A blast through the past

A fast-paced guide to Hong Kong movie trivia that spans over thirty years.


1972



Queen Boxer was filmed in 18 days. Usually, Kung Fu movies took at least a month to be filmed. As such, there was no time to repeat stunts. Actors worked without padded clothes, hence why it was easy for the U.S. marketing team to advertise Judy Lee as Bruce Lee’s sister. However, they only had the guts to do this (in 1974) well after he had passed away. It did help that there was a demand for female martial artists after Angela Mao made her mark in Enter the Dragon.


1974


Like James Dean, Chen Wo-Fu (the suicidal star of The Shadow Boxer) died at the age of 24 before the premieres of their most famous films. He looks like Bruce Li. Had he lived, he would probably have been roped into those Bruceploitation movies with the name Bruce Lean (as a nod to David Lean). Seeing as how he died on January 31, the Shaw Brothers studio could have released the film on the Chinese new year so as to capitalize on the news of his death.


1975


Johnny Wang Lung-Wei’s nickname for Carter Wong is watermelon. This is because they were in a film titled Marco Polo. The name means that he looks good but is stiff.


When Bruce Lee Against Supermen was released in South Africa, it had made a ton of money. Bruce Li’s movies always grossed lots of money, but this one was the biggest of his hits. When it was first released in America, they used one of the stills from Jackie Chan’s The Big Brawl to promote it. This is because the black demographic really took to him. There was a time when Jackie was more popular among blacks than whites.


Speaking of Bruceploitation, Rebecca De Mornay had written the theme tune to a biopic titled Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death. You can see her music credentials on the Discogs site.


1977


Speaking of black people, a 1977 movie would give rise to the title of a Salt-N-Pepa album titled Hot, Cool & Vicious. Tommy Lee (not the drummer for Mötley Crüe) was a friend of Dorian Tan, so he is the one who got him the lead role in The Hot, The Cool and The Vicious.


1978


The masked fighter that was played by Wei Pei in The Five Venoms was intended to be female but the gender was changed because Chang Cheh wanted the audience in a position where you couldn’t even guess who was the culprit. The movie truly is the martial arts equivalent to The Usual Suspects. When watching the movie, it’s sad to think that Sun Chien would end up working as the manager at one of the McDonald’s restaurants in Hong Kong. Literally adding injury to insult, a fishing hook cost him his right eye.


Since the release date information is incomplete on HKMDB, I will reveal that Sammo Hung’s Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog finished its run on August 2 after it premiered on July 21. It grossed H.K.$ 2,457,761. Despite spending an extra day at the box office (i.e. 14 days), Enter the Fat Dragon grossed H.K.$ 1,663,639.


1980


This was the year of the monkey according to the Chinese zodiac. Ironically, most of the movies (including the best ones) about the monkey style of Kung Fu were released in 1979 i.e. Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow was released in February, Knockabout was released in April, Monkey Kung Fu was released in May, Ape Girl was released the day after (on the sixth) whereas Mad Monkey Kung Fu was released in October. Monkey Fist, Floating Snake, which was actually released in the year of the monkey, didn’t do all that well at the box office.


1981


According to Kirk Wong, almost everyone who worked on The Club (in front and behind the camera) was a real gangster at one time or another including the production manager and production assistants. Ironically, it was the most fun that he had on a film set. This is saying something since his friends and mother worked on Health Warning two years later. His friends would drive the van while his mother worked on props.


1982



Carry on Pickpocket has a murder scene involving an elevator shaft which is recreated almost exactly from Robert Redford’s The Hot Rock (1972).


1984


Richard Norton rejected the role that Keith Vitali had played in Jackie’s Wheels on Meals This was because he was working as Linda Ronstadt’s bodyguard for her latest tour.


Dennis Alexio (who played Jean-Claude Van Damme’s brother in Kickboxer) had an uncredited fighting role in a 1984 Taiwanese movie called Lucky Seven (a.k.a. 7 Lucky Ninja Kids).


1986


For Legacy of Rage, Stanley Tong and Ken Lo had not only worked on the action scenes but doubled for Brandon Lee in some occasions.


Royal Warriors is also known as In the Line of Duty (whose title became its own franchise). Because Michelle Yeoh, Henry Sanada and Michael Wong couldn’t speak much Cantonese, they were told to speak English since H.K. movies during this time were shot without synch-sound. The director spoke a little English, so Michelle would be the translator for her two co-stars. When the trio tried to speak the Cantonese dialogue, the inflections were wrong enough to sound like different words. The cast and crew would burst out laughing.


