The Young and Talented Wong Jing

A director is a storyteller. If you can tell a story in an interesting way, then it will become a nice movie.

Wong Jing is an excellent storyteller. He has a lot of stories within him and a casual story from him can be very entertaining. Thirty-five years ago, he worked as a scriptwriter for TVB’s “Enjoy Yourself Tonight” as a summer job. His 2009 movie, “On His Majesty’s Secret Service” (大內密探靈靈狗) grossed $100 million in the mainland box office. Wong Jing’s stories take many forms and he created many memorable characters over the last three decades. He worked with veteran actors and superstars such as Fung Wong Nui, Tang Bik Wan, Liza Wang, Chow Yun Fat, Stephen Chow Sing Chi, Chingmy Yau Suk Ching, Kelly Lin, etc.

Louise Lee is the Queen of Eye Drops

Before entering TVB in the 1970’s, Wong Jing worked for his father, famed Producer Wong Tim Lam, as a movie log keeper. “That movie was never screened in Hong Kong. The production company went bankrupt and [due to outstanding debts], the bank seized the film. My father was the director. Yuen Wo Ping was the martial arts choreographer and Heung Wah Keung was the male lead. He filmed a lot of martial arts films.”

During his freshman year at the City University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Wong Jing asked his father, Wong Tin Lam to refer him a summer job at TVB. “At that time, my father was very famous for the TV series he produced. But he did not allow me to work together with him. Instead, I worked with Lau Tin Chi. Thus, my father’s skills were passed on to Johnnie To and Ringo Lam. In 1975, I started writing comedy sketches for ‘Enjoy Yourself Tonight.’  During the first week at my job, I wrote an eight-minute skit, which was delivered by Adam Cheng Siu Chau.  Later, I wrote 《摩登地保》which Lo Hoi Pang starred in on ‘Enjoy Yourself Tonight’ for three years.”

Wong Jing wanted to transfer to the drama department, but he did not get a chance until Leung Suk Yee pulled TVB’s talent into RTV. The first TVB series Wong Jing scripted  was family saga “Giant” (強人), starring Louise Lee See Kei.

“Among TVB’s fadans, Louise has always been one of the best in dramas. Her timing is good, but she could never cry in front of the camera. She is the ‘Queen of eye drops.’ With three cameras rolling on the scene, camera number one filmed the entire set. When we transferred to camera number two, it was her cue to cry. Within a few seconds, she would quickly put the eye drops in her eyes. By the time camera number three was ready for close-up shots, Louise would shed tears. She was that quick.”

Chow Yun Fat Destroyed Wong Jing’s Acting Dreams

From TVB’s  “Giant,” “Conflict” (奮鬥) to “The Good, Bad, and the Ugly,”Wong Jing worked closely with Chun Yun Fat. Later in the 1990’s, their collaboration on the movie “God of Gamblers” (賭神) created box office magic.

“Chow Yun Fat and I were both born in May 1955. We entered TVB in the same month. When I was young, I participated in theater and considered becoming an actor. In that era, which young twenty-something man did not consider becoming an actor? However, when I met Chow Yun Fat and noticed how handsome he was, I realized I will never be able to compete against him. Thus, I devoted myself to behind-the-scenes production work instead.”

Chow Yun Fat and Carol Dodo Cheng Yu Ling became enormously popular after the release of “The Good, Bad, and Ugly” (網中人). Wong Jing laughed and said that Dodo was the first generation of “Jing Girls.”  He continued, “Dodo was not beautiful back then. She had amazing talent and was an open actress. In ‘The Good, Bad, and Ugly,” she had several French kissing scenes with Chow Yun Fat. The script only required the pair to ‘hug and kiss passionately.’ The actors need to have chemistry together in order to produce such [convincing love scenes].”

Chow Yun Fat’s gambling mother (played by Tang Bik Wan) in “The Good, Bad, and Ugly” was based upon Wong Jing’s own mother. “My mother’s [gambling habits] had considerable impact and put our family in terrible finances. We never knew what trouble she would get into.”

In the situational comedy (一屋兩伙三人行), the ground stewardess (played by Wong Hang Sau) was based on my wife. Apart from these two series, I have learned early not to sacrifice myself [and the people I know] in my onscreen characterizations.”

Wong Jing Nicknamed Liza Wang “Ah Jeh”

Liza Wang’s classic TVB series, “Yesterday’s Glitter” (京華春夢) was written by Wong Jing. Converting to today’s ratings standards, the series pulled 40+ points in ratings.

