New York Asian Film Festival 2010 Report 7: CSB Interviews Bruce Leung Siu-Leung, Kung Fu Actor Extraordinaire and Star of GallantsPosted on 08.23.10 by David @ 10:07 am
Bruce Leung Siu-Leung (who has gone by a number of names in the West, including Bruce Liang and Bruce Leong), now in his early sixties, has had a storied history in martial arts films, both as an actor and as an action choreographer. First entering the public eye as one of several “Lee-Alikes” in the wake of Bruce Lee’s untimely demise, Leung distinguished himself with his martial arts skills, especially as a leg fighter. Leung moved past his Bruceploitation phase to become a legitimate star in his own right in the seventies and eighties, working with producer Ng See-Yuen and alongside kung fu superstars like Angela Mao Ying and Sammo Hung, and taking leading roles for major studios in films like Call Me Dragon and Little Supermen.
Unfortunately, after an incident involving a visit to China, Leung was essentially banned from the film industry for roughly 16 years, from 1988 to 2004, when Stephen Chow brought him back to play the role of the villainous Beast in his phenomenally successful Kung Fu Hustle. Since then, Leung’s career has experienced a revival, with roles in gritty actioners like Shamo and Sasori (review here) and comedies like Just Another Pandora’s Box and Kung Fu Chefs (review here). His latest film is Gallants and it stars a slew of old school Hong Kong talent like Chen Kuan-Tai, Lo Meng, Shaw Yum-Yum and Teddy Robin, though nobody is better showcased than Leung.
Recently, CSB’s David Austin and Charlie Prince had the opportunity to sit down with Bruce Leung, in town for the New York Asian Film Festival, to talk about Gallants and the ups and downs of his career. Leung, whose thickly-calloused knuckles bespeak a lifelong tough guy (and who has one of the best business cards I’ve ever seen, see immediately below), did not disappoint.
On Growing Up in Kung Fu Films
CSB: How did you get involved in kung fu films?
Bruce Leung: It’s a long story. I grew up in a single-parent family. To protect my family, every day when I walked past I saw little kids learning how to do martial arts and I wanted to learn. I used rice, and I would chop it until it was in really small pieces every day. My grandma would hit me when she saw me because I would cut the rice so small. To help my family, I got involved in the movies when I was 15.
CSB: What martial arts did you practice at the time?
Bruce Leung: I learned a lot of martial arts, but my specialty was kicking. My kicking ability was one of the main reasons I was cast in films.
CSB: Where did you train?
Bruce Leung: I followed my uncle and my family, because they were also martial artists.
CSB: I know your brother is a choreographer and stuntman. How many other members of your family are also in the film industry?
Bruce Leung: Five. They all work on action films.
CSB: I heard you also had some Peking Opera training.
Bruce Leung: I wasn’t interested in it. I did learn some acrobatics. That helped because in films you are required to do a lot of flipping and other action, not just kicking.
CSB: How long did it take to progress from being a stuntman and choreographer before you were featured as an actor with dialogue and character?
Bruce Leung: It took me six years. At that time, what companies were looking for the most was that you really had to have martial arts skills. I had the talent.
CSB: You worked for both Golden Harvest and the Shaw Brothers. How much freedom did those companies give you in choreography?
Bruce Leung: They were both very big companies in Hong Kong. Neither of them gave a lot of freedom or space for anybody to do what they wanted to.
CSB: Did the studios help you with your martial arts training or did you have to do it all on your own?
Bruce Leung: Neither company sought to train me because they saw I had the martial arts talent. That’s why they wanted me in their movies, not vice versa.
On His Name and Involvement in the Bruceploitation Genre
CSB: How did you get involved in the Bruceploitation subgenre and take your name as Bruce Leung?
Bruce Leung: When I was 19, Bruce Lee passed away. I could fight similarly to Bruce Lee, so that may have been why I was in so many martial arts films. My name, Siu-Lung, was a name that came from my masters. All the students of my master had the name “Siu” followed by something else [Ed. – for example, his brother is Tony Leung Siu-Hung]. The English name, “Bruce,” personally I don’t like it, but the only reason I have it is because at the time the market demanded it in order to make my movies popular.
