Actor, director, and screenwriter
Born Stephen Chow Sing-chi, January 22, 1962, in Hong Kong, China. Education: Studied at a professional acting school, sponsored by local TVB television station.
Actor in more than 60 films, including: Final Justice, 1988; All for the Winner, 1990; From Beijing With Love; 1994; God of Cookery, 1996; Forbidden City Cop, 1996; Shaolin Soccer, 2001; Kung Fu Hustle, 2004. Director and writer of films, including: King of Destruction 1994; From Beijing With Love, 1994; God of Cookery, 1996; Forbidden City Cop, 1996; The King of Comedy, 1999; Shaolin Soccer, 2001; Kung Fu Hustle, 2004. Films produced include: God of Cookery, 1996; Kung Fu Hustle, 2004. Television appearances include: Sou hat yi, 1982; The Legend of the Condor Heroes, 1982; Wut lik sap jat, 1982; 430 Space Shuttle, 1983-88; The Justice of Life, 1983; Joi geen sup gao sui, 1983; But dou san hung, 1983; Sung meng chi loi, 1987; Mo min kap sin fung, 1988; Final Combat, 1989.
Awards: Best supporting actor, Taiwanese Film Awards; Hong Kong Film Awards, six awards for various films; best film, Hong Kong Film Awards, for Kung Fu Hustle, 2005.
Stephen Chow seems to be Hong Kong's best-kept secret when it comes to making films. By American standards, he would be considered a superstar and an icon. While American movie audiences may be more familiar with such Asian stars as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Chow Yun Fat, Stephen Chow has out-shined them all in Hong Kong and most of the Asian countries. Chow, however, would love to cross over to international audiences. His first attempt, Shaolin Soccer, would have succeeded if it had not been botched by film studio Miramax. But his second effort, Kung Fu Hustle, helped Chow to finally achieve what he has long to become: an international star.
Stephen Chow Sing-chi was born on June 22, 1962, in Hong Kong. After his parents' divorce, he was raised in a government housing project by his mother and grandmother. As a boy, he watched many kung fu movies, and idolized martial-arts stars Bruce Lee and Wang Yu. After watching Lee's Fists of Fury, he decided to follow in his idols' footsteps and become an actor. He began studying wing chun, a form of kung fu, but never became a master. After graduating from high school, Chow auditioned to take acting classes, sponsored by TVB, a Hong Kong television station. Upon completion, he was given a role on 430 Space Shuttle, a children's television show in 1983. He stayed with the program until 1988.
Chow grew in popularity and soon was given other television roles. He appeared on several television series, mainly in dramatic roles. He also had several supporting roles in a few movies. Chow's first starring role in 1990's All for the Winner, a parody of director-actor Chow Yun Fat's God of the Gambler, established him as a comedy star. He followed up All for the Winner with a number of films, and soon began drawing in not only huge Hong Kong audiences, but also crossed over in other Asian countries. Chow stuck with making parodies, including doing a parody of Bruce Lee's Fists of Fury. He also satirized James Bond films with 1994's From Beijing With Love, which also marked his directorial debut.
Chow's list of box-office smashes grew, and he soon out-grossed a number of Asian stars, including Chan and Li. However, these two stars crossed over to international audiences, especially American audiences. Chan became a major Hollywood player with hit movies such as Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon. Li crossed over with a role in the popular Lethal Weapon 4. He went on to a number of starring roles in films, including Romeo Must Die, The One, and Hero.
Many based Chow's failure to cross over due to "mou lei tau, " which is translated as "nonsense" or "meaningless talk." According to the Independent's Kaleem Aftab, mou lei tau are "action films mixed with slapstick comedy, in which the characters would frequently converse in a seemingly incomprehensible tongue that was a bizarre mix of Monty Python-speak and Shakespearean rhyming couplets." In addition to mou lei tau, in Chow's parodies were a number of pop culture references that only the Hong Kong and/or the Asian audiences would understand.
Chow continued moving forward, and tried to move to Canada. He was refused on the grounds of an affiliation with The Triads, Hong Kong's version of the Mafia. Chow denied any affiliation, and resigned himself to continuing to make films in Hong Kong. He began writing his films, and continued to achieve box office success with God of Cookery and Forbidden City Cop. In one year, four of the five films with the highest grosses were his movies. However, his next few films were flops, and many thought Chow was on the decline.
Chow came up with the idea to combine the popular sport of soccer with kung fu and Shaolin Soccer was born. Shaolin Soccer told the story of a former soccer player who teams up with a shaolin master who wants to share his special form of kung fu with the world and has a powerful kick that sends a soccer ball through objects. Together with the master's five brothers they form a soccer team to try to win a million dollars. The film was also heavy on the special effects. The Independent described the film as "the greatest martial arts football movie ever made, and the silliest."
Shaolin Soccer, Chow's 50th film, grossed $8 million in Hong Kong, $21 million in neighboring Japan, and $40 million throughout the rest of Asia. Shaolin Soccer also brought Chow to the attention of Hollywood. Miramax studios bought the distribution rights and planned a 2002 release of the film. However, the studio would severely cut the film down and sit on it for an extra two years, releasing it in 2004. By then, many had seen a pirated version of the film. Chow's debut to American audiences was a failure.
Chow, however, was still very much on the minds of Hollywood. Though he had planned a follow-up to Shaolin Soccer, Sony Pictures Classics approached him to direct a different feature. With Sony's backing and money, Kung Fu Hustle was created. The film, which starred Chow as a small-time thug who wanted to become a member of the Axe gang, was also loaded with special effects, and numerous American pop culture references including the Road Runner, and a dance scene a la West Side Story and a horror scene that mimicked The Shining. The fight scenes were choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, who also choreographed The Matrix films. Kung Fu Hustle premiered in 2004, and made $7.7 million in Hong Kong its opening weekend. It replaced Shaolin Soccer as the highest grossing film of all time in Hong Kong. Kung Fu Hustle continued breaking records as it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival where it became a fan favorite and won rave reviews from all over the United States. It grossed more than $15 million in the United States alone in 2005.
Chow finally achieved his goal of showing his films to an international audience. Kung Fu Hustle won the Best Film award at the 24th Hong Kong Film Awards. Chow also began work on a sequel to Kung Fu Hustle. With constant comparisons to actor/director Charlie Chaplin, Chow will continue to wow international audiences for years to come.
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Independent(London, England), November 12, 2004,
p. 7; June 29, 2005, p. 45.
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Rocky Mountain News(Denver, Colorado), April 16,
2005, p. 3D.
Variety, July 23, 2001, p. 41.
"Doing the Hustle, " E! Online, http://www. eonline.com/News/firstlook.html?news (March 28, 2005).
"Not-So-Hidden Master Stephen Chow steps out of the shadows, " Los Angeles Times Weekly, http:// www.laweekly.com/ink/05/18/films-chute.php (August 11, 2005).
"Rising martial-arts star Stephen Chow scores big with the non-stop bustle of Kung Fu Hustle, " SciFi.com, http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue416/ interview2.html (August 11, 2005).