“When I started writing ‘The Shell Game’ (千王之王), I was not prepared to launch the series so quickly. At the time, RTV’s “Fatherland” (大地恩情) pulled the audience away from TVB. The series, “Five Easy Pieces” (輪流傳) had to be pulled quickly off the air, to be replaced by (千王之王). When the first episode was broadcast, there were only five episodes that had been filmed. Originally, the script did not include Liza Wang’s character and the only swindlers were Patrick Tse Yin and Yeung Kwan. However, since TVB’s ratings were threatened, I added in Liza’s character since she is a ratings guarantor. I revised the script very well; there is no gap nor loopholes found anywhere.” After the sequel, “The Shell Game 2”  (千王群英會)was released, Liza’s popularity rose to the stratosphere.

“I coined the nickname ‘Ah Jeh’ for Liza Wang. Before, no one addressed her this way. It does not mean she is arrogant, but rather refers to the aura exuded among established actresses such as Yu Su Chau and Fung Wong Nui. They are not ill-tempered nor possess diva habits. They are all very gracious. During ‘The Shell Game,’ Liza exuded the same aura, so I started calling her ‘Ah Jeh.”

From writing the gag show (各位觀眾鳳凰女小姐) to “The Good, Bad, and Ugly,” Wong Jing worked with established actresses such as Fung Wong Nui and Tang Bik Wan. “I get along very well with the fadans. No matter what age, every actress is a young girl at heart. You don’t have to give them much, but you have to care about them. Then, they will treat you like an insider. I am able to communicate well with many actresses due to this insight. Many people feel that Deanie Yip Tak Han is difficult to work with, but I am good friends with her. My heart cares for Deanie, thus she will not feel that I am ordering her around [when we are working together] and her guard will be lowered.”

Entering the Film Industry

The popularity of “The Shell Game” boosted Wong Jing’s confidence in directing films. His first movie was “Challenge of the Gamesters” (千王鬥千霸). “After the success of ‘The Good, Bad, and the Ugly,’ I signed a movie contract with the Shaw Brothers. Mona Fong personally delivered the contract outside the office and I signed it on the roof of her car.”

During that time, Wong Jing received $20,000 (HKD) in director fees, which was the lowest at Shaw Brothers. However, due to his box office success, he received the highest royalties. “I did not dream of such good results. At the time, the biggest Shaw Brothers hit was ‘72 Tenants’ (七十二家房客) which pulled in $6 million (HKD). Bruce Lee’s ‘Enter the Dragon’ pulled in $5 million (HKD) at the box office. My first movie already sold $5 million in tickets.”

Wong Jing created several box office sensations afterwards. His first was the 精裝追女仔 “Romancing Star” movie series. “Cinema City Enterprises released a movie called (追女仔) starring Mak Ka. It was pretty good, but the sequel (專撬牆腳) was awful. I felt the gags can go further and be modernized. Coincidentally, Heung Wah Keung had a contract quota with Chow Yun Fat. So I decided to cast Chow Yun Fat as the star. In the movie, Chow had three sidekick friends. Of course, the sidekicks need to be Nat Chan Bat Cheung and Eric Tsang Chi Wai. I insisted on casting Fung Tsui Fan, as he is very funny. As for the female lead, I cast Maggie Cheung Man Yuk. All the men want to date her and the women want to be her. After filming ‘The Game They Call Sex’ (黃色故事),  Sylvia Chang Ngai Ga pointed out Maggie’s emerging talent.”

Growing Distant from Stephen Chow

The next movie series to set breaking box office records was “The Conman” (賭俠) series, which launched the era of collaborations between Wong Jing and Stephen Chow. “Strictly speaking, Stephen Chow is many years my junior. After TVB series, “The Justice of Life” (他來自江湖) and “The Final Combat”(蓋世豪俠) were released, he started getting noticed. Since I was filming four to five movies each year at the time, I was too busy to watch television series. To put it bluntly, at the time, he did not have the caliber to act in my movies. However, Heung Wah Sing found him suitable. One day at Impact Entertainment Limited, I met Stephen for the first time. He just finished filming ‘Curry and Pepper’ (咖喱辣椒) and asked me ‘When can I act in your movies?’ Afterwards, I went to Singapore to film “The Last Blood,” (驚天十二小時) and Stephen’s “The Saint of Gamblers” (賭聖) was released with very good box office results. Heung Wah Sing called and asked me to return immediately to Hong Kong to see it. Shortly, we started filming ‘God of Gamblers III: Back in Shanghai’ (賭俠), which starred Stephen and Andy Lau.”

Stephen Chow’s Personality is Controversial; Many Past Collaborators Express Discontent

“Stephen Chow is an extremely smart and creative person. At first, we got along very well. We went out together to drink, eat dinner, look at girls and cars together.”

