Interview Chin Ka-Lok

An Interview With Chin Kar-Lok
Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Chin Ka Lok, my age is a secret, (laughs). I have been in the movie industry for 24 years. Having started from the age of 14, I began to receive kung fu training; because of the success of Bruce Lee, then Jacky Chan and Samo Hung Kam Po, I'd always wanted to be a hero of kung fu. So at the age of 14, I got in the industry and three years after, I officially joined the Hung Kam Po group.

I learnt a lot about movie kung fu in the H.K.P. group. But I feel like it is different from normal kung fu because it has to have a sense of movie in there. In those 8 years of training, I picked up a lot and since it is very competitive, I improved myself a lot. In Hong Kong, it is quite different from the training in western countries, since a Hong Kong stuntman has to do everything, there is no "specialist". In western countries for example, stuntmen who are responsible for diving will always do diving, while in Hong Kong, a stuntman must be capable of doing everything.

We had no training school to learn and we all grew up in the field. Hung kam po is my sifu (master) and he taught me a lot about Kung Fu and movies/cinema, to become a real movie star, lighting, the design of kung fu. Then I've worked for 10 years as an actor. And this year, in "Younger Ah Fu" (Star Runner), I applied a lot of it in this movie. And I am really happy to see a Hong Kong film with real, big kung fu.

I've read that you had regrets to have to leave school at an early age, but then you've always been doing a good job in movies. Why do you regret to have to leave school early?
It's greedy…because I got in the movie industry very young and that is the benefit of it: I got more experience and I am relatively young compared to the other seniors. Why did I say regret? Because I realize that I take longer to learn things than others who have studied more and have their own methods to learn things faster. And people like me have to learn from practice. It has its good and bad sides. To be honest, it is not a big regret. It is rather contradictory…I wish I was in between. E.g. like Jacky Chan, Hung kam Po who have similar backgrounds - without much education in school. As they got in at a young age, they have more chance to practice but then later, when they want to do more, we cannot practice first, we need to learn in other ways, like books, or through study. Nowadays, new directors can study how to make a movie, the books tell them if what they do is the best or not. But for us, through many practices, we learn the experience and make mistakes and get the right result. I am trying to find the middle. Like Jacky Chan now, he is learning from books. In Hollywood, they are able to speak English, even on the TV. What I want now is to learn from books to replace the basics that I lack.
With a martial artist, hands are also talking
As you always work as a stunt man for people, wasn't it frustrating to see that someone was getting the praise instead of you?
Not at all, I do feel happy. I doubled for many famous actors, in the 80s, when the movie was full of very dangerous action scenes. At the time, people in Hong Kong enjoyed watching movies a lot, especially in the midnight show. I was encouraged by the people who came to the cinema to watch my action and applauded. I feel happy and the action I've done has contributed to the movie industry. Even western people got excited about my work. It doesn't matter whether people knew it was me or not.
Some websites analyse the fight scenes, people watch everything again and again to try to understand the stunt. Some people can recognize who did the stunt. They want to give credit to the people who are responsible for it. Do you feel happy about it?
Yes, that makes me happy. You were asking whether I mind or not. I said not, because we were not selfish at all. They did things for the movie but not for themselves. We were working like a family. We serve each other. Like Yuen Biao, he won't put himself too high. He was already a big name in Japan but he would still have held out on some fights. I learn that we are working towards the same goal. Like Bruce lee, he had to have a worthy opponent to help the success of his movie, same as Jacky Chan, Samo Hung, Yuen Biao. Everyone needs to co-operate. So I think the reason Hong Kong action movies could reach such levels was thanks to this. The working format, the OT system is different. And under this situation, we have a strong action movie.
There was fierce competition between the Hung Ka Po team and Jacky Chan team. About the security conditions, was it a little too dangerous, I mean, do you think you would do it again today for the difficult stunts?
In the last few years, I didn' t see the same action movies anymore. All the "kung fu" families were in competition, but it has quietened down now. Only Jacky Chan can afford to spend so much money on an action movie. It is very difficult to support a big group of people. Did I feel unsafe? Lucky, I was very young and I adapted to it very fast and I had the courage to do all the dangerous action. Back in that time, there wasn' t much computer action. It was more original. It was more lively. I was also scared at that time. What was important is how I could break through my fear. I had no family burden before and I was naive. I just wanted to achieve my goal. It was easy to overcome the scares. Besides being hard working, one has to be lucky as well. I have been following Hung for eight years and some people died or became paralysed. I think I have a tough condition. But at this moment, I am still able to stand straight. I am lucky. At that time, it was in big competition, some people really died or were paralysed…

For me, I don't regret being in the industry. We say if a stunt man has not been hurt - they are not hard working enough. I think I am extremely lucky in terms of that.

