Profile of Kwan Tak-hing

Name: Kwan Tak-Hing
Date of Birth: 27th June 1905
Birth Sign:   Cancer / Chinese year of the Snake
Country: Guangzhou, China

Training background

Throughout his life Kwan studied many martial art styles, cross training extensively and making friendships with a number of famous martial arts practitioners.

Initially studying the Hung Kuen style and White Crane boxing, Kwan was also a student of the Opera martial arts of Masters Sun Pak/Cheng Hsin-pei.  Kwan studied under Master Fok Hung, Masters Leung Wing Hang and Lau Jam.

He mastered a number of weapons, including archery and the use of a whip. His main speciality was the use of the pole (or staff).

Kwan was also skilled in the Lion Dance and later in life, ran his own martial arts school.

Check out this great scene from the 1979 film: “Magnificent Butcher”

Read our review of Magnificent Butcher.

Biography

Kwan Tak-Hing was born in 1905, in Guangzhou (Canton), and began his career in Cantonese opera. During his time in the Cantonese Opera in 1920s and 1930s he was sometimes known as Sun Liang Chow and he appeared in early Cantonese talkies.

Kwan was dubbed ‘The Patriot Artist’ during the Sino-Japanese War due to his visits and displays to the troops to boost morale, as well as providing publicity for the resistance to the Japanese soldiers. As the war escalated and became part of World War II, Kwan travelled to the United States to help raise funds for China. It was during his time in the USA that he was introduced to real life cowboys and he enjoyed dressing up to imitate them. It is noted that he liked to dress up as a cowboy well into his 70s and 80s.

Kwan played the lead role in the 1949 film ‘The Story of Wong Fei Hung’, which started the series in which Kwan would play the same character over 75 times!

Later, in 1952, he wanted to help heal people and he opened a Chinese Herbal Shop. Kwan had joined The Chinese Artists Association of Hong Kong and, in time, he became the Chairman.

In 1983, Kwan was honoured to accept an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire).

Kwan died on the 28th June 1996 (the day after his birthday), aged 91, of pancreatic cancer.

Film Career

Kwan started appearing in films in 1932

In one of his earlier films – “The Lady Protector and the Knight with the Whip” (1949), Kwan was able to display his whipping skills and audiences were amazed.

With his background in Cantonese opera, combined with his Kung-fu mastery, Kwan was the perfect actor to bring Wong Fei-Hung to life. The success of “The True Story Of Wong Fei-Hung” led to Kwan playing the character from 1949 until 1981. The final count of films Kwan portrayed Master Wong is somewhere between 77 and 90 depending on which source the information comes from (he also played the character in some television serials which is why the final count is difficult to ascertain).

What is clear is that the public loved Kwan’s portrayal of the Kung-fu master, so much so that in 1956, 25 films with Kwan portraying Master Wong were released. It is unthinkable that any film actor could do that today; they would be hard pressed to portray the same character 25 times in their entire career! No actor has come close to playing the same character this many times and Kwan holds that record, and is likely to remain holding it for a very long time.

In the 70s, Kwan made less films and his portrayal of Master Wong was sometimes as a supporting actor. However this does not mean he had slowed down – In the above YouTube clip of “Magnificent Butcher”, Kwan was 74 years old!

Kwan made over 130 films throughout his career.

Did you know?

  • Jet Li, Gordon Liu and Jackie Chan have all played Wong Fei-hung on screen.
  • There are a number of similarities between Kwan Tak-Hing and Wong Fei-hung:
  • Both were excellent lion dancers
  • Wong practised Chinese medicine, while Kwan opened his Chinese herbal shop
  • Both opened martial arts schools
  • There is a grave marker to Kwan Tak-Hing in the Kowloon territory; however his ashes were taken to San Francisco to rest with those of his second wife.

 

Selected Filmography

YEARTITLE
1947The Guangzhou Adventure of the Fearless
1949The Lady Protector and the Knight with the Whip
1949Story of Huang Feihong (Part 1)
1949Story of Huang Feihong (Part 2)
1951The Brave Archer
1956How Huang Feihong Fought 5 Dragons Single-handed
1956How Huang Feihong Pitted a Lion against the Unicorn
1956Huang Feihong Goes to a Birthday Party at Guanshan
1957How the Boxer from Nanhai Stole the Dappled Horse at Night
1957How Huang Feihong Smashed the Flying Dagger Gang
1957Knife in Fish-gut
1958Huang Feihong Gets Rid of the Three Rascals
1960How Na Zha Rescued His Mother from the Snake Mountain
1960Huang Feihong's Battle with the Gorilla
1968The Magic Whip
1969Huang Feihong in Sulphur Valley
1974The Skyhawk
1979Magnificent Butcher
1980The Magnificent Kick
1981Dreadnaught
1986Aces Go Places 4
1994It's a Wonderful Life

Stuart Grimes is a fan of all martial arts. He has studied Shotokan Karate for a few years as a teenager and also taken classes in Judo, boxing and Kickboxing. His children have inherited his love of martial arts and currently train over 12 hours a week, incorporating Chin Woo Kung Fu, Gymnastics and Sport Karate. His eldest two children compete regularly and either hold or have held English, British or European titles in the WTKA, WKU, ISKA, WKKC, WMO, WMKF and WKC, as well as a Unity International Games title.

1 Comment
  1. Reply
    Lam Fook Choy February 16, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Just to check if the late Master Kwan’s herbal shop is still around in Hong Kong?

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