An action life with a peaceful heart

HONG KONG Dec.8—Hand-in-hand, several stuntmen built a “man-made” bridge over two cliffs and leading actors would walk across it. Tony Leung Siu-Hung was one of the stuntmen. Thin and of medium height, teenage Leung often substituted for actresses to finish such dangerous scenes. Is being bold enough? NO. Leung didn’t have job opportunities until he learned Karate and Kong fu and accumulated martial arts experience for almost two years. He is still active now, 60 years old, surviving in the test of time and gaining a good reputation. However, self-expansion arose on his way to success but fortunately he restrained such negative emotion by virtue of belief of Buddhism. Hong Kong stuntman industry, he said, would be replaced by competitive late entrants in seven years. Action choreographers are responsible for innovation but they, along with the industry, are stuck now.

Learning is a habit
“He is not a genius but is definitely hard-working,” said Wong Ga-Leung, Leung’s old friend. Introduced by his elderly brother and uncle, Leung quit school at 15 years old and adventured with his brother in the stuntman industry. He was just not interested in schooling but still got good grades.

“Siu-Hung, be an action choreographer because you will be eliminated from the industry up to your forties for lacking enough energy,” he repeated what his brother told him and forged these words in heart. So, apart from learning from his brother, famous action choreographer Leung Siu-lung, he joined the martial arts school. At that time, he worked as an electrician apprentice and earned 60 Hong Kong dollars a month, HK$15 of which was paid as tuition to Kong fu.
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                        Tony (right) was practising with Leung Siu-lung (left), 1976      Courtesy of Tony

When working odds jobs on the set, Leung was accustomed to observing how seniors dealt with filming, editing and camera techniques. Additionally, he read references and bought a tape recorder to watch movies, digging out camera movements and montages by himself.

A stuntman who could perform summersaults on the ground was more popular but Leung couldn’t. This 21-year-old stuntman enrolled to a summersault center while his peers showed little interest. An elder once advised Leung not to waste money because they were both paid HK$150 per month no matter he could do summersaults or not. “Years after, they vanish in the industry while I have become an associated action director,” he said.

A devout Buddhist believer
“Action choreographers often feel great work pressure and some people get angry easily,” said Yee Tin-Hung, a partner and friend of Leung, “Leung is a mild vegetarian, never smoking, drinking nor gambling and it is rare to find another one sharing the same personalities.”  Yee once asked Leung what the secret was to embrace all things and keep an open mind and he concluded it in his belief in Buddhism.

As a believer in Buddhism, he learns and applies tenets into life. For him, every gain and loss come down to cause-and-effect transmigration, “People who bullied me have left the film industry” he said and laughed.

Yee added that Leung is famous for his patience and responsibility. From years ago, Leung has started to ask participation in the entire production of films, joining meetings to exchange opinions on scenes, rather than designing acts based on instructions given. “No extra money allocated, we volunteer to do so and this is welcomed by directors,” he said.

If his final design calls for more budgets, he will transfer the financial problem to the director or producer because he has provided the best.

To do or not to do, there are only two options. If he accepts a job, he will try his best to complete it because he doesn’t know if there is one more chance in the future and more importantly, what efforts he pays now decides following outcomes. So, he is satisfied with all his works and is confident about his expertise, also believing that if an action choreographer keeps this idea in mind, he or she can succeed.
          Movie: The Legend Is Born: IP Man, 2009  Tony was giving guidance         Courtesy of Tony

However, being a director brings more satisfaction than an action choreographer and when he first tasted the power. Leung used to be an obscure director at Shaw Brothers Studio and the producing group from The Shaw didn’t cooperate well. Once, two experienced lighting engineers apologized to Leung that they spent three hours setting a wrong daylight environment and needed four more hours to fix it. Everyone was waiting for a good show—Leung would shout with rage—but Leung restrained himself. “Even though they often perform against me, I still believe they will not set me up deliberately,” he said. Leung asked them to keep one voice that the director wanted to change. Since then, all the members were convinced. “I know it is self-expansion brought by authority and I must eliminate it,” he said.

He is struggling for what he could do after retirement. “As long as you have commercial value, there are opportunities,” he said but for him, it is also sad that seniors are still working at their seventies because they don’t know what to do except for action choreography. What’ worse, if one is unable to work because of disability, he or she will be forced to find other jobs and cannot get much subsidy because the standardization of stuntman industry is not well-improved.

What’s he thinks is Hong Kong stuntman industry is in gloom now. Foreign and mainland competitors will deprive Hong Kong of the leading position of action film, which experienced a slowdown in 1970s but was revived by Bruce Lee. However, this era failed to find a super star to sweep the world. He sighed and said, “If we performers cannot interpret, action choreographers are incapable.”

For young stuntmen who are not good-looking but refuse to work behind-the-scene, he said “It is useless for the ugly duck to envy Miss Hong Kong because he cannot change it.” You can only train yourselves well enough and wait patiently for your talent scout.