Sammo Hung is a Chinese actor, producer and director from Hong Kong, known for his work in many kung fu films and Hong Kong action cinema. He has been a fight choreographer for, amongst others, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, King Hu, Stephen Chow and John Woo.
In East Asia, it is common for people to address their elders or influential people with familial nouns as a sign of familiarity and respect. Jackie Chan, for example, is often addressed as "Dai Goh", meaning Big Brother. Hung was known also known as "Dai Goh", until the filming of Project A, which featured both actors. As Hung was the eldest of the kung fu "brothers", and the first to make a mark on the industry, he was given the nickname "Dai Goh Dai", meaning, Big, Big Brother or Biggest Big Brother.
Hung joined the China Drama Academy, a Peking Opera School in Hong Kong, in 1961. He was enrolled for a period of 7 years, beginning at the age of 9, after his grandparents heard about the school from their friends). The opera school was run by Master Yu Jim Yuen and as was customary for all students, Hung adopted the given name of his sifu as his family name whilst attending. Going by the name Yuen Lung, Hung became the foremost member of the Seven Little Fortunes (七小福) performing group, and would establish a school rivalry with one of the younger students, Yuen Lo. Yuen Lo would go on to become international superstar Jackie Chan. At the age of 14, Hung was selected by a teacher who had connections to the Hong Kong film industry to perform stunts on a movie. This brief foray into the industry piqued his interest in film and he took particular interest in the operation of film cameras. Shortly after leaving the Academy at the age of 16, Hung suffered an injury that left him bedridden for an extended period, during which time his weight ballooned. After finding work in the film industry as a stuntman, he was given a nickname after a well-known Chinese cartoon character, Sam-mo (三毛; Three Hairs).
Many years later, in 1988, Hung starred in Alex Law's Painted Faces, a dramatic re-telling of his experiences at the China Drama Academy. Among the exercises featured in the movie are numerous acrobatic backflips, and hours of handstands performed against a wall. Despite some of the more brutal exercises and physical punishments shown in Painted Faces, Hung and the rest of the Seven Little Fortunes consider the movie a toned-down version of their actual experiences.
In 1970, Hung began working for Raymond Chow and the Golden Harvest film company. He was initially hired to choreograph the action scenes for the very first Golden Harvest film, The Angry River (1970). His popularity soon began to grow, and due to the quality of his choreography and disciplined approach to his work, he again caught the eye of celebrated Taiwanese director, King Hu. Hung choreographed two of Hu's movies, A Touch of Zen (1971) and The Fate of Lee Khan (1973).
Toward the late 1970s, Hong Kong cinema began to shift away from the Mandarin-language, epic martial arts movies popularised by directors such as Chang Cheh. In a series of movies, Hung, along with Jackie Chan, began reinterpreting the genre by making Cantonese comedy kung fu. While these movies still strongly featured martial arts, they also feature a liberal mixture of humour.
In 1977, Hung was given his first lead role in a Golden Harvest production, in the film Shaolin Plot. His next film was his directorial debut, The Iron Fisted Monk, one of the earliest kung fu comedies.
In 1978, Raymond Chow gave Hung the task of completing the fight co-ordination for the re-shoot of Game of Death, the film Bruce Lee was unable to complete before his death in 1973.
After Jackie Chan's success with Drunken Master (1978), Hung was scheduled to make a similar movie featuring that film's "Beggar So" character played by Yuen Siu Tien (aka Simon Yuen). As Jackie's elder, Sammo was expected to be able to surpass him in popularity. The movie was called Magnificent Butcher and was released in 1979. However, during filming Yuen Siu Tien died of a heart attack. He was replaced by Fan Mei Sheng and Yuen's absence may have led to low ticket sales.
In 1979, Hung took the lead role in the comedy film Enter the Fat Dragon, for H.K. Fong Ming Motion Picture Company, in which his character idolises and impersonates Bruce Lee. Hung has impersonated Lee on film twice more - in the final fight scene against Cynthia Rothrock in Millionaire's Express (1986)., and throughout the 1990 Lau Kar Wing film Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon.
In 1978 and 1981, Hung made two movies that contain fine examples of the Wing Chun style. The first, Warriors Two was the biggest role to date for South Korean super kicker Casanova Wong, who teamed up with Hung in the final fight. The second film was The Prodigal Son, in which the Wing Chun fighting was performed by Lam Ching-Ying. The release of The Prodigal Son, along with another film directed by and co-starring Hung, Knockabout (1979) also shot his fellow Opera schoolmate Yuen Biao to stardom.
Hung's martial arts movies of the 1980s helped reconfigure how martial arts were presented on screen. While the martial arts movies of the 1970s generally featured highly-stylised fighting sequences in period or fantasy settings, Hung's choreography, set in modern urban areas, was more realistic and frenetic - featuring long one-on-one fight scenes. The fight sequences from several of these films, such as those in Winners and Sinners (1982) and Wheels on Meals (1985) came to define 1980s martial arts movies.
In 1983, the collaboration between the triumverate of Hung, Jackie Chan, and Yuen Biao began with Chan's Project A. Hung, Chan and Yuen were known as the 'Three Dragons' and their alliance lasted for 5 years. Although Yuen continued to appear in the films of Hung and Chan, the final film to date starring all three was 1988's Dragons Forever.
