Subtitled “Never Say No”, KUNG FU STUNTMEN is a fascinating look back at the golden age of Hong Kong action cinema. Told by the legends who created some of the most jaw-dropping film stunts you’ll ever see from the last sixty years in their own words…
“Kung Fu Stuntmen” is available to stream on Hi-YAH courtesy of Well Go USA!
Okay, so this isn’t a “movie” as such, but this documentary features possibly the most impressive cast list of action legends to ever appear in the same project!
The main contributors include Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, Yuen Woo Ping, Tsui Hark, Stanley Tong, Yuen Wah, Mars Cheung, Chin Ka Lok, Chin Siu Ho, Eric Tsang, Xiong Xinxin, Ching Siu Tung, Hsiao Hou, Lee Hoi Sang, Leung Siu Lung, Lee Fai and more.
As well as being packed with footage of these legends themselves, there are clips of and tributes to other notable luminaries such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Lau Kar Leung and Lam Ching Ying, to name but a few.
Produced by members of the Hong Kong Stuntman Association, this documentary gathers together some of the greatest action performers of the last sixty years.
Packed with footage of some of the most entertaining, dangerous and mind-blowing stunt sequences ever committed to film, the performers themselves discuss their careers, the history, the highs and the lows, and the uncertain future of one of the most creative film industries in the world.
“Long Fu Mou Si”, roughly translated as “Dragon Tiger Masters”, is a term derived from the days of traditional Chinese opera, that came to be used to describe the elite stunt performers of Hong Kong cinema.
Many of them were trained in the opera schools and Chinese martial arts, transitioning their skills into television and movies as the old forms of theatrical entertainment began to fade in favour of the big and small screens in the 1960’s and 70’s.
The Golden Era of Hong Kong Film
This documentary bombards us from the opening frames by having many of those elite describing the growth and golden era of the Hong Kong film industry. The featured speakers all played key roles in the explosion of the unique martial arts and action that could only be found in the movies pouring out of studios such as Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers.
The various talking heads credit the Drunken Master himself, Yuen Siu-tien, for blending traditional martial arts with Cantonese style Chinese Opera and adapting it for film entertainment.
The interviews are accompanied by colourful, vintage footage of the incredible acrobatic skills of opera performers, whilst describing how tough their training was as children.
The Emergence of Bruce Lee
When Bruce Lee entered the scene in 1970 with a more raw style of screen action, he changed the Hong Kong film industry forever. The stuntmen who worked with Lee all pay tribute to how his revolutionary methods of rehearsal and performance, created a new “language” for screen fighting choreography.
There is an entertaining section dedicated to Lau Kar Leung and his insistence that authentic kung fu, including real weapons, was included in his fight choreography. It often resulted in stuntmen having to take genuinely hard strikes and risking serious injury. The end result however was intricate and exciting martial arts choreography that made the rest of the industry up their game.
Of course you can’t do a documentary about Hong Kong stuntmen without mentioning Jackie Chan. Although his exploits are already pretty well documented in “My Story” and “My Stunts”, it’s always a genuine pleasure to revisit scenes from classics such as “Project A” and “Police Story”, that are still absolutely jaw-dropping some forty years on.
Jackie Chan & Sammo Hung’s Stunt Teams Reminisce
The unique advantage of this documentary is that you get to hear members of Jackie’s and Sammo’s stunt teams reminisce first hand about some of the most incredible and dangerous action sequences ever captured on film.
A slow motion replay of Yuen Mo almost snapping his neck after landing on his head in “My Lucky Stars” serves as a graphic reminder of the risks and injuries that Hong Kong stuntmen were prepared to accept in order to maintain their reputations.
Listening to legends such as Chin Ka Lok and Yuen Wah discuss their fears when performing a particularly dangerous high fall from a building in “Heart of the Dragon”, reminds us that they are human after all, and not invincible.
Yuen Woo Ping Describes His Perfectionist Attitude
A section devoted to Yuen Woo Ping describes the complexities and demands of his perfectionist attitude to choreography.
The ladder fight in “Once Upon a Time in China” is used as an example of his dedication to the art. It required three different stunt doubles for star Jet Li, who was injured at the time, filming 16 hours a day for 31 days to complete it.
Yuen Woo Ping had come in as a favour to choreograph the scene and told director Tsui Hark that no credit was necessary. He just wanted to create a good fight scene.
The harsh realities of serious injuries and even fatalities are discussed candidly and surprisingly emotionally by the guest speakers, backed by footage of some of the most bone-breaking action clips one could imagine.
The Hong Kong Stuntman Association Trains a New Generation
The ultimate conclusion is that the accomplishments of these legends of Hong Kong action are likely never to be bettered. However the Hong Kong Stuntman Association is doing it’s best to train a new generation of stunt performers, learning from luminaries of the previous generation.
Meanwhile in mainland China, the Hong Kong action men of old are becoming the action directors to the many new, young martial artists making the leap to film.
Stick around for a tribute to Lam Ching Ying during the end credits!
Although similar ground might have been covered in documentaries such as Robin Shou’s “Red Trousers” or Jackie Chan’s “My Story/My Stunts”, no one has ever put toge
ther so many of Hong Kong’s leading action performers in one project.
It makes for a totally engrossing history of the industry and their careers. Hearing their first hand accounts of some of the incredible feats they pulled off is fascinating in itself, it also reminds the viewer of the extreme risks taken and astonishing skills these men, and a few women, honed to be the best that they could be for our pleasure.
Every interviewee is candid, passionate and humble as they review the past, present and future of Hong Kong action films. The dialogue is constantly backed by dozens of clips of some of the best movies made in the region from the 1960’s to the present day, often including rare behind-the-scenes looks.
Directed by Wei Junzi, it is a project filled with love for an aspect of film-making these performers elevated to an art form, which has seldom been matched outside of the region.
It is tinged slightly with sadness that many of these performers, who literally risked their lives to be the best, now struggle financially or physically.
We are unlikely to see artists of such an elite level again, but there is a glimmer of hope with the Hong Kong Stuntman Association operating a training school, overseen by many of the veteran contributors to this documentary, working to create a new generation of Hong Kong based stunt performers.
Other veterans of the golden era have had to follow the huge explosion in film production in mainland China, and are now purveying their skills and knowledge as action directors there.
Overall this is an excellent documentary that fans of Hong Kong cinema and movie buffs in general will enjoy.
- “Back then I would work full time for a month, no breaks. Those were the days.” – Mars Cheung
- “Gambling was my favourite (pastime).” – Eric Tsang
- “Stuntmen never say no.” – Xiong Xinxin
- The “stuntmen never say no” quote refers to how stunt performers would never refuse to attempt dangerous stunts in order to build their reputations as “Long Fu Mou Si”, the best of the best. It ensured they would always be employed.
- After Bruce Lee’s passing in 1973, production of martial arts films in Hong Kong reduced dramatically. Many of the stars featured had to take jobs such as unlicensed taxi driving or working for an industrial laundry just to put food on the table.
- Director Wei Junzi has said, “Many legendary stuntmen live hard lives and many are unknown,” Wei added, “That’s why I decided to make a documentary film in tribute to their continued efforts and never-yielding ”
- It took Wei two years to visit and interview around 100 kung fu stuntmen.