CSB: Did you consider changing your English name after the market for Bruceploitation died and you began to have a career in your own right?
Bruce Leung: Well, since that time I’ve been telling people my first name is David (laughs).
CSB: How many movies did you make in that subgenre?
Bruce Leung: I’ve done about 73 movies in total in my career, but I only had to be exactly like Bruce Lee for one [Ed. – the colossally weird The Dragon Lives Again, in which Bruce Leung plays a deceased Bruce Lee in Hell – see image here].
On Working with Angela Mao Ying
CSB: You’ve also done a number of films with Angela Mao Ying. How did you get involved in her films and how was it working with her?
Bruce Leung: It’s very hard to find someone like Angela Mao Ying. Someone with her talent is very hard to find. But as an actor, I’ve only really worked with her once. That was on Broken Oath. I was a stuntman and then an action choreographer first, before becoming an actor, and then I started doing more acting.
CSB: Was it a learning experience working with people like Angela Mao and Sammo Hung?
Bruce Leung: More like Angela Mao and Sammo Hung learning from me, not the other way around (laughs)
On His Exile from the Film Industry and His Return in Kung Fu Hustle
CSB: I know you were absent from screens for a while. I understand that there was a problem where the Taiwanese were angry because of your dealings with the mainland. Is the Taiwanese market so important that if the Taiwanese will not watch your films it becomes a problem?
Bruce Leung: There was an association in Taiwan that all the actors had joined. The association said that members could not do any work for mainland China. Mainland China had asked me to come over and do some work. So I went over and then when I came back I was blacklisted – no films for ten years. The Taiwanese association was very powerful in the movie industry, so companies did not want to hire me.
CSB: What did you do during that time? Were you able to do any behind-the-scenes work, or choreography or work with your brother?
Bruce Leung: I was very down and very depressed at that time. I had been in the movie industry for so long and all of a sudden I could not film. So I did not really do anything. I did a lot of charity work, but that was it.
CSB: Was there still a problem when Stephen Chow wanted to bring you back for Kung Fu Hustle.
Bruce Leung: That was more than ten years later and Taiwan had already gone to mainland China, so there was no problem.
CSB: Did you have trouble adjusting to new techniques like CGI after all those years out of the industry?
Bruce Leung: It’s much easier and much more relaxing with CGI (laughs).
CSB: Your latest film is Gallants. How did you get involved in this project?
Bruce Leung: Society expresses a lot of messages through films. I love films that carry a message and influence people. For example, Gallants has a story has a story behind it too. It’s about the different feelings between the young and the old – the generation gap – and how it gets resolved. People watch Gallants and cry. In Gallants, the older generation, they tend to carry traditions like respecting your elders and respecting your family and your parents, and lot of youngsters now don’t have that way of thinking. So this movie is bringing back that kind of tradition.
CSB: Was the part in Gallants written specifically with you in mind?
Bruce Leung: It was written for me. If you’re fifty years or older, society forces you to retire so they can bring up younger actors. Bu the thing is, the senior actors tend to have the experience. It’s kind of like young versus old, with the young saying that they have the energy and they have what it takes to film, but they lack all the years of experience that the older generation has from all the years of filming.
CSB: I thought it was interesting that you did the final fight, instead of Wong You Nam. How did that happen? Is he able to fight?
Bruce Leung: The story was intended to show that no matter what age you are, you still have a fire burning inside of you. That’s why they had me do the last fight scene.
CSB: Was this your first time working with Chen Kuan-Tai?
Bruce Leung: I worked with him twice before, in 1983 and 1984 at the Shaw Brothers [Ed. – on the film Gang Master and the 1983 television series Super Hero].
CSB: How about Lo Meng from Five Deadly Venoms?
Bruce Leung: We worked together before on a television series called By Royal Decree in 1984.
CSB: Was it fun to be on the set with those guys?