Another 1986 movie with the RW initials is Righting Wrongs. It foreshadows Dragons Forever in that it’s a martial arts movie about a lawyer. Both movies were produced by Golden Harvest and featured Yuen Biao in prominent roles, along with featuring the directorial talent of Corey Yuen. It’s been said that Dragons Forever didn’t do too well in Japan because Jackie was playing a lawyer, but you have to think about how Biao’s reported popularity in Japan had suffered (or perhaps endured) with him playing the same kind of character.


1987


Magnificent Warriors, another Yeoh movie, was meant to be filmed in Taiwan for just three weeks since that would be the equivalent of three TV episodes which are half an hour long. It ended up taking three months! They had to leave Taiwan because of the enormous taxes, especially since they had to use the local crews. Even though the H.K. cast and crew had a script (unlike most H.K. movies), it began changing because they were running out of time. They had to make a lot of concessions in working around the original ideas.



By the final three weeks, they knew that they had to finish up quick or end up paying a lot more money. It was the toughest eighties movie for her to work on. On a positive note, it’s because of befriending Stanley Tong on this movie that he suggested to Jackie about having a female sidekick in Police Story III: Super Cop. When she retired for five years because of marriage (from autumn 1987 to spring 1992), she still socialized with Stanley during those years. This is all according to her in the very last (and rare) issue of Hong Kong Film Connection (volume V, issue II circa 1997).


1988


Originally, Tony Leung Ka-Fei’s character was meant to shoot the villain in Gunmen. There was concern that it would be predictable, so the idea of the girl shooting him came very late into the shoot. The film was based on a TV series, but Tsui Hark (a director acting as producer) wanted to cash in on the success of The Untouchables. Kirk Wong (the director) was relieved about not having to watch the TV series. You really have to question the nature of it being an adaptation when they decided to change the setting and the time period.


Kirk argued with Tsui because it seemed that he might as well have directed it instead of producing it. Other directors have said the same thing, so it would seem that Tsui doesn’t want to be credited on films which might interfere with his box office streak; yet he feels like he should prove how much of an auteur that he is. Kirk decided to let Tsui do his thing, which meant that the generosity was reciprocated. They were constantly changing the script, so 2 weeks later…they fought again. Instead of fighting about how to go about shooting, it was about where the story would go. Kirk was self-deprecating enough to describe himself as having tunnel vision.


1989


Donnie Yen was originally to star opposite Brandon in a sequel to Legacy of Rage but nothing happened as Brandon returned to Hollywood. It’s been said that In the Line of Duty 4 was originally going to be the sequel. The implication being that Brandon would have played Yuen Yat-Chor’s character.


Sammo had wanted Donnie to be the co-star of Into the Fire, but talks had broken down. Regardless, this movie isn’t as impressive as another 1989 one – Burning Ambition. That contains a fight scene involving being barefoot on broken glass in a way that was supposed to make light of the grizzly scene in Die Hard.


A martial arts movie fan spoke to Stephen Chow during the making of Jet Li’s Dragon Fight. Years later, he told fans on the forum of kungfucinema.com that he spoke terrific English.


1990


When Hung (who is played by Mina Hung a.k.a. Joyce Godenzi) is released from prison in Licence to Steal, the way that she is dressed is similar to Linda Thorson’s character in The Avengers. The movie was the least profitable between the two movies produced by Sammo Hung and featuring Agnes Aurelio. The other movie was She Shoots Straight, whose success was to do with the fact that the director was Corey Yuen. With or without any argument, he is a superior choreographer to Lee King-Chu.


1991


Chang Cheh wanted to make a film starring Lo Mang and Andy Lau. As it turns out, there is no information about what the synopsis was. Liu Chia-Liang wanted to do a remake of The One-Armed Swordsman with Donnie. Tsui Hark got wind of this and decided to do his own remake, albeit a few years later. In a strange turn of events, a remake of sorts starring Donnie was released two decades later. It was directed by Peter Chan, but was titled Dragon. That’s an extremely average title for a martial arts movie. Right-hand Man would have been better.


Kirk Wong helped John Woo during the making of Hard-Boiled because Woo needed some material in order for it to be a convincing cop story. Kirk supplied the services of a writer named Lu Bing, who was the cop that Jackie would go on to play in Kirk’s Crime Story. Woo was getting nowhere with Lu, so he helped rewrite the screenplay that ended up becoming Crime Story. He wasn’t credited for his efforts because it would have seemed self-indulgent. Shockingly, Lu has a reputation for being the most extreme out of all H.K. cops (who are renowned for torture).


After the completion of Gambling Ghost, Robert Samuels returned to his airline job. Seven months later, he received a phone call from Sammo where the chubby Chinese detailed his intentions to move Stateside.