What do you think about the action movie nowadays with computer effects? Spending the money on the computer. Do you like it? Like Matrix?
Technology is good and can help reduce the loss of lives or injuries, even simple things we had to do by ourselves. But then it is less lively. Like if we need to jump from high, we all use computer images. Just like music, it has to be done by people, like rock and roll. Like Robin Williams, you have his CD. But why do you still want to go to his live concert? It is because we like to see the real life action.

For computerized action movie, it is just like a cartoon. I always appreciate Matrix' s work. But we should not put all the effort into one side (of the stunts). If there are no human beings involved, it is different. Like the action in Matrix, I can tell the action is like comic books and cartoon action. It is not really a real person. The real action is not there and it is different. Like if I fell down on the floor, you would feel sympathetic for the pain. But the computer animation can't really show the soul of the falling, yet the visual is very good. There are no 80s pain of action anymore. But in a good market, both types of action movies should be allowed to continue.

You were close to Lam Ching -Ying, would you talk a bit about him as a co-worker and as a friend?
He is a very good senior and he is a member of Hung's family. Not only is he like a brother to me, I also consider him as a teacher and a friend. He took good care of me and taught me a lot. Like when we were in Canada to shoot a movie, there were only 3 action people in the cue. He was the instructor, there were a lot of actions, and we always had to double shots everyday. One time I had to break through a 10 ft glass wall and before that, I had to work on a ship to jump from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor. Everyone knew it was a painful shot. Hung Kam Po wanted me to do that job. But Lam refused to let me do that and he took that action…it was really a big pain shot. He was hurt after he did that shot. Like what I said before, working as a stuntman in the 80s is like a family and there is no selfishness.

He was very kind to me, even in a later movie, he found me for the main actor. He really took care of me. He had the spirit. He was not a smooth talker. But he used his brain a lot. He taught us not to be lazy, to give 100% every time, no tricks. He set a very good example to us. He had a good heart for movies, even when he was sick at the end of his life. He didn' t show to us he was in pain. He was even shooting a movie with us. I think he is really the real "Hero" . I miss him very much.

For the movie Star Runner, how did you get involved in this project?
I really like this movie and we started to talk about this story a year ago. We didn' t know what to do in the beginning. We just wanted to have some "thai" boxing and also a love element. I was the action instructor at the beginning but then I got involved more on the story building. I suggested inputting some kung fu elements. We were afraid that audience would feel it was old style. But the director supported a lot of our ideas. We really did it with our heart and we enjoyed working a lot. It was very smooth during the whole shooting. It is a lucky movie as well. Like Philip (redactor's note: the translator for the interview), he has known kung fu for many years and I can use him in the action scenes. The actors in the movie didn't have too much kung fu experience. But luckily, everything was on track smooth and they were willing to be trained up. They devolved their time to us. Like Vaness Wu, he spent a lot of time training for the whole two months. He didn' t have to leave during the movie for other work. This is surprisingly good for an " idol" these days. We tried to shoot the movie similar to a Hollywood movie. This time, we got chance to have rehearsal and did a lot of preparation. After this movie, I think they are the top kung fu youngsters, which is now lacking in the Hong Kong movie industry. Like Keanu Reeves, he did good in The Matrix and he can really make some good shots. I think Hong Kong needs some new generation after the Jacky Chan, like Donnie Yen. In this movie, I focused more on the action. These youngsters, hopefully, will become new action stars in Hong Kong and the world. I hope they will be able to continue for us and I want to be the one who contributes to some more effort on it.
Gordon Liu dropping by at the end of the interview
In Star Runner, there are some actors from the old generation, like Gordon Liu, there are some actors of the second generation like you, and there are some young actors, like Vaness Wu and Andy On. What do you think about those 3 generations?
It is just like a cultural change. Like ka fai' s action. We need to have the basics in order to change to the current style of kung fu. Like before, we needed to learn "chai ma" for 3 months. For now, "chai ma" is not as important, but it is still useful for our waist and stand. But now, we can use other technology to complement that. The ka fai kung fu is more practical based, like the traditional southern kung fu. For my generation, we add other elements, like "thai kung fu" …etc.

