 5. She studied primarily in HK but did spend sometime at the London Int. Film School before returning to HK as the assistant to King Hu (see #43 in part 2).

She’s considered one of the leading lights of HK “new wave” cinema. Of course, being the ignoramus that I am I had to dig around and find out exactly what this meant. Even the wiki definition seemed to be spouting lots of big long words like “technically audacious”, “revisionist”, “experimental realism”. Hmmm, nuff said.


63. Tsui Hark (1950 – )

Vietnamese by birth, Hark came to HK in his early teens and is one of the aforementioned 'new wave' directors. I first heard of him courtesy of Jonathan Ross’s Incredibly Strange Film Show (circa 1988/89) and Channel 4 followed up with a HK-movie season that included Zu Warriors from Magic Mountain. Held up at the time as the pinnacle of HK-style special effects (i.e. low-tech but inventive) it gave Hark much kudos and featured a few of our stars here such as Brigitte Lin (#57) and Sammo Hung (#58).

He’s worked (mainly as producer) on some of the classic gunplay films such as A Better Tomorrow (and its sequels), The Killer and even a JC film – Twin Dragons – but is perhaps most famous for the Once Upon a Time in China series (starring Jet Li).

He did direct some Hollywood stuff – such as Double Team with JCVD, Dennis Rodman and Mickey Rourke and Knock Off (again with JCVD).


64. Chow Yun Fat (1955 – )

Apparently born on Lamma Island and even spending time as a bellhop at the former Miramar Hotel before becoming famous as a TV actor and then moving on to mega-stardom thanks to various seminal roles in various John Woo gunplay actioners. Chow seems to have kept his million dollar feet firmly on the ground and can often be seen riding around on a bike, or catching public transport complete with flat cap and camera (all he needs is a whippet and a lard sandwich).


65. Leslie Cheung Kwok Wing (1956 – 2003)

Cantopop superstar who also proved himself as an excellent actor. A huge star in HK, to western audiences he was probably first seen in various Chinese films that made it onto the terrestrial TV stations (I’m thinking of the previously mentioned late 80′s UK showing of A Chinese Ghost Story). As mentioned in the John Woo section above, I got the chance to watch Farewell My Concubine at the Hyde Park Cinema in Leeds back in 1994 and it was one of the most absorbing cinema experiences I have ever had (in fact thinking back to that showing reminds me of why I used to be such a big cinema fan) and as a result it became one of my favourite films.

Leslie had some heavy personal issues though, came out as gay and ended up hurling himself from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Central. Various fans still hold with a candlelit vigil every 1st April in remembrance. Funnily enough I do remember the Avenue of Stars having a special Leslie display in 2006 (the year we first moved to HK) to celebrate what would have been his 50th birthday.


66. Andy Lau Tak Wah (1961 – )

This guy just gets everywhere to the point of it being really tiresome. I can’t go anywhere without seeing his face – on telly advertising approved tourist shops, at the mall with his big cardboard face sitting in an OSIM massage chair, to my local video store where he features in just about all the films on the shelf (not sure about the top shelf though, honest…).

Lau was initially a TVB actor in the early 1980′s but a contract disagreement, in which TVB ended up blacklisting him, inadvertently launched him into the movies and singing.

Ignoramuses will be familiar with his work in various Asian films that made it into the international mainstream such as the (totally shite) House of Flying Daggers and playing the [SPOILER ALERT!!] double-crossing police inspector in Infernal Affairs.

Lau famously lives on Kadoorie Avenue in Kowloon Tong – a road filled with luxury properties and popular with ‘artistes’ – and had a infamous encounter with a long-term (and highly-deluded) fan last year. Said fan’s obviously mentally-challenged family sold their house to pay for a trip to HK (as you do) so their daughter could go and meet Lau. The day after the encounter, the fan’s even-more-deranged dad topped himself in HK harbour because Lau only spent a few minutes with his daughter…WTF!! I should note the dad had also tried to sell a kidney for the trip at some point – but thankfully was turned down. Jeez! – what a nutjob! It’s times like this when I actually feel sorry for the celebs.


