Hong Kong film director and screenwriter Ringo Lam died at his Hong Kong home Saturday, according to local media outlets. He was 63.
Lam came to prominence in the 1980s as a member of the emerging generation of filmmakers collectively known as the Hong Kong New Wave, which nurtured directors including Tsui Hark and Ann Hui and established the Hong Kong cinematic landscape in its 1980s golden age. Originally having studied to be an actor, Lam was in the TVB acting class the same year as Chow Yun-fat, who later starred in some of Lam’s most renowned directorial work.
After a stint as a TV scriptwriter and director in the 1970s, Lam went on to study film at York University in Canada. He returned to Hong Kong and made his directorial debut with Esprit d’amour in 1983, and helmed the fourth installment of the enormously popular Aces Goes Places franchise. With the success of that film, he got carte blanche at Cinema City, one of the biggest Hong Kong studios at the time, and created the “On Fire” trilogy — City of Fire (1987), Prison on Fire (1987) and School on Fire (1988). City on Fire, now considered a classic, gained Lam the best director award and the film’s leading man, Chow Yun-fat, the best actor gong at the Hong Kong Film Awards, and was extensively referenced in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.
Hollywood beckoned in the 1990s. With his proved track record in action films, Lam made a trio of actioners in the U.S. starring Jean-Claude van Damme — Maximum Risk (1996), Replicant (2001) and In Hell (2003). Lam interspersed his time in Hollywood with Hong Kong productions, and in 1997, he made Full Alert, which earned five nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards, including Lam’s second best director nomination.
A longtime friend of director Tsui Hark, who co-directed with Lam the Jackie Chan-starrer Twin Dragons in 1992, Lam collaborated with Tsui and Johnnie To in 2007 on the portmanteau film Triangle.
Lam cited box office pressure as one of the reasons he took a seven-year break after Triangle, as well as his desire to pursue other interests and to watch his son grow up. In 2015, he returned to the film industry with Wild City, the first full-length feature he had directed in over a decade. The film, starring Louis Koo and Shawn Yue, was a hit in China and took over $22 million. He followed that up in 2016 with Sky on Fire, marking his first attempt in sci-fi and using CGI, for which he had previously mentioned his distrust in his pursuit of realism — which he demonstrated in asking Yue to use a real knife in a fight scene for Wild City.
Lam’s final work before his passing was the much anticipated Octet: the Story of Hong Kong for Media Asia, for which he contributed a segment with fellow Hong Kong cinema greats including Johnnie To, John Woo, Tsui Hark, Ann Hui, Patrick Tam, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Woo-Ping. The film is set for a 2019 release.
Luminaries in the Hong Kong film industry including Yue, director Wong Jing and one of the stars of Lam’s “On Fire” trilogy Roy Cheung expressed their grief on Lam’s death. “It is too sudden to feel sad and I am overwhelmed by the memories. We will meet again,” wrote Wong Jing on social media. Chow Yun-fat’s wife Jasmine told Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, “Lam and Chow had a friendship spanning over 30 years and were like brothers. Chow always said Lam is a good and highly demanding director, making a film with him might kill you if you didn’t pay enough attention. He loved and hated Lam in equal measure!”
According to reports in the Hong Kong media, Lam was resting with a cold when his wife found him unresponsive in bed Saturday. He was pronounced dead when paramedics arrived.