Hung was also responsible for the Lucky Stars comedy film series in the 1980s. He directed and co-starred in the original trilogy, Winners and Sinners, My Lucky Stars and Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars. These first three films featured Chan and Biao in supporting roles. Hung also produced and played a supporting role in the fourth film, Lucky Stars Go Places, and made a cameo appearance in the sixth and final film, How to Meet the Lucky Stars.
During the 1980s, Hung was instrumental in the creation of the Jiang Shi ("hopping vampire" or "hopping corpse") genre, with two landmark films, Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) and The Dead and the Deadly (1983). Both movies feature vampires who, as stiffened corpses, move by hopping, as well as Taoist priests with the ability to quell these vampires (and at times, each other) through magical spells and charms. These films meld Chinese folklore with special effects and kung fu action to create a genre that is uniquely Chinese. Hung's Jiang Shi films would pave the way for movies such as the popular Mr. Vampire (1985), which he also produced, and its sequels. He revitalised the sub-genre of female-led kung fu films, producing cop films such as Yes, Madam aka Police Assassins (1985), which introduced stars Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock.
Whilst continuing to produce films through his own company Bojon Films Company Ltd, Hung failed to equal his early successes. His fortunes improved somewhat as the helmer of "Mr. Nice Guy" (1997), a long-awaited reunion with Chan.
In 1998, US television network CBS began to broadcast Martial Law (1998–2000) on Saturday nights, a comedy-drama built around Hung. The hour-long shows were a surprise success and installed Hung as the only East Asian headlining a prime time network series. The television series was executive produced and occasionally directed by Stanley Tong, and co-starred Arsenio Hall. Hung reportedly recited some of his English dialogue phonetically.
Hung made something of a comeback to the Hong Kong film industry in the 2000s, most notably with The Legend of Zu, the long-awaited sequel to Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, and later SPL: Sha Po Lang (aka Kill Zone, 2005), in which he played a villain for the first time in over 25 years, and had his first ever fight scene against Donnie Yen. One of the key relationships in SPL had been Hung's role as the adoptive father of Wu Jing's character. However, these scenes were dropped from the final film as the director, Wilson Yip, couldn't find a way to fit them into the film. In response to this, a prequel film is planned.
His recent works include Kung Fu Hustle and Dragon Squad. Though Yuen Woo-ping was credited for the martial arts choreography on Kung Fu Hustle, Hung actually did the preliminary work but left the movie and Yuen subsequently filled in to complete it. Because of his departure from the film, there was tabloid speculation that he and Stephen Chow had strong differences over the film, resulting in their separation. However, Chow has since responded that Hung left for personal reasons and not because of speculated tensions.
Hung and Wu Jing also appeared in 2007's Twins Mission alongside stars, the Twins. He recently starred in the film, Fatal Move, alongside Ken Lo as a pair of rival triad gang leaders., and starred in and performed action choreography for Daniel Lee's Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon, with Andy Lau and Maggie Q. The film, was based on the book Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Filming has begun on the upcoming Anthony Szeto film, Wushu, again starring Hung. The film was unveiled by Golden Network at Cannes. Jackie Chan will work on the film in an advisory / marketing capacity and is assisting with casting.
Hung has also directed and starred in another martial arts epic entitled Howling Arrow, and the film is currently in post-production. According to Hung's official website, the film stars Aaron Kwok, Wu Jing, and Zhou Xun and was filmed for Tsui Siu-Ming’s Sundream Motion Pictures.
Further announced film projects that will involve Hung include a starring role in Daniel Lee's Duel, an action direction role for Ip Man and another starring role in Vincent Kok's horror comedy, V for Vampire.
Hung is scheduled to appear as a guest judge on the China Beijing TV Station reality television series The Disciple, which is currently airing in Mainland China and is produced by, and features Jackie Chan. The aim of the program is to find a new star, skilled in acting and martial arts, to become Chan's "successor", the champion being awarded the lead role in a film. It will conclude on June 7, 2008, with the series winner being announced in Beijing.
Another Mainland series is also due, Shaolin Temple: Monks and Marines, set during the Ming dynasty, in which Hung will play Big Foot, a Shaolin warrior monk joining General Qi Ji Guang's marines to help defend the nation against Japanese pirates. Sammy Hung also has a role, as Big Foot's disciple.
Hung has starred in 75 films, and worked on over 230, beginning as a child actor whilst still attending the China Drama Academy. Upon leaving the opera school, he worked as an extra and stuntman, and progressed through other roles including fight choreographer, stunt co-ordinator, action director, actor, writer, producer and director.
1980 saw Raymond Chow pull one of Hung's films from local cinemas after just two weeks. Hung responded by starting his own production company Bo Ho Film Company Ltd, allowing him to have greater control to produce Hong Kong films. Whilst Bo Ho produced, Golden Harvest still operated as distributors. In all, 40 films were released by Bo Ho, several of which starred Hung:
In 1989, Hung formed a new production company, Bojon Films Company Ltd. The company produced 5 films, all of which starred Hung:
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