67. Jet Li (1963 – )

My first encounter with Jet was watching a Fist of Legend around a friend's house in the mid-90's. What a great film that was. But perhaps most ignoramuses will know him as the psychopathic Chinese pony-tailed killer who gets his comeuppance at the end of Lethal Weapon 4.

Li started off as a Wushu performer in China before becoming gaining a cult following thanks to 1982′s classic Shaolin Temple (not to be confused with the Shaw film of the same name). His fame was cemented by a recurring role as Wong Fei Hung in Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China series when Li made the move to HK and then on to international projects including, most recently, as one of the mercenaries in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables.

He also recently became a Singaporean citizen, although his ‘betrayal’ of the motherland seems to have attracted less vitriol than fellow Chinese, Gong Li, who did the same (more about her in part 4) – perhaps because he had already taken US citizenship beforehand but subsequently relinquished it – who knows?

Li spends much of his spare time working on his philanthropy and he was a large donor to the Sichuan Earthquake disaster relief fund.


68. Maggie Cheung (1964 – )

I’m familiar with ol’ Mag’s because of her regular appearances as JC’s girlfriend in the Police Story films. She was hot stuff in the 80′s to young western kids like me but all my Chinese friends thought she was a bit of a girl-next-door and nothing special. I also remember a nice documentary Clive James did and he interviewed her somewhere in Repulse Bay. Incidentally, Cheung has won the HK Film Awards Best Actress award more times than any other. Quite an accomplishment.


69. Anita Mui Yim Fong (1963 – 2003)

Anita Mui was basically the Madonna of the HK popscene, although it could be argued that the comparison fails when you look at both women’s respective acting accomplishments i.e. Mui could act. I can remember hearing about her as part of a big scandal that enveloped the film world in 1992 when she was slapped by a film director (and supposed triad) in a HK Karaoke bar because she refused to sing for him. One thing led to another and the guy responsible, Wong Long Lai, was attacked and hospitalised by unknown assailants in what was believed to be a revenge attack (remember the HK film industry was dominated by the criminal underground for many years). Things took an even more sinister turn when someone decided to finish the job and executed him on his hospital bed (seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up).

Mui died of cancer in 2003 not long after her best friend Leslie Cheung topped himself. Her will was recently in the news because her mother was contesting it in an attempt to get control of Mui’s millions, though she lost her court action.


70. Tong Leung Chiu Wai (1962 – )

The first of our Tony Leungs (the other one is Tony Leung Ka Fai – we’ll see him later) and it seems that often the media gets these dudes mixed up too. This is the arguably more famous one thanks to his roles in films such as Chungking Express (as the cop dude Fei Wong obsesses about) but I also remember seeing him in John Woo’s Bullet in the Head (bought by me on a previous VCD shopping trip to HK back in the late 90′s) and of course as the doomed undercover cop in the Infernal Affairs series. I think I first saw him playing an undercover cop opposite Chow Yuen Fat in John Woo’s Hard Boiled. More recently he starred as Yip Man in the most recent telling of the man's life The Grandmaster.

He also has a sporadic singing career and has a whole bunch of albums to his name and is married to still-hot-babe Carina Lau.


71. Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng (1962 – )

My introduction to Michelle Yeoh was when I purchased a copy of Police Assassins (aka Royal Warriors) from some dodgy video shop in the late 80s. At the time she was going under the name Michelle Khan for some reason but, anyway, a great film starring other well-known stars such as Hiroyuki Sanada and Michael Wong – brother of Russell. Of course, Michelle probably went on to greater fame thanks to her 1997 stint in the otherwise shite James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

I remember Bey Logan doing an interview with her in Combat in the late 80′s when she was in the UK filming a movie called Easy Money. But alas, she married Dickson Poon (emphasis on the 'dick') and disappeared from the scene. After divorce, she made a comeback in Jackie Chan’s 3rd installment of the Police Story series – Supercop and has never looked back. I guess her most famous international role since has been in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. These days she has got lumbered with advertising older woman’s nutritional supplements on local HK TV.


