Hong Kong action movie legend Sammo Hung is one of the most prolific actors, choreographers, producers and directors in the history of Chinese cinema. Known in the Hong Kong film industry as Da Goh Da, “Big Brother Big”, or “Biggest Brother”, from his teens until the present, Sammo has constantly redefined martial arts movie action with his innovation.
From a young age he perfected the acrobatic and martial arts performance skills of traditional Peking Opera. As a teenager he broke into movies transferring those skills into action choreography and quickly made a name for himself as a top Hong Kong stunt performer. Becoming an action director in his own right, Sammo moved away from the formal choreography of traditional martial arts films, bringing a harder-hitting and more free-flowing style.
His work on movies such as Warriors Two, Knockabout, Odd Couple and Magnificent Butcher, refreshed the genre, culminating in what many consider to be one of the finest examples of traditional martial arts film fighting, The Prodigal Son. In the early 1980’s his films Encounters of the Spooky Kind and the The Dead and The Deadly kickstarted a whole new genre of supernatural action-comedies. Throughout the eighties, Sammo repeated the feat in modern-day action films such as My Lucky Stars, Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon, Wheels on Meals and Eastern Condors. His contemporaries and fellow Opera students such as Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah have performed some of their best work under Sammo’s direction.
Now in his sixth decade in the industry, Sammo continues to demonstrate his incredible ability to keep bringing fresh and exciting ideas to martial arts choreography, in movies such as Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Ip Man 1 &2, and The Bodyguard.
Great to have you with us Sammo. So, tell us, how did you become involved with “Call of Heroes”? What interesting stories can you share about the making of the film?
Thank you. Well, I’ve known Benny Chan for many years and over the years, we’d been talking about collaborating to do something. I guess it was the right timing for us this time so I joined forces with him.
Excellent. Benny Chan has directed many exciting action films including of course, with Jackie (Chan). What was it like working with him on “Call of Heroes”?
I’ve always wanted to work with Benny Chan. I feel that we understand each other pretty well. As a director, he tells me how he wants to portray different characters in his movie. As an action choreographer, I want my action choreography to complement that, to bring out the characters even more.
Totally. The film was a massive undertaking for a Chinese film, as the set alone took four months to build. What sorts of challenges did you encounter in the making of “Call of Heroes”?
The biggest challenge was the weather. For almost two thirds of the shooting days, it was raining. We wanted to stop the rain but obviously we couldn’t. So, we had to shoot in a way where you couldn’t really see the rain. It was very frustrating! That’s the biggest challenge we faced shooting this movie.
Monsoons don’t help either! OK, in the Making of “Call of Heroes” we see you going up a mountain on a crane; did you have any doubts about it, what other fears (if any) do you have? What was the most challenging scene to work on in “Call of Heroes”?
I used the crane to bring myself up the mountain because I was too lazy to climb up, hahaha…. we had been using that crane for shooting a lot and I know how it works so I’m not worried at all.
One of the more difficult scenes to shoot was the one with Sean Lau fighting a lot of stuntmen on the bridge. Obviously, night scenes take more time to shoot and shooting Sean Lau fighting with a whip was not easy. You can imagine fighting on the narrow bridge with bamboos and knives on both sides, at night, and Sean Lau manoeuvring a whip, all the stuntmen and the crew! Hahaha…it was quite an experience, even the bridge collapsed a couple of times! But I’d have to say I was impressed with Sean’s hard work and persistence, I’d say we shot quite an impressive scene!
That certainly shows. There’s a lot of action in “Call of Heroes”, did anyone experience any significant injuries or accidents whilst making it?
We had been very fortunate for there were only minor accidents. So, I’m very grateful!
Glad to hear that! You previously collaborated with Eddie Peng on 2014’s “Rise of the Legend“. What interesting stories can you share about making “Call of Heroes” with him?
It was a lot of pain for him, hahaha. Eddie is a very hard-working actor. Since we worked together in 2014, he continues to impress me as someone who is very professional, very dedicated to his work and he took every shot very seriously. He would keep trying until I was happy with the shot or until I thought it was the best he could do. He never complained! I really enjoyed working with him.
