Sammo Hung gets candid at the 2019 Hong Kong International Film Festival

He may now be 67 years old and not quite as agile as he used to be – the former action star arrived at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in a wheelchair with a cane in tow – but nothing seems to be able to stop Sammo Hung.  This year’s “Filmmaker in Focus” at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, Hung took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for about an hour.  Topics ranged from the current state of the Hong Kong film industry to his past work. Excerpts from his answers follow:

On working with director Wong Kar Wai (note: Hung was the fight coordinator for “Ashes of Time”): I did everything in sequence starting from first to last, then handed the portion over to him. He threw everything out of order which was completely opposite to my vision. But the final result was good – with a different style.

On the 1987 film “Lai Shi, China’s Last Eunuch”: I had to keep begging [director Jacob] Cheung Chi Leung to let me film [it] with Andy Lau Tak-Wah.  I had only a couple of days in Hong Kong to do my scenes as I had to fly to Canada to apply for immigration at the time. I was young and energetic then. Sometimes I was able to 80 scenes in one day. People thought I was crazy!

On his “martial arts training”: I never had formal martial arts training – it was more in Peking opera. In order to learn I paid to rent comic books on street stands and mimic all the drawings. (Contributing Editor’s note: These stands, which no longer exist in Hong Kong, included 3″ x 5″ x 1″ thick hand-drawn comics – mostly without dialogue – that were printed on cheap paper. For the price of a nickel, one could rent a book and read it on a tiny stool at the stall.  They were considered to be a bad influence on kids, who would get into deep trouble if their teachers or parents ran into them!)

On working with actors specializing in action movies: Actors get hurt when they lack confidence in action films. Surprisingly, more injuries happened in smaller takes than in the larger ones. Most of the action actors [who worked with me]  trained with me from day one. However, this wouldn’t work if their hearts are not in it.

Also, a kung fu master must look for ways to change careers as they age and are no longer able to do action films. I told them to look around during filming on set to check out other fields that might be of interest to them. I would then give them different opportunities and provide them with new training.

On his early film work: I apprenticed with the late film director Wu Kam-Chuen (King Hu). He would tell me to do all the menial work at first. But that was fine as I got to see all the pretty actresses on set.

On the current state of action movies in Hong Kong: There is no more hope in the Hong Kong action movie industry for the next generation. It all became musicals, comedies, etc. Due to my hot temper, [the situation] makes me puke…! Hong Kong used to be No. 1 in this but now has dropped way below other Asian countries.

Sammo Hung’s answers in Cantonese were translated for this article by Contributing Editor Mai D. Chan.

Photos: Sammo Hung, Filmmaker in Focus, 2019 Hong Kong International Film Festival
all photos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine