This week’s photo theme is Unsung Heroes of Kung Fu — we’re shouting out lesser-known legends of kung fu cinema to expand your mind beyond Jackie, Jet, and Bruce.
Sammo Hung is a legend, whose hand has touched almost every aspect of modern kung fu cinema. Today’s photo is Sammo rocking luscious locks and gold chains.
Sammo Hung was thrust into martial arts performance at a young age. Both his parents worked as costume designers, so he was looked after by his grandfather, a film director, and his grandmother Qian Siying, one of China’s earliest kung fu film stars. When Hung turned nine his grandparents enrolled him in the China Drama Academy, a Peking Opera school in Hong Kong. This would prove to be influential — during his seven years at the academy, Hung would become close friends with another student, who had taken on the apprentice name Yuen Lo. Yuen Lo would eventually achieve international fame under the name Jackie Chan, but Hung himself played a big role in that process.
Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan made their acting debut together in 1962’s “Big and Little Wong Tin Bar”
Sammo and Jackie used to perform together in the kung fu group Seven Little Fortunes. Jackie is lovingly called da ge (“big brother”) by Chinese fans; Hung used to have the same nickname, but after Project A, which featured both actors, Hung ascended to da ge da (“biggest brother”). We talked about how Yuen Woo-Ping is partially responsible for Jackie’s signature style of kung fu/comedy crossover, but Hung had a big role in that too, helping to reimagine the genre toward the late 70’s, as Mandarin-language courtroom epics started to wane in popularity. That was right around the time when Drunken Master came out, making Jackie Chan into Jackie Chan.
Since then, Sammo has shaped basically every part of kung fu film culture in some way or another. Here’s the trailer for 1985’s Mr. Vampire, a seminal work in the jiangshi genre, a subgenre of kung fu vampire films that Hung is credited with inventing.
Look, here’s Sammo Hung fighting Bruce Lee that one time in the opening scene of 1973’s Enter the Dragon:
Sammo Hung has been everywhere and done everything. Today we salute him.
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