Hong Kong Festival: Martial Arts Legend Sammo Hung Named Filmmaker in Focus

Sammo Hung - H 2019
Courtesy of Hong Kong International Film Festival

The retrospective will feature 10 classics of the 'Martial Law' star who was instrumental in shaping the golden age of Hong Kong cinema.

Hong Kong action cinema legend Sammo Hung has been named the Filmmaker in Focus of the 43rd Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF).

Best known to U.S. audiences for headlining CBS primetime show Martial Law in the late 1990s, Hung has a storied career spanning over half a century starring in, action choreographing, producing and directing more than 250 films. He is one of the screen icons representative of the golden age of Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s.

The HKIFF will host a retrospective during the upcoming edition showcasing 10 of Hung's most celebrated works, as well as a "Face to Face" seminar March 30 where he will share his views and recount his experiences in the film industry. An accompanying commemorative book will also be published.

Born in 1952, Hung was trained from the age of nine in the Peking opera genre at Hong Kong's China Drama Academy under Master Yu Jim-yuen and was the leading member of the Academy's Seven Little Fortunes performing troupe, which later went on to transform Hong Kong cinema with the acrobatic and daredevil action choreography designed and performed by its members. It also counted Jackie Chan among its ranks.

Hung made his first onscreen appearance at the age of 14 as a stunt performer. Armed with his skills in martial arts, acrobatics and dance, he soon became a stalwart of the wuxia cinema popularized by the Shaw Brothers Studio, dreaming up and executing breathtaking action sequences as stunt man, stunt coordinator and action director. He was given his big break as a leading man by rival studio Golden Harvest in Shaolin Plot in 1977 and made his directorial debut the next year with The Iron-Fisted Monk.

Hung's work in the 1980s helped create a new style of Hong Kong action movies, ushering in the immensely popular action comedy genre, and the Chinese vampire (jiangshi) horror-comedy subgenre, in particular with Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980). Set in the urban milieu, the fight sequences in such films as the Lucky Star series (1982-1985), which co-starred Jackie Chan, and Wheels on Meals (1984) are high-energy and realistic and complemented by comedic elements.

He also helped make a star out of Michelle Yeoh when he produced the first film in which she received top billing, the police drama Yes, Madam (1985). In 1998, Hung became the first East Asian to headline a U.S. primetime TV series with the CBS surprise hit Martial Law, which showcased his martial arts expertise.

Deferentially referred to as "Big big brother" in the Hong Kong film industry (with Chan being called "big brother"), Hung formed the Sammo Hung Stunt Team in the 1970s to help his former China Drama Academy classmates and utilize their talents on screen, dominating Hong Kong action cinema in subsequent decades. He also founded a number of film companies, the most successful of which was D&B Films, which he co-founded with Dickson Poon and John Shum in 1983 and that became the powerhouse that rivaled Cinema City at the box office during the 1980s.

Hung's contribution to Hong Kong action cinema has been considerable, which is not only evident in the genre's popularity and worldwide influence, but also in the number of accolades he has received. He won his first Hong Kong Film Award for best action choreography for The Prodigal Son in 1981, and subsequently reclaimed the honor three times with Ip Man (2008), Ip Man 2 (2010) and Paradox (2017). Renowned for the physical feats he choreographed and performed as much as for his acting prowess, he has been twice named best actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards with Carry on Pickpocket (1982) and Painted Faces (1988).

The retrospective at the HKIFF, which will be held from March 18 through April 1, will feature Hung's action classics as well as dramatic efforts, including Encounters of the Spooky Kind, The Prodigal Son, Winners & Sinners (1982), Eastern Condors (1987), Painted Faces, Eight Taels of Gold (1989) and Ip Man 2 (2010).