1992



During the making of Twin Dragons (where Mars was often the stand-in for the other twin), Jackie wanted to know why Jet dropped out of Crime Story. Apparently, Jet wasn’t sure if the time was right to do a modern movie since the period trend was still going strong. Kirk probably regrets not waiting until 1994 (when Jet finally did do a modern movie in the form of The Bodyguard from Beijing). The regret comes from the fact that Kirk was only able to get 70% of what he wanted, since Jackie was hogging the camera in a directorial sense.


Cecilia Yip was originally going to play Kiddo in Swordsman II before being replaced by Michelle Reis because the latter was in a movie that was well-known for having nearly every famous face in H.K. cinema (i.e. The Banquet). Also, she was cute whereas Cecilia had a more deadly look to her. The excuse behind not casting Cecilia for the sequel was that the main roles of the previous movie were recast since it wasn’t exactly a big hit at the box office. The sequel ended up being the most profitable of Jet’s movies in the history of the H.K. box office. Rosamund Kwan’s role of Yam Ying-Ying was intended to be Michelle Yeoh’s comeback until she decided to play Jackie’s sidekick in Police Story III.


1993


Guns & Roses was originally going to be titled Maple on Fire since Philip Ko wanted to make an action movie set in Canada before production moved to England. The new title was inspired by one of the crewmen wearing a Guns ‘n’ Roses T-shirt. Robin Shou made the same mistake that Conan Lee had made during the making of Tiger on the Beat 2. By that, I mean wanting to be the next Jackie. Early in the production, Robin jumped off the roof of Birmingham’s Dudley Road hospital. Upon landing, he broke his ankle. They had to shoot around his injury.


Tsui Hark (the producer) wanted to assure Yuen Woo-Ping (the director) that the finale of Iron Monkey (standing on poles surrounded by fire) could be done with CGI. Yuen (who was also the fight choreographer) disagreed. It’s been said that Donnie rejected the chance to play Chin Siu-Ho’s character in The Tai Chi Master so that he could be the lead of Iron Monkey. This isn’t as bad as Michelle dropping out of playing The Bride With White Hair in favour of being in Executioners (same year). The movie which Donnie had rejected Michelle’s Tai Chi movie for was Heroes Among Heroes, which was co-directed by Yuen because of how time-consuming that the Tai Chi movie was.


The first scene that was filmed in Blade of Fury was Sammo’s cameo fight as a prison guard who is a swordsman. It took 4 days to film. After a year of being trained by Sammo, the lesson that’s the most ingrained in the mind of Bobby Samuels is that the camera is the third arm in a fight scene. By that, Sammo means that you should make the camera a part of the motion itself.


1994


Andy Lau’s role in Drunken Master II was supposed to have been substantial. He was meant to be one of the Chinese traitors helping the foreign smugglers. When his role was truncated to nothing more than a cameo, he got his own back by agreeing to co-star in Drunken Master III.


Of all the martial arts stars who Michelle Yeoh has co-starred with, she considers Donnie to be the fastest that she has ever worked with. 1994 was when they did Wing Chun together. For all of his speed, it’s weird that so many of his own attempts at being a fight choreographer tend to be heavily sped-up. As much as the U.S. studios criticize the undercranking, Michael Chan Wai-Man heard that many influential H.K. directors in the `60s were influenced by the 20-22 frame per second fight scenes of Hawaii Five-O and The Wild Wild West.


Leslie Cheung remarked in an interview that Ashes of Time, co-starring Maggie Cheung, is visually delightful but a disaster of storytelling (despite having a long production history) due to the improvisation (which he wasn’t prone to despite being the star). This should have been exploited more in the period movies which she featured in. Sammo filmed all the fights in a style which he created, contrary to the belief of arthouse fans. It was the editing which he had no control over. The first fight is his favourite. Jacky Cheung gave Sammo’s favourite performance. Coincidentally, Maggie’s Chinese name nearly translates into Rice Miller 6 – the name of Sammo’s character in The Iron-Fisted Monk.


1995



Sibelle Hu was awarded the Golden Banana (the Hong Kong equivalent to the Golden Raspberry awards). The award was for Worst Actress in 1995 because of her acting in a 1994 Mainland Chinese film titled Chongqing Negotiation.


Tony Ching Siu-Tung was the first choice to be the fight choreographer for Warriors of Virtue. The problem is that he quickly realized that he bit off more than he could chew when being faced with working with actors who not only had to take their time to get into the Kangaroo make-up, but didn’t have that many working hours because of being underaged. His preliminary contributions were enough to receive a special thanks in the closing credits which reveal that his replacement was Tsui-Siu Ming.


