Sammo Hung is a martial artist, director, fight choreographer and the best fat actor. Casanova Wong’s jumping kick over the table in Warriors Two was Hung’s way of topping Bruce Lee’s similar stunt in Fist of Fury. On the HKL audio commentary for Bruce’s Game of Death, Bey Logan claimed that Sammo is the true successor to Bruce in terms of fight choreography. That is apt because Bruce proved that he could choreograph a captivating fight between two ordinary people as seen in A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970). Similarly, Sammo oversaw a fight between Gwyneth Paltrow and Christina Applegate in View from the Top. In issue 82 (September 2005) of DVD Review, Bey had claimed:
“No-one ever made traditional Kung Fu look more effective on-screen and no action star, including Chan, ever looks better than they do when directed by Sammo.”
Back to Lee, a Bruceploitation film titled King Boxer 2 (a.k.a. Bruce and the Shaolin Bronzemen starring a lookalike) inspired Sammo for two of the comedies which he made with Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao. If you watch this flick followed by Winners and Sinners then Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars, you’ll see how Sammo incorporated certain gags from it i.e. a gun-toting dwarf and four blade-wielding women at a resort. Sammo put a transvestite spin on the latter, but even that came from a throwaway scene where Le (whose name would only make sense if he was a French version of Bruce Lee) bumps into a transvestite.
As you can see from the above image for Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Stars, Steve Martin wasn’t all that original when he used a tennis racket to fight those bullies in Roxanne (1987). Sammo has the most diverse dexterity among choreographers of any country. If he was requested, he could easily choreograph a fight scene for Arrow, Banshee or even Game of Thrones for that matter. It’s not completely out of the possibility realms, because George Lucas wanted Sammo to choreograph the lightsaber duels in the Star Wars prequels. Not only is it a downright shame that it didn’t happen, but it’s a pity that no-one thought about hiring him for the sequels.
Sammo is as much of an underdog as he is a titan. The original version of Spooky, Spooky was different. He put the film on hold to do Dragons Forever, but other people viewed the footage and stole the scenes to reshoot for their movies. Sometimes, he is an uncredited choreographer. With the exception of the bicycle chase, he choreographed and directed all of the fight scenes in Project A. He also directed the final fight scene in Righting Wrongs. He even had a hand in directing the final fight between Joyce and Agnes in License to Steal. Elsewhere, he directed the knife fight between Jackie and Andy Lau in Island of Fire, while Jackie choreographed his other fight scenes.
I used to feel so sorry for Sammo because of how he didn’t get to enjoy the fame that Jackie does. However, Keith Vitali said something about the making of Wheels on Meals that has made me think twice:
“Sammo and Jackie Chan were good friends, but they had a natural rivalry. There was a scene where I had to kick Jackie in the chest with my side kick. Now, my side kick is my trademark, my most powerful kick, and as we were going through the scene, I was hitting him pretty hard, but Sammo kept asking for more power! So, I hit him harder, and Jackie kept dropping to the ground, cringing and crying, then Sammo would call for us to do it again. I hit Jackie so hard that I thought I was going to kill him! Sammo thought it was great fun!”
In 1992, Chan wanted to make a three brothers film (i.e. alongside Hung and Biao) with Jet Li but ended up in City Hunter as a result of his ardent fan base’s demand and a request on the behalf of loyal Japanese financiers of whom G.H. could not resist. Jackie was losing out in that territory and he still needed to recoup the budget of Operation Condor (1991). One premise for such a unique reunion was to do an ancient Chinese swordplay take on The Three Musketeers, where Jet was to play the role of the D’artagnan prototype to Hung’s Porthos. Jackie would be Athos as a reference to Drunken Master, whereas Biao was perfect as Aramis because he played the head-in-the-clouds type as seen in Dragons Forever.
Willie Chan (i.e. Jackie’s unrelated manager) said…
“The film with Jet Li and Sammo Hung is at best an idea in Jackie’s head. As you probably know, the movie market in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia has been a downward trend – with the exception of Jackie’s films. Jackie feels that if he can work together with other stars like Jet, Stephen Chow or Chow Yun-Fat, it may create new chemistry and thus help boost sales for the entire industry.”
Sammo wanted Jackie to play Chen Sing’s sidekick in The Iron-Fisted Monk, but Lo Wei refused to lend Jackie to Golden Harvest because of his grudge. There was concern that the scene where the monk reluctantly enters the brothel to go undercover wouldn’t go down too well with the Buddhist Union of Singapore and Malaysia. They got the joke. The movie played without any objection because nobody thought the script was far-fetched i.e. Manchu warlords did rape and commit necrophilia. On the U.S. DVD of The Victim, it is stated on the Bobby Samuels and Ric Meyers audio commentary that The Victim was actually Hung’s directorial debut. This has an air of credence to it for a variety of reasons. Bob lived and worked with Sammo (as you may have seen in Gambling Ghost and Don’t Give a Damn).