“However, Stephen’s lifestyle took a rapid change. He met a lot of different people and his perspective changed. Within three years, our distance increased. In 1994’s  “Hail the Judge” (九品芝麻官), his domineering ways made it very hard for us to collaborate. By 1995’s “Sixty Dollar Million Man” (百變星君), it was almost impossible. We did not argue. I do not argue with other people despite differences in opinion. I would ask him, ‘Do you like it this way?’ He would answer, ‘No.’ Then I would ask him, ‘How do you want it?’ or ‘How about we do it your way?’ We spoke to each other this way. It was getting awkward and there were no more sparks.”

By the time “Forbidden City Cop ” (大內密探零零發) was released, Wong Jing had turned to producing and the director was Stephen Chow. “Our later collaborations were purely commercial in nature [to ride on each other’s market appeal]. He could do whatever he wanted, as long as it was not too outrageous.”

Selecting a “Jing Girl” in the Dark

Every great director has his muses. Zhang Yimou has his “Mo Girls,” Stephen Chow Sing Chi has his “Sing Girls,” and Wong Jing has his “Jing Girls.” The most representative “Jing Girl” was Chingmy Yau Suk Ching of course.

“The first time I met Chingmy in person was at TVB. She was practicing bending exercises for the Anniversary. Afterwards, she filmed my movie, ‘Mr. Possessed’ (撞邪先生). Dodo Cheng Yu Ling was the female lead and Chingmy was the supporting actress. When Chingmy was participating in the Miss Hong Kong pageant, she left a deep impression on me. The photos of her in a one piece swimsuit showcased her beauty and youth.”

Under Wong Jing’s re-packaging, Chingmy went from a sweet, innocent image to a sex goddess.  In “Naked Killer” (赤裸羔羊), her image had a major breakthrough.

“At the time, Veronica Yip Yuk Hing filmed several Category III films. We did not think it was a problem [to launch Chingmy’s sex goddess image] as it was not too negative.  Many actresses [started stripping before the camera], but no one packaged the result as strongly nor duplicated our effectiveness. Although Veronica released several soft-porn movies, it was completely without packaging. It was purely stripping. I hired a renowned “Playboy” female photographer to shoot the film poster for Chingmy. I hired Huo Yiu Liang, who is reknown to film women in the most flattering manner, to direct the movie. The clothes [worn by the female cast] were incredibly expensive. The result was much more extravagant. That is why to this day, everyone still considers Chingmy Yau to be sexy and not simply possessing ‘fleshy bombs.”

As for Shu Qi, Wong Jing recruited her from Taiwan [after she posed nude in a pictorial]. Shu Qi’s first Hong Kong movie was Wong Jing’s “Sex and Zen II” (玉蒲團II 之玉女心經). “I saw a photo of her in a tabloid magazine and felt she had aptitude. I told Manfred Wong to find her in Taiwan and sign her. When I met her, Shu Qi was already filming on her first day at Golden Harvest.”

Starting in the 1990’s, Wong Jing became very busy; he no longer had time to discover new talent on his own. Now, he was able to “purchase a cow across a mountain.” Wong commented, “If a big director such as myself appeared [in a public place], it would cause a huge commotion. One year during the Golden Horse Awards, Heung Wah Keung and I were in Taipei.  There was a small party at a karaoke bar. When people realized we were there, all the upcoming actresses in Taiwan came to the party. Forty to fifty beauties waited for me. The karaoke room was very dark. It was winter time, so the women all wore thick coats. Despite this, I found good material that night. She was Kelly Lin.” Later Kelly came to Hong Kong to film Wong’s movie, “The Tricky Master” (千王之王2000).

In 2002, during the production of ATV’s “A Dream Named Desire” (美麗傳說), Loretta Lee Lai Chun and Monica Chan Fat Yung got into a brawl; Loretta almost slapped Monica on the face. “I did not get involved with their conflict. All the production crew members were aware of this. Conflict between actors should be settled among themselves. We should not intervene unless there is violence. But we will not add our own opinions to the matter.”

No Real Stars in This Generation

Inside Wong Jing’s room stood a trophy for “God of Gamblers 2” (賭神2). It grossed $52 million (HKD) at the Hong Kong box office, one of the highest grosses in the past two decades. The film was released in 1991 and it is very difficult to duplicate that performance in today’s market.

Wong Jing just received a new trophy for the success of ” On His Majesty’s Secret Service ” (大內密探靈靈狗). The movie pulled in over $100 million (Yuan), which was the ninth highest grossing film in China in 2009. “The Hong Kong audience’s taste is very vague. They are not interested in a good film, but they want to follow other people’s trends and topics instead.”