For now, the new generation doesn' t learn kung fu really. We teach them the amended one I learnt from ka fai and also my own input. After adding the elements, we don' t have a specific blend of kung fu. I think the action trend keeps moving and amending. In the Bruce lee movies, it had already started the change. When he went to Thailand, he inserted thai boxing style. It has been changing since Kwan Tak Hing times. Now Kung Fu is mixed with many varieties, but the most important is to give feeling to the movie. It is not dancing. It is a real fight. Not a disco fight. Many countries contain good ku fu and action. We should combine this and develop a better style. Learning from different styles is very important.

In my opinion, the Chinese southern style still has the best tempo and rhythm. As for my form, I am still using this style, the Chinese southern style. It contains all the basics. Jacky Chan, Lam Ching Ying, Yuen Biao...they all started from there.

Bruce Lee had a fight with Sammo Hung in a 70s movie, at the end, Bruce locked Sammo down. I didn' t like it at that time but now I see it on US TV, in Ultimate Fighting and this kind of thing, they use the same action. I hope many years later, people would not think it is a joking scene and people would keep this in their mind.

Why was Bruce Lee so advanced in his action?
I believe the reason Hong Kong was able to bring up many action stars was because we always had a very strong connection with China, the culture of China. It was a very common topic to learn Kung Fu at that time, plus with the British colonies, it was easy for us to absorb other cultures, we were more open to learn new things. We started early and as it can also make money. It was very competitive and people improved through competition. Like before people do traditional music, now people invest more and create a weird culture. It is like an evolution. There were many changes to practice, with a branch of hard working people, that all grew up in the industry. For Bruce lee, he liked fighting and his dad was also in the industry. For Jacky Chan, he started young. Hong-Kong has a special group of people; usually they do not study much. Yet they have a good sense of what acting is. Bruce enjoyed fighting, he went overseas, and was educated in physiology. In his movies, his opponents never showed it in their face but the audience feels the pain. He was very good at fighting yet he knew the market and how to catch people' s heart.
Many people have played Wong Fei Hung and you had a chance to enact him in a movie as well. Did you feel stress when acting him?
It was not really a big pressure. I would not play Wong as the same thing that others did, e.g. Jet Lee, Kwan Tak Hang. People choose me because they think I am capable. My Wong Fei Hung is more my style - naughty.
Every action director has his own style in terms of choosing people and making scenes etc. How do you find yourself different from the others?
I am not using much of the camera angle as director; I am more like the Hung Kam Po style. I choose not to shoot ancient type movies that required a lot of angles (because it's cheating). I still enjoy the real contact and real fight. As for now, I want the actors to be able to fight more and longer, not chop up, in order to extend the master shot. I try not to put too many artificial images there. I realize that in ancient movies these days, many fights do not stop. The reason they need to have this phase is because the audience needs some time to get into the fight. It is not realistic to hit 4 minutes non-stop. I want my style to be "real human fight" .
How do you see the future of Hong Kong action cinema and your own future?
Hong Kong action movies were in the big time. People who got famous have gone to Hollywood already. Some half-bright people were left behind in Hong Kong. Hong Kong had made no action movies for a while and at that time, I started working for TVB for a comic show. The new generation does not know what an action movie is really about. They are lacking exposure. I also realize there is a lack of new blood.

I made a Japanese movie in which they allowed me to use Hong Kong clues. Although we did not have Jacky Chan etc, I was able to teach the new generation and I was happy about it.

I also learnt from making big movies. The new generations now does not know how to make movies like before because they do not know much about it. Jacky Chan is coming back now and making a new Police Story movie. The new generation can learn from him. I hope to be able to help for their training. And now, there are more investors. Before the investors could provide lots of space for them to do an action movie. Three days were not enough to make one big shot before but now it takes just 2 minutes. I hope when Jacky Chan comes back, he will provide more chances for the new blood. The more they practice, the more they learn. Hong Kong still has a group of good movie industry workers.

As for myself, I will devote more time behind the scene. Some people ask me to go to Hollywood, but then I feel happy to stay in Hong Kong, I am not good in English, I always need a translator. I know the production and function in Hong Kong. I feel more comfortable at home and I can make good movies here. My directors give me chances and I like working with Hong Kong colleagues. The new generations learn from me and I want to contribute to it.

All our thanks to Sharon, Daniel, Philip and Ka-Lok!
  • October 2003