SYNOPSIS: From Bruce Lee to Shaw Brothers to Jackie Chan, Hong Kong cinema became world-famous for action films packed with martial arts fight scenes and death-defying stunts. These films were made possible by a very special group of Hong Kong film industry workers: Kungfu Stuntmen. Directed by film scholar Wei Junzi, the documentary Kungfu Stuntmen tells the story of Hong Kong's stunt actors over six decades. During the heyday of Hong Kong action and kung fu films, many stuntmen were needed on set to perform stunts and play small roles. Some would go on to become well-known actors and action choreographers, but most spend their entire careers as stuntmen whose names are unknown to audiences. As a love letter to Hong Kong action, Kungfu Stuntmen features interviews with legends of the field, including Sammo Hung, Yuen Woo Ping, Donnie Yen, Ching Siu Tung, Stephen Tung, Yuen Wah, Yuen Tak, Yuen Miu, Chin Kar Lok, Chin Siu Ho and Hung Yan Yan, as well as directors Tsui Hark, Andrew Lau, Ng See Yuen and Eric Tsang.
Unless you have been living under a rock, back in the 80’s and early 90’s, Hong Kong action cinema were at its peak with stars liked Bruce Lee, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan paving the way to international stardom. China filmmaker Wei Junzi and producer Chin Ka Lok’s documentary, Kung Fu Stuntmen takes viewers down memory lane where the gutsy, real-life super heroes kick asses on the silver screen.
With a few exceptions who make it big, there are plenty who risked their lives behind-the-scenes for a few seconds of screentime. This group of unknown daredevils were simply known as stuntmen or in mandarin, 龙虎武师. Similar to Sammo and Jackie, most were lowly educated folks who graduated from Peking opera troupes and simply out to make a living, earning a minimum wage at Shaw Brothers Studio which famously churned out thousands of martial arts flicks.
Besides familiar faces liked Sammo, Donnie Yen, Yuen Woo Ping and director Tsui Hark, Kung Fu Stuntmen also admirably features interviews with lesser known names liked Yuen Wu, once a member of Sammo Hung’s stuntman team who vividly described a seemingly easy fall out of a window which resulted him being unconscious in the end.
Action star Yuen Wah also discusses about working with the legendary Bruce Lee. Other brief interviewees include director Tony Ching, stunt choreographer Nicky Li, Jackie’s regular stand-in Mars, action choreographers Stephen Tung, Leung Siu Hang and Ku Huen Chiu. At least it’s not just a scrolling credited name this time. On the downside, Jackie Chan and Jet Li are both missing here for undisclosed reasons.
Chin Ka Lok who started out as an stuntman recalls an explosion went wrong in Eastern Condors and a heart-pounding massive stunt which involved at least seven stuntman for the finale of Heart of Dragon. However since this is an era where BTS footages are few and rare, there isn’t lots of shots which showcases the preparation that goes behind the execution of the numerous breath-taking stunts. A pity perhaps but given that safety works are kept to the minimum due to time constraints and budget, it’s more of a dare and you get paid kind of scenario.
Indeed, there are mentions of life-threatening injuries and stuntmen who spent whatever money they have on vices liked booze and gambling but the documentary fails to delve deep into these issues. Rather, the last part of the documentary concentrates on how the Hong Kong Stuntman Association (led by Chin) is trying to draw new blood to the declining local film industry. Obviously in the last couple of years, China has taken over Hong Kong as the output for Chinese titles. With bigger advancement in technology and budget, existing talents liked Tsui and Yuen has moved to China to support their productions. What exactly is in stall for the declining Hong Kong film industry? Or specifically, is Hong Kong action cinema on its way to extinction?
We can’t exactly tell you what is the road ahead not even Kung Fu Stuntmen can. Still, the documentary is a loving tribute to the undying spirit of the stuntmen industry. People who puts in blood and sweat, guts and balls without wire and minimum padding at times. Those who grew up watching Hong Kong action cinema will love this unique piece of work to no end.
Like they say, Stuntmen never say no!
Servicable visual and audio track of Dolby Digial 5.1.
DVD RATING :
Review by Linus Tee