Wong Jing severely criticized the low quality of a new generation of actors. He said disdainfully, “You can see that I have not used the new actors. They do not even know how to speak properly. Their ‘lazy tones’ are more prevalent than proper pronunciation. They can’t speak Chinese nor English properly. They can’t even act.”

Since 2000, Wong Jing said there have not been any real stars in the Hong Kong entertainment industry due to a lack of talent managers. “Paco Wong was the last person who knew how to create a real star. But now he’s been pushed aside too.” (What about EEG’s Mani [the Twins’ manager]?) “She knows how to manage…little kids.  She’s the best when it comes to babysitting.”

Source: Mingpao Weekly

Jayne: Guess which films hold the top three spots in Hong Kong box office of all time? They are #1 Kung Fu Hustle, #2 Shaolin Soccer, and #3 CJ7. All three films are written, directed, and produced by Stephen Chow.

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  1. This is a very interesting read, a kind of behind the scenes story. What I found interesting was the relationship between Stephen Chow and Wong Jing. I think initially, Stephen Chow was easygoing and optimistic in the entertainment industry. But because of his limited ‘looks’, it was hard for him to stay completely optimistic especially in this field.
    I don’t think their relationship particularly soured because they disliked each other, but Stephen Chow slowly matured from a childish youngster to a man who was just focused and invested in his own career.
    I completely agree about his comment on the lack of actual talent in HK. Compared to stars decades ago, they are unpolished, unprofessional and often overrated.

  2. I have always admired Wong Jing. Despite critics often bashing his films, he spun many memorable and original movies in the past. He spawned the entire “God of Gamblers” craze and gave us many extremely funny Stephen Chow movies.

    Although Wong Jing’s career as a TVB screenwriter was short, he gave the audience remarkable legacies such as “The Good, Bad, and Ugly.” This is a favorite series amongst my family and we re-watched it several years ago.

    Despite the production details obviously dated, the story is very touching. I cried when Chow Yun Fat went to jail for the love of his family and cried even more when he had to push away Dodo Cheng, the love of his life. This series resonates very well. The tragedy is real, unlike the melodrama of recent series like “Moonlight Resonance,” in which I found the family bickering to be tiring.

  3. In the interview, Wong Jing doesn’t seem to speak very highly of Stephen Chow. As Stephen’s career became more successful in the mid 1990s, his career aspirations grew. He probably realized that although he was the reigning comedian, there will come a time when other younger actors will replace him.

    There was also more money to be made in directing and producing. Once Stephen saw himself heading down this path (crossing into Wong Jing’s territory), it’s obvious the friendship could not be sustained for long. Since Stephen is so outspoken, perhaps he also started criticizing Wong Jing’s scripts (for the toilet humor) in some scenarios and the mass production schedule. If you examine Wong Jing’s quick turn-around in films versus Stephen Chow’s carefully planning of movies such as “Kung Fu Hustle,” their values show through. Wong Jing makes movies purely for box office results. Stephen seems to reach higher; he wants to make films that have longer lasting legacy.

    Both men also seem proud of their talent and quite egotistical. When two people are too similar in ambition and temperament, it’s not always easy to get along.

  4. Jayne – very well rewritten commentary.

    IMO, a lot of the negative publicity on Stephen this past year were due to his high fame and avoidance to “shoe-shine” and be fake about everything.

  5. I never thought much about Wong Jing until I saw his guest appearance in a TVB variety show and he and several actors wrote poems on the board and amongst all of them his handwriting was the most beautiful and his was the most poetic. Then it hit me hard; his background. After that I respected him. Whichever way he carved his career with those sleazy movies, I thought this man deserves respect, which I feel not many gives him that. I suppose we should never judge a man solely by the body of his work. I find him articulate, intelligent and as demonstrated in the article above, a patient man who knows what he wants.

    As for Stephen Chow, I always knew he was difficult. All great actors are difficult, especially comedians.

    By the way Jayne, I didn’t know you came back! Welcome back and thanks for all the news!

  6. Stephen Chow’s comedies also have toilet humor and other body fluid humor. So, I don’t think it’s the toiler humor. It’s just a different of idea and aspiration, I guess. Stephen really planned everything carefully in his work.

    I also admired Wong Jing. Despite a lot of bashing he got from movie reviewers, his movies did make money and he provided a lot of work to actors in the movie industry during the industry’s low period. Plus, sometimes, one needs some brainless comedies just for relaxation. Not all movies must be deep and meaningful etc. A lot of his comedies are fun to watch.

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