Kwan Tak-hing ( Guan