Bruce Leung: It was fun because we’ve been in the film industry for a long time and fun to do martial arts moves that we did many years ago. And we were always asking each other, “Can you still do it?” Even when we didn’t do it correctly, it was still better than the young actors (laughs).
CSB: I saw that the choreography was done by Yuen Tak, who also has a long history in the industry. Did you all help to choreograph your own scenes?
Bruce Leung: Yes, we did.
CSB: How was Teddy Robin on the set? Were you a fan of his music when you were younger?
Bruce Leung: It was really nice to work with him, but it was kind of weird when we were filming opposite each other because he’s a singer but he plays the sifu of myself and Chen Kuan-Tai.
CSB: I never expected to see you and Chen Kuan-Tai doing karaoke together. Did you actually sing or dub your own voice?
Bruce Leung: I have performed over a hundred times. Not because of the voice I have now. I had a lot of fans back then, and everyone wanted to see me. The only way to drag the time out was to sing.
CSB: How has the film been received in Hong Kong? Any chance of seeing a DVD release in the U.S.?
Bruce Leung: When we opened at the first of the year in Hong Kong, we were number one. We are in talks with some U.S. distributors and trying our best.
On His Present and His Future
CSB: How is your body holding up after all these years?
Bruce Leung: You want to try me (laughs)? At this time and age, things aren’t really hard because I have so much experience behind me, but the main thing that is behind me is the money (laughs).
CSB: For younger fans who are only familiar with your work since Kung Fu Hustle, what film would be a great showcase of young Bruce Leung? What is a good starting point?
Bruce Leung: Call Me Dragon. In that film I did a lot of legwork. In a lot of movies kicking has to be sped up, made faster, but for that movie they had to slow it down. It took the top award in Japan when it came out.
CSB: Do you prefer straight fighting or do you mind working with wires?
Bruce Leung: I don’t like working with wires because they kind of suffocate me.
CSB: What other projects do you have coming up?
Bruce Leung: I have a film coming out in August called Dragon and Phoenix Inn. The director is Chung Shu-Kai, the same director who directed 72 Tenants of Prosperity [Ed. – the recent update of the 1973 classic The House of 72 Tenants].
CSB: You’ve done a lot of comedies since your comeback. Do you want to tackle some more dramatic roles?
Bruce Leung: Since Kung Fu Hustle, I’ve actually done 12 or 13 films in all different genres, not just comedies. I’m actually going to go to Shanghai to shoot a film with Chow Yun-Fat that does not require me to do any martial arts. And there is another one with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. I will also be in Wong Kar-Wai’s movie about Ip Man, playing one of the masters.
CSB: There are still a lot of action movies coming out of the mainland and Korea. Do you see yourself doing any co-productions with those countries?
Bruce Leung: They have their own people now, Korea and China. They used to go and look for Hong Kong actors who knew how to fight, but now that they have their own people they tend not to look for Hong Kong actors.
CSB: I had the chance to speak to Sammo Hung a few days ago, and he said that he thought things are hard in the industry now because there are not a lot of action films and there are not a lot of new martial arts stars coming up. Do you have the same perception?
Bruce Leung: In my opinion, Hong Kong action films will slowly die, because there aren’t really any new actors who have the talent for kung fu and martial arts. There are only one or two out there that really know what they are doing. That’s why all the veteran actors who really know how to do kung fu and martial arts are in demand.
CSB: Do you think it’s a lack of interest or a lack of training?
Bruce Leung: I think the youngsters now are afraid of work. Of suffering, of practicing. You need eight to ten years to really learn it – it can’t be done in a few months.
Thanks to Grady Hendrix and the entire NYAFF team for their assistance. And for those of you looking to see some vintage Bruce Leung, I’ve embedded some links below to some scenes from his older films:
© David Austin
Filed under: General and Movie News and Movie News: Hong Kong and Contributors: David and People: Stephen Chow Sing Chi and Movie News: Interviews and Film Festivals: New York Asian Film Festival 2010 and People: Bruce Leung Siu-Leung and People: Angela Mao Ying