72. Wong Kar Wai (1958 – )

Shanghai-born but moved to HK as a young boy. He joined TVB as a screenwriter after college graduation. Later joining the recently deceased Alan Tang’s (d. 2011) production houses Wing Scope/In-Gear. It was here he made As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild. He garnered more recognition with Chungking Express in 1994 (still a firm favourite among Asian film fans and ignoramuses alike) but it wasn’t until Happy Together that he started to get more international recognition thanks to scooping the Best Director prize at Cannes in 1997. It’s quite possible his sunglasses have been surgically attached to his face because I can’t find a photo of him where he is not wearing them.

He's back in the news at the moment courtesy of the aforementioned Tony Leung starrer, The Grandmaster.


73. Stephen Chow (1962 – )

Chow has fallen out of favour of late, a bit like Jackie Chan I ‘spose – mainly because he seems to be very difficult to work with and he recently made some fairly disparaging remarks about his mother tongue,  Cantonese. He’s been around for an age but only became known to lesser ignoramuses after Shaolin Soccer hit the shelves in the UK followed by the very entertaining Kung Fu Hustle. Since moving to HK I’ve been able to catch up on his earlier stuff which, it has to be said, is very entertaining – King of Comedy being one of my favourites. He was slated to reprise Bruce Lee’s role in the recently released remake of The Green Hornet but, for whatever reason, dropped out.


74. Tsz Law Lin (1924 – )

Tsz is pronounced more like Tsi (or Chi if you want to be lazy) and this name belongs to a famous actress who started her journey to the silver screen as a Cantonese Opera performer. She made her film debut age 14 in 1938. She was one of the founder members of the seemingly quite well-known Union Film company in 1952 but the main blurb for her star on the Avenue of Stars conveniently skips over the war years when she appeared in some Japanese propaganda films made after the invasion in 1941.

She did manage to flee back to the Mainland and insisted she was forced to do the filming – which is understandable considering how utterly ruthless the Japanese were being at that time – but it hasn’t stopped her from being branded as a collaborator. Post-war, as mentioned, she returned to HK and re-entered the film industry with various roles before forming several companies including the previously mentioned Union as well as her own Tsz Law Lin’s Films Co.

She retired to the US in the mid-1960′s although appears to have been granted British Citizenship by then Governor David Trench in 1965.Still alive and kicking it large for the Christian Church, apparently.


75. Lam Kar Sing (1933 – )

Another Cantonese opera performer who took his trade to the film world and managing to make over 300 films in a career that spanned a mere 20 years – almost all of them were based on traditional Cantonese Opera stories and performances, although he did also co-star in several of Kwan Tak Hing’s Wong Fei Hung films.

He retired in 1993 and received a Bronze Bauhinia Star in 2005. He even has a website dedicated to him but I’m not sure if this is fan-based (as I suspect) or actually his official outlet. If you can read Chinese then feel free to check it out yourself at : www.karsing.com


Picture Courtesy: HKMDB.COM

So that’s part 3, we’ve got through 75 personalities and still have 30+ to go as well as a nice rounding-up of missing (in my humble opinion at least) people who I think deserve to have their star there.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Phil --

    FWIW, Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia is my favorite actress of all time -- and I can't resist naming some of my favorite films from the around 60 I've seen of the 100 that she appeared in: Peking Opera Blues, Swordsman II (and Swordsman III's not bad too), Ashes of Time, Dragon Inn, Red Dust, The Bride with White Hair...

    And while I love Police Story and Chungking Express as movies, you've really got to see the other films I mentioned to appreciate how great and iconic an actress she really is (or, rather, was as she has not appeared in a film since 1994 -- though she also did narrate at least one Yon Fan film after that).

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    1. Hi Yvonne, thanks for this. I was hoping you would be able to add to this for me. :-)

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