Hong Kong has many excellent exports – who can say no to an oven-fresh egg tart? – but perhaps none is as edge-of-the-seat exhilarating as the slew of decades-old action films that’s since defined an entire film genre – and since inspired a brand-new vanguard of Hong Kong action. You may not know these names yet, but you sure know their roundhouse kicks.
In another life, Andrew Pong could’ve been the next big K-pop sensation. He had the chops for it; he was going through the motions as a K-pop trainee in Korea and Los Angeles. But the calling of cinema was much too strong for Pong to ignore.
Pong grew up in a family of action-actor veterans, which meant being on set was a formative childhood memory. “I couldn’t recall my first experience as a stuntman, probably because I was too young,” Pong says, “but I’m pretty sure it was probably during one of my father’s or uncle’s shoots and the stunt team let me tag along shooting prop guns and trampolining into crash mats.”
From drifting through Los Angeles’ sewers to plummeting down 20-storey apartment complexes in Malaysia, Pong’s stunt work has brought him from shore to shore – and yet, he’s not one to rest on his laurels. Moonlighting as a personal trainer at Soho House Hong Kong amid responsibilities building up Hong Kong’s first action stunt academy, Pong has an action-packed schedule. And he wouldn’t want it any other way.
Hubris, naturally, comes with the indelible charm of being young and, some might say, being a little reckless. Antony Szeto, who cites Hong Kong action films as blueprint for his martial-arts training in Sydney’s Chinatown, is someone who’s successfully turned “being young and daring”, in his own words, into a 30-plus-year career.
“[My friends and I] were the only ones who were doing aerial jumps, suicide drops, kip-ups … moves [the talent scouts] have not seen before,” Szeto recounts, on how, exactly, he cinched his first stunt-work gig at the age of 19. “Until I got that first job, I never thought of doing stunts. But once I tried it, I loved it.”
In the decades since, Szeto has sprinted up ladders both literal and figurative, moving from stunt-work into stunt-consulting on Hollywood films like Ghost in the Shell and The Meg. Then, flexing his directorial muscles, Szeto directed Wushu, produced by Jackie Chan and starring Sammo Hung, and Hong Kong’s first-ever computer-generated feature, DragonBlade, which was nominated for a Golden Horse Award in 2005.
JuJu Chan Szeto
“I broke a lot of things at home when I was a kid,” JuJu Chan Szeto remembers, laughing. But such is the reality of a hyperactive child trying to emulate moves Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan would jump-kick on to screen – only Chan Szeto is careening from dining table to coffee table and back again. Enrolment into the martial arts became her parents’ solution, and Chan Szeto, no surprise, excelled.
Despite her podium-championing expertise, it wasn’t until a director’s advice – to throw everything away and focus on martial arts – did Chan Szeto realise this action-star path was one that was right for her. And that director, of course, was Antony Szeto, the man who would become her husband.
From starring in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny alongside Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen to Netflix’s Wu Assassins to its sequel, Fistful of Vengeance, released earlier this year, Chan Szeto, who’s been kicking, screaming and doing her own fight scenes on screens near you, is also currently working on her directorial debut.
To call Derek Ting anything but an enthusiastic multi-hyphenate is to be glaringly obtuse. Ting, who’s foremost an actor-director, co-founded a production company Random Art Workshop with his wife Joyce Yung and led the charge in creating four feature films in the last decade released by Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Hulu and Showtime. His most recent features, as well as the current instalment he’s working on, consist of a three-part sci-fi action franchise entitled the Agent saga. Oh, he’s also a tech writer to boot.
“I only started incorporating serious action in these last two features when I started working with my stunt team, Action Factory, who are known for big Hollywood productions like Netflix’s Daredevil and Punisher,” says Ting, crediting the team and his stunt double, Anthony Oh, as inspirations behind him taking on more and more of the action. “In my last film, we shot a one- minute continuous shot fight scene that’s all me.”
Jason Li was all set to become a physiotherapist but life, as it so often does, had other plans.
“When I got back to Hong Kong after college, I had a friend who couldn’t make a shoot,” Li says, his tricking and martial-arts background fortuitously coming in handy, “so he asked if I was free and introduced me to the stunt coordinator for the movie.”
This serendipitous, 11th-hour meeting landed Li a job, that then led Li to a thriving, kinetic career. Since then, Li has been stunting on films such as The Meg, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Blackhat – and, if you’ve binged through Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop live-action series in 2021, it was, in fact, Li, not John Cho, who was doing most of the heavy lifting as Spike Spiegel.
You may not know Lauria Wu’s name as of yet, but you do know the laundry list of names – say, Carina Lau, Karena Lam, Fiona Sit, Jade Leung and counting – she’s stunt-doubled for.
Having grown up a contemporary dancer, Wu, while entranced by all things related to the Hong Kong action film arena, never imagined she’d one day be a part of the genre-defining community. The pageantry circuit brought her back to Hong Kong from the United States and, while freelancing as an actress and model, Wu fell into tricking lessons conducted by a friend and seasoned stuntman. As thus, her journey into stunt work began – first as a wayward hobby; now, as an explosive career.
And yet, Wu has ambitions beyond the action. She’s proud to reveal she’s been signed to a new Dante Lam film, this time as an actress. “Although I wouldn’t mind some crazy action for the role if the director saw fit for it,” Wu says with a laugh.