Of particular note is that in the first act, Sammo looks quite similar to the way that he did in Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog (in his hair style, hair colour, girth and clothing). Leung Kar-Yan’s hair is initially above the shoulders. Hence this film began filming in 1977. This explains why the quality of the fights gets substantially better as the running time goes on, so therefore there is a lot of credibility given towards what may seem like a factoid. When Sammo filmed his fight scene with Bruce in Enter the Dragon, he learned valuable lessons such as opening a film with a bang in the form of a fight. Sammo put The Victim on hold in the same way that Bruce put Game on Death on hold for Enter the Dragon. This allowed them to the raise the funding for their “cold storage” movies. It’s like how Lau Kar-Leung’s Breakout from Oppression was technically his directorial debut since it was made before he made The Spiritual Boxer but was released afterwards.
Given the complexity of the project, it was unlikely for The Victim to be entirely made in 1979 when he was working on productions made either by G.H. or Gar Bo. The tune that accompanies the lead-up to Sammo’s first fight with Leung came from a movie titled It’s Alive 2: It’s Live Again. Contrastingly, the latter features a scene in which the female lead is watching Enter the Dragon in a public theater. The Victim is the H.K. equivalent to The Evil Dead. Both are ground-breaking genre efforts that took three years to complete and have unexpected endings. More specifically, both suspenseful movies could be simultaneously categorized as classics of the late seventies and early eighties.
Although Heart of Dragon gets compared to Rain Man (mostly because of Jackie’s memoir), the former was more of an inspiration for Dominick and Eugene. Minus the action, the latter has more in common with Hung’s non-flop than Barry Levinson’s blockbuster. With that said, the true H.K. equivalent to Rain Man was Wong Jing’s God of Gamblers. On the subject of reinvention, there is a scene in Pantyhose Hero that is starkly reminiscent of Biao’s response to his love interest’s mother’s acceptance of his father’s marriage proposal in Wheels on Meals (a Hung hit). The scene in Pantyhose Hero centers around Hung’s lowly reaction to Alan Tam (whose character was intended to be played by Sam Hui) leaving with Joan Chen.
Fruit Chan was sadly an uncredited director for Heart of Dragon. Sammo knew that he had a lot to deal with as a thespian, so he needed back-up. Because his mother was an art director, Sammo had a certain advantage when it came to getting film work in the late `60s. His main mentor was a director named Huang Feng, who became the Orson Welles to Sammo’s Peter Bogdanovich. Like Sammo, Peter acts as well as directs. During the making of a Feng film, Sammo achieved his personal record for spoiled takes – 125 takes for a shot which involved 14 moves.
Huang was the one who approached Golden Harvest’s Raymond Chow so that he could be convinced to let Hung direct. When Ray had dinner with Sammo in Australia during the making of The Man from Hong Kong (co-starring George Lazenby), Ray agreed to let him film The Iron-Fisted Monk (written by Feng). Sammo also considers King Hu to be a major influence: “I always called him uncle. He was a very good master too. He could talk about anything that you would want to know about opera and movies. We would go to dinner and he would talk till 5 a.m. He would never say you were wrong. He would just tell you what happens.”
Pantyhose Hero is an uncredited Wong Jing movie, as first reported here in 2005. It was the start of a recurring theme in a Jing-oriented movie where Sammo gets stabbed in the stomach but lives (the following fight films featuring this motif being Kung Fu Cult Master and The Avenging Fist). This is because Hung’s character went through this in The Victim. This was Jing’s playful way of saying that Sammo is so big that getting stabbed would be like being pierced by a sowing needle. In a privately conducted interview with Sammo, it was mentioned that Wong and Sammo debated (if not argued) over the tone of Kung Fu Cult Master. Hung wanted something more serious, whereas Wong wished to undertake a satire of the resurgent wuxia sub-genre as well as a send-up of Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (which Sammo had appeared in).
It is worth pinpointing the similarities between The Moon Warriors and King Hu’s The Valiant Ones, in which Sammo choreographed and played the lead bad guy. Both share a premise that involves escorting government officials and treachery. The forest fights are almost identical in both films, with lots of sideways tracking shots. Both endings involve the surviving characters standing over the graves of the fallen while a voiceover wraps up the story. The frugal fracas between Sammo and Mark Houghton in Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon was a lot longer. Sammo hits a few more opponents with his nunchakus before he faces off against Mark, even swinging his nunchakus at him.