That’s really insightful. So, what can you share about former Shaolin disciple Shi Yan Neng, who you previously worked with on “The Wrath of Vajra” and also features in “Call of Heroes”?
I’ve worked with Shi on many movies and he’s also a very hard-working actor so I look forward to seeing more of his outstanding work.
Likewise! The main lead, Sean Lau looks a natural with the whip, was this a new weapon skill for you to learn too?
I did some research and decided that Sean should use the whip as his weapon. That should be visually quite interesting for his character. I’m very glad that Sean spent a lot of time learning how to use the whip so that I could freely choreograph impressive fight scenes for him.
Well, he seemed a natural with it! What interesting stories can you share about making the film with Wu Jing, who you previously worked with on “Kill Zone / SPL“?
I’ve worked with Wu Jing on quite a number of movies. I treat him as a student and a very good one too. He has very strong will power and great stamina. I think he is a very good actor.
Agreed. Also, your son Sammy also worked on “Call of Heroes”? What did he learn from this experience?
I think Sammy learned to appreciate his father after this movie…hahaha…I mean he has always appreciated me but because we’d hardly worked together in this kind of relationship before, he could now experience first-hand how I was able to bring out the best in him. My wish is for him to continue to progress in terms of his action skills and acting abilities. I think he has a lot of potential as an actor.
We look forward to see his career flourish! “Call of Heroes” has shades of a Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood Western. Are you a fan of those types of films?
I’m a fan of all kinds of movies, even love stories. I really like working with different directors because I consider myself a student. I’ve been learning about movie making all my life. Every director has his own vision of the story he wants to tell and the way he artistically expresses himself is something for me to feel and learn. This would broaden my experience in movie making so that one day when I can’t make movies anymore, I could still educate young ones who are interested in movie making.
Sounds very wise! So, how do you keep your action direction fresh after so long in the business?
For every movie I make, I want to bring something different to the audience. The world is always changing so I believe we should continue to change as well. In terms of technology and audience likes, we’ve got to follow the pace of change and come up with something that is exciting for them. Hopefully, I’m able to do that.
For sure. Actually, we never tire of revisiting your old-school movies! Anyway, how does making a martial arts movie now compare to back in the 1970’s to 80’s?
Movies in the 70’s are more of a showing off of the star’s martial arts abilities. Shots tend to be much longer. As time went on, action choreography became more realistic. We want audiences to relate to the character. We want them to feel as if they could fight like the characters. Wire work is not new but now we incorporate wire work in a way where it enhances the choreography without being over the top. My strength is in making hard core action but with the advancement in CG technology, I’m learning to incorporate that into my movies too.
Makes sense. Even today, in 2017, many of our readers and visitors will still remember and enjoy watching “Eastern Condors” and “Wheels on Meals” is there a possibility for “Eastern Condors 2” or maybe “Wheels on Meals 2”?
At this point, I have no intention of making these sequels but who knows?
(Sigh! haha) So, what other projects do you have coming up?
In my career, all I wanted is to make movies that bring happiness to the audience. So, I hope I can direct one more movie that would do that. In the future when they show my movies, hopefully they could still have a good laugh!
Continue to bring them on please. So, what message would you like to leave KFK readers and visitors as well as your countless fans around the world with at this time?
Sammo would like to thank you and all his fans for their continuous support over the years. He is happy that Kung Fu Kingdom is dedicated to showcasing many kung fu movies and martial artists worldwide. Keep up the good work!
Thank you very much Sammo Da Goh Da, that really means a lot. Thanks for giving our readers a fresh, behind-the-scenes look at “Call of Heroes”, it’s been an honour to have you with us. We look forward to your exciting movie news in the remainder of 2017 and releases in 2018, please keep in touch!
We hope you enjoyed this interview with one of the world’s leading action legends. If you would like your very own copy of the movie “Call of Heroes” that Sammo’s talked about along with an awesome Kung Fu Kingdom T-shirt and cup, simply enter our easy-to-win competition!