Don’t Give a Damn was conceived from a conversation between Robbie Samuels and Sammo about the contemporary Triad genre needing a new spin. It was actually Chin Kar-Lok’s idea to have Bobby, Sammo and Ngai Sing engage in a threeway fight. Many people on the set didn’t take a salary due to knowing that they were working with the master (Sammo). In spite of this, the budget was H.K.$12 million. The paparazzi assumed that Bob was Sammo’s bodyguard. Yuen Biao told the paparazzi that the black man’s name was Bobby Lung, but his nickname was the black dragon. At the première, Yuen Woo-Ping asked Sammo’s permission to cast Rob in The Red Wolf. Sammo agreed. After the release of The Red Wolf, Alfred Cheung wanted Samuels to star alongside Gary Daniels in a film titled The Butterfly Effects. It didn’t get made.


1996


Mr. Nice Guy is ironically not Jackie’s highest-selling film in Australia in spite of the setting. Giancarlo’s house was specially built for the movie at a cost of U.S.$ 1.5 million. Because of the mess that they left behind (from Giancarlo’s demolished house), the production company was barred permanently from ever filming in that part of Australia again.



Yuen Tak (a.k.a. Richard Hung) was hired not so much at the request but the behest of Cynthia Rothrock to film an extra fight for Sworn to Justice (which was initially going to be released in the U.S. as Blonde Justice before it was revealed that it was the title of a Janine Lindemulder porno). Why work with such a guy now? Mortal Kombat proved that it could be done. The man known as Pat was seen as old hat, so two fight scenes were added under the supervision of Robin Shou. The biggest irony was that he had no experience as a choreographer when working in H.K. Regardless of what may be perceived as my slighting to Shou, it’s an indignation that Pat Johnson received sole credit.


1998


Vincent Zhou was originally set to star in an Australian movie about a Chinese gymnast who falls in love with a white woman. It could have been a precursor to Japanese Story.


Johnnie To ghost-directed The Longest Nite. Johnnie took over directing the film after the original director (Patrick Yau) had shot half the film. Johnnie went out of his way to even reshoot five scenes so that there were seamless segues between the two styles unlike other overridden films where you can see when one style ends and another begins.


Bob Samuels was the stunt coordinator for a 1998 Dru Hill music video which was either shelved or only shown on European or Asian TV (although I never saw it in England). The video was where they played a group of vampires with superhuman strength and Kung Fu skills. Lo Mang and Philip Kwok were hired to help train Dru Hill for a music video (the song was You Are Everything) which is surprisingly rare. Even Lo appeared in it. It would have been better if the entire Venoms Mob were in it, except for Chiang Sheng (who died under divorce-fueled alcoholism).


2000


When interviewed by a British magazine called Hong Kong Superstars, Johnnie To claimed that if he was allowed to make any kind of movie in the States, it would be his take on The Godfather.



Leslie Cheung wanted to cast Karen Mok as the lead in his directorial debut (a short film titled From Ashes to Ashes) because not only did he think that the role was very suitable for her but he felt that, with the exception of Fallen Angels and Viva Erotica, her performances have not created enough waves. However, even short films need financial backing. As such, the casting of Anita Mui had pushed Karen to assume second status.


2001


After Shaolin Soccer became the highest-grossing H.K. film, Stephen Chow wanted to do a sequel, but there were copyright problems (the first film was a joint venture between two companies). The film could have been a huge hit in Canada if he did a publicity tour but he was restricted by this thorny issue.


In November, Tsui experienced a new low that no H.K. director experienced. The Legend of Zu was such a commerce and critic kryptonite that Columbia Pictures wanted out of his new Wuxia film, Book and Sword. To understand the severity, it was more than a month after filming began in China. Filming had stopped as China Star, the Hong Kong firm which was the main investor, wouldn’t let the project continue till it found another investor. The project was scrapped but Tsui couldn’t bring himself to subject the footage to the scrapyard, so he salvaged some footage for an entirely new film titled The Era of Vampires (2002).


2004



Silver Hawk (originally titled Masked Crusader) had three times the budget of Michelle Yeoh’s The Heroic Trio (1993) and Executioners (ditto) put together, but it is the worst of her superheroine movies. One has to bear in mind that for the 1993 duology to have been financed, Michelle, Maggie and Anita Mui had to take a 30% cut in salaries. The filming schedule of Silver Hawk was March 28 till August 7. By comparison, the other two movies altogether took four months.


The producers were hoping that the casting of Luke Goss would guarantee a U.K. cinema release, yet the film was only released on DVD over there. It didn’t get a cinema release in the U.S. (despite early word of Arclight Films handling such distribution) but it did succeed in grossing much more money than Memoirs of a Geisha in Japan (the Steven Spielberg production was a box office disappointment because the Japanese are sticklers for ethnically accurate casting).


2006


Dragon Tiger Gate (starring Donnie and Nicholas Tse) was based on an old comic book which was released in Spain as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

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