Mark shrugs his shoulders, Sammo drops the chained sticks and the fight begins. Mark gives Sammo a few nice kicks and punches before knocking him down to the floor a few times (you can see the bruises on his face later). Sammo gets up, changes his style, kicks Mark and comes in with a flurry of punches, which is where the fight starts on the regular version. Sammo thinks that his best work as choreographer is the fight between Jackie and Benny Urquidez in Wheels on Meals. The trio above the quartet (Ridley Tsui, Lau Kar-Wing and Hung Yan-Yan) would probably agree that it’s better than any of the fights in the previously mentioned movie that they worked on.
Robert Samuels was persistent in his refusal for Sammo to go ahead with the minstrel gags in Don’t Give a Damn, but Sammo claimed that he was forced to do these scenes due to Taiwanese investors. Although, you have to wonder how far they would’ve gone with the literally black humour if Jackie was in the film (since having a huge star like him would ensure that they wouldn’t need to resort to cheap commercialism). The American black demographic facilitated the popularity of Kung Fu movies during the years when it wasn’t a trend. Given the commercial intentions, having Jackie in the film would’ve meant that it would be a case of less pander (no racist jokes to cater to Taiwan) and less slander (no criticism aimed at Sammo from the politically correct).
Don’t Give a Damn was meant to have Chan playing the role that Biao ended up playing, whereas Biao would’ve played the role that went to Takeshi Kaneshiro. Unfortunately, Chan was too busy working on Rumble in the Bronx. With Kenny Bee playing the role that Chan was meant to play in The Millionaire’s Express, the consensus of the loyal industry insiders was that Chan was missing out on being in Hung’s movie – which was predicted as being a bigger hit than Police Story. It was. Much to the surprise of cranky critics who justifiably criticized the opening reel’s continuity error but balked at the lack of fighting for a massive section of the film, Armour of God made more money in `87 than Hung’s film did in `86.
Hung and Biao would return the favour by rejecting the opportunity to co-star in Project A 2 so that they could work on Eastern Condors (a movie that I can no longer watch due to the editing compromising the characterization). During the pre-production phase of The Millionaire’s Express, Sammo wanted the three brothers to have one-on-one fights with Yasuaki Kurata, Yukari Oshima and Hwang Jang-Lee. Had Bruce lived, he may have convinced Sammo to mockingly cast Ji Han-Jae (a.k.a. Chi Hon-Joi) as a John Wayne caricature. This is plausible given how The Millionaire’s Express is the Eastern equivalent to a Western.
Righting Wrongs was envisioned by Sammo as his answer to Police Story. The motivation being that Sammo was offended that Jackie would pass up the chance to appear in an epic film just to do a cop movie. The car park fight in Righting Wrongs was conceived by Sammo as a way to one-up Jackie’s similar sequence in his film (even though Sammo didn’t direct Biao’s scene). Righting Wrongs is almost the better movie if it wasn’t for some unforgivable stunt doubling. The stunt where Biao hangs onto the plane via rope was Hung’s way of taking a swipe at the bus stunt. Intriguingly, both Chan and Hung were making a slam towards Hollywood with these scenes because A View to a Kill had a finale involving someone hanging from a vehicle but that movie was restricted in realism due to safety regulations.
Jackie was meant to play Wei Pei’s role in The Magnificent Butcher (a 1979 Sammo vehicle) but was busy working on The Young Master (which Wei was also in). Jackie and Sammo would both regret casting Wei because he has Tourette syndrome. An alternate version of Wheels on Meals has an Anthrax song, Horror of it All, play in the background of the disco scene. Wesley Snipes has referred to Wheels on Meals as his favourite Hong Kong movie. He is a big fan of Sammo and wanted to make movies in H.K. because he felt that Hollywood didn’t display enough of his talent (a black belt in Tae Kwon Do). He envied Rob Samuels. Knockabout was meant to be the first “three brothers” movie with Jackie playing Leung’s role, but Jackie was contractually obliged to Lo Wei and was tied to the production of his directorial debut (Fearless Hyena).
Carry on Pickpocket (1982) is the true film that marks Anita Mui’s first appearance on screen though it’s more of a cameo/walk-on role (à la Jenny Bede in The World’s End) than anything her later roles/talent would suggest. It’s in the scene where Deannie Yip tells off Hung in his nightgown in front of a group of people coming out of a restaurant. Anita is the one in the white T-shirt. The scene where Sammo uses the two fork-stabbed buns to move like a dancer is a homage to a Charlie Chaplin film called The Gold Rush (1925). As it was his second contemporary movie (the first being Enter the Fat Dragon), the action lacks the modern feel of Winners and Sinners (a 1983 comedy with some archaic fight scenes). Still, he won the best actor award at the second H.K. film awards ceremony. He tied with Karl Maka (who won for Aces Go Places).
