BEY’S BLOG

POSTED FEBRUARY 11, 2009
February 11, 2009

FROM SOUTHAMPTON TO SOUTH CHINA: JEFF LAU REMEMBERS THE LONG ROAD TO ‘FONG SAI YUK’.

Triple threat writer/director/producer Jeff Lau is one of the many unsung heroes of Hong Kong cinema, a multi-hyphenate who has delivered hit films for some of the biggest names in the business. Despite his track record, this modest man seems happy that the lion’s chair of his past glories has gone to his collaborators, and in particular his long-time partner in crime, ‘Fong Sai Yuk’ director Corey Yuen. With Fong Sai-yuk 1 & 2 being prepped for a Dragon Dynasty release, I called to see if we could shoot an interview with him.

As I recall, I first met Jeff at the old Golden Harvest studios, during the shooting of the Shannon Lee vehicle Enter The Eagles. (Like many later era Harvest productions, the film was unceremoniously dumped in the Warner Bros vault, never to be seen again.)

On this occasion, I arranged to see Jeff at Centro, Hong Kong’s leading special effects house. Centro is the just about only reason to go to Cyberport, the high tech citadel resting on prime seafront land in Pok Fu Lam.

Jeff was in the midst of post production on his S-F actioner Kung Fu Cyborg, his take on Transformers! , but took the time to sit down with me to discuss the two Fong Sai-yuk films, both of which he wrote. These were previously released in North America as Jet Li’s The Legend, parts one and two.

Lau received an unlikely apprenticeship for a career in Asian cinema, studying graphic design in Southampton before returning to Hong Kong to produce his debut film, Lover At Large. He still remembers his time in the UK warmly. Jeff made his directing debut with the wild and wonderful Haunted Cop Shop. I first became aware of his work when he partnered with Corey Yuen to make All For The Winner, a spoof of the Chow Yun-fat vehicle God Of Gamblers, starring Stephen Chiau. (The Chinese title of the film is ‘Saint of Gamblers’). The film was a huge hit, and launched the Lau and Yuen partnership with a winning hand.

The pair went on to work with Chiau on Fist Of Fury 1991 and its sequel. The first of these films provoked a rare movie related case in the local courts. As is not the case in Hollywood, film companies in Hong Kong hardly ever sue each other. However, Golden Harvest took exception at Fist of Fury 1991 using an updated version of the title of their Bruce Lee classic, and tried, in vain, to get it changed.

In 1993, Corey Yuen asked Jeff to write the script for a film that would update the character of Fong Sai-yuk the way Tsui Hark’s Once Upon A Time In China had updated the other classic Chinese martial arts hero, Wong Fei-hung. In the classic black-and-white Fong Sai-yuk films, the character had always been played Peter Pan-style, by a girl dressed as a boy. Fong Sai-yuk is a historical figure, or at least a legendary one! ; A folk hero from southern China. He made his film debut in 1948’s ‘Fong Sai-yuk and Miu Chui-fa’, which established the relationship between Miu, a kung fu prodigy, and his mother, Chui-fa, who taught him his skills. In Jeff’s reworking on the myth, Jet Li plays Fong and Cantonese screen legend Josephine Siao is Miu Chui-fa.

Sek Yin-tsi reprised the role in Three Attempts at Wudang Mountain, Nine Battles at O-Mei Hill and Fong Sai-yuk Burns The Red Cloud Temple. Sadly, none of these early martial arts movies have survived. This hugely popular film series continued throughout the 1950s, rivaling the Wong Fei-hung films in their popularity. The plot of the lost 1952 film Duel between Fong Sai-yuk and Hung Hei-kwoon inspired the 1974 Shaw Brothers classic Heroes Two, in which Alexander Fu-sheng played Fong. In 1965, former child star Fung Bo Bo inherited the role. Her second film in the series, 1968’s Feats of Fong Sai Yuk, co-starred Adam Cheng, who was later cast in Jet Li’s Fong Sai-yuk 2.

I discussed with Jeff the challenges of updating this classic figure for 1993 audiences, and about working with Jet Li as a producer. Though Lau only spent a couple of days on-set at the Beijing Film Studios, he provided some invaluable insights into the development of the script, and of the project as a whole. It’s great to be able to represent films like these, which I enjoyed so much when I first saw them, to a whole new audience of Jet Li fans who might not be familiar with his early work.

Besides Corey Yuen, Jeff has also enjoyed a productive collaboration with another major Hong Kong film-maker, Wong Kar-wai. Lau produced Wong’s classic Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, and also the period wu xia epic Ashes of Time, currently available in a remixed version.

Fans will be able to appreciate Lau’s earlier efforts when Fong Sai-yuk returns to the fray, and to enjoy his current work when Kung Fu Cyborg stalks the land!


Comments


Hi Bey, Can't wait for these to come out! Any chance DD (or anybody) might release the earlier Fong Sai Yuk films that still survive on DVD in some form? Plus the Wong Fei Hung films. These are the foundation of modern martial arts cinema, yet sadly most of us Western fans have never had a chance to see them.
- Steve Dunne, South Australia | 2009-02-13 21:13:07
Great!! I can't wait for Fong Sai Yuk in remastered form. Hopefully it's uncut with the original dialogue and "real" subtitles. Overall, I've been impressed with Dragon Dynasty and the exceptional work in releases movies that for the most part haven't been remastered.
- Arigo A, Texas | 2009-02-16 22:42:48
I LOVE OLD SHIOLIN MOVIES, AND WOULD LIKE TO KNOW IF YOU HAVE SOME OF THEM, FIVE SHIOLIN MASTERS, BLOODY FISTS SILVER FOX ETC, THES ARE MOVIES FORM THE 70'S AND 80'S.
- SOMO BISHOP, BALTIMORE, MD 21222 | 2009-02-17 11:19:00
HELL YES!!! I am in eager anticipation of your Fong Sai-yuk releases! It's about time they were properly released in the U.S. by a respectable studio.
- James "Pixote" Ramirez, Salt Lake City, Utah | 2009-02-18 13:05:40
That's great news for now and I love jet as well. Ben we are still waiting for drunken master 1, 2, and snake and crane art of shoalin.
- Jackei and jet li fan, Bronx | 2009-02-20 22:23:24
Can't wait to see more of his films.
- HK movie fan, Seattle | 2009-03-28 04:56:57
FINALLY... I cannot wait to finally get Fong Sai Yuk on DVD, I saw it a while back and I've been craving for it for the longest time. Is there a set date for release yet?
- BAYBOY707, Fairfield, CA | 2009-03-28 19:47:33
Jeff Lau is responsible for one of my favorite films from any country, 1994's Treasure Hunt - starring Chow Yun Fat and the adorable Wu Chien-Lien. I got to see it on the big screen at the Siskel Center at the Art Institute of Chicago about thirteen years ago...and by the time a giant flower grew from Yun-Fat's head (yep) - I was in love with the film. It's a weird, wonderful genre-bender - a supernatural-romantic culture-clash comedy/drama martial arts/action-adventure/political thriller - a perfect example of why HK film took the world by storm all those years ago - it defied convention and wore its heart on it's sleeve. This movie moves me to such a degree that, to this day, I get misty when I hear the Yanni song (yes, Yanni) on the soundtrack.
- Jason, Indiana, USA. | 2009-04-13 06:18:53

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