The fight between Sammo and Liu Chia-Liang in Pedicab Driver only took 6 days to shoot. Allegedly, there was an alternate version which contained extra fights (for the Taiwanese market). The first was a rematch where Sammo wins but gains the respect of Liu. The second was where Sammo is in trouble but Liu and his men save him. A conversation emerges from the aftermath where Liu speaks to Sammo as an uncle by extolling advice that he must allow Liu to help him if he wants to survive. The finale was different in that Liu and his men help to take on a legion of thugs in and outside the villain’s mansion. Even though I’ve not seen this version, I do not doubt it one bit considering how many films of the golden era have Taiwanese and Korean variants.
The Japanese trailer for Encounter of the Spooky Kind was strange when they show the scene with Sammo being nude and painted all over with protective writing. The caption reads: “Sammo Hung – so sexy!” The film was originally titled with Close at the front but Golden Harvest were concerned that they would face a lawsuit from somebody affiliated with Steven Spielberg. Sammo made the movie because so many people in Asia believe in ghosts. Many friends advised him not to make it because nobody would pay to see it. It didn’t matter because he was already shooting it. Prior to making it, he felt that the film would have a lot of resonance because he heard many stories about ghostly goings-on happening in both Malaysia and Singapore. Spooky Encounters (as it was otherwise known) was very profitable.
It was the first time that someone yelled at the screen while watching a Chinese ghost movie (the person was imitating the monkey possession). Michael Jackson’s anti-gravity lean in the Smooth Criminal video was inspired by the hopping vampire in the nocturnal temple scene. The Dead and The Deadly is an unofficial sequel as the Chinese title was something Sammo said in the other movie. In regards to Ashes of Time, the hyper slow motion style wasn’t Christopher Doyle’s in concept – it was Hung’s (who did it in Kung Fu Cult Master as well as Thunderbolt). Little is known about the fact that Sammo choreographed the first fight in Thunderbolt (the one which ends with the men trapped in the painting facility).
Unlike what the Western press and social media websites have superficially made of his involvement in Kung Fu Hustle, Sammo choreographed the Burly Brawl parody (from The Matrix Reloaded) as well as the fight in the night where the three masters face the two musicians. In interviews, Sammo has said that it was his idea. He even described how he did it. Sammo received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 22th Asian American International Film Festival in 1999. This should take off the sting of having his international attempts as a martial arts choreographer being heavily jeopardised by American editors (namely on Mr. Nice Guy, Knock Off and Highbinders).
Even his credential on Kung Fu Hustle (a movie which Bey and Jing are not so keen on) was stymied by the fact that Stephen Chow was desperate to have mainstream transatlantic success. Sammo’s dream project (which probably won’t happen now) was to make a period movie about Tai Chi (which would’ve been conspicuously more accurate than Yuen Woo-Ping’s The Tai Chi Master). Another dream that was to be dashed like a pipe dream was a ghost movie for both Western and Eastern markets, hence why Highbinders (which became The Medallion) was a sticky sore point for the rotund legend. I think that it would’ve been cool if he reunited with Mickey Rourke (after Double Team) by working on The Wrestler.
Things could’ve been different if Sammo hadn’t rejected a role in Stanley Tong’s China Strike Force (which had Coolio in it). Had Bruce lived, we may very well have seen him play the role that Sammo played in Pantyhose Hero (a 1990 movie which Jing co-wrote as well as co-directed). He respected Sammo enough to be majorly disappointed when he indefinitely rejected the chance to be in Game of Death, and he clearly forgave him enough to give him a standout role in Enter the Dragon. More importantly, he clearly respected himself to not play the role that Alan ended up playing (which means that Sammo would play the weaker of the faux gay couple). It wouldn’t have been an about turn given the particular (or should that be peculiar?) photo above.
Project A could almost be classified as Sammo’s film. Besides supervising all the fights, he directed all the scenes featuring himself. He claimed that he directed everything that happens after the bicycle chase because Jackie wanted his help after the financial fiasco of Dragon Lord. What makes Sammo’s involvement all the more surprising is that Jackie’s initial intention was to be directed by a director from Taiwan (Chu Yen-Ping?). Sammo regards his best films to be Eastern Condors, The Prodigal Son and Pedicab Driver. They were made in the `80s. His favourite `90s movie is Pantyhose Hero. In a 1999 interview for a magazine called Kung Fu Qigong, he confirmed that it is indeed himself who gets hit by the car. He later relayed that no-one wanted him to jump over a speeding car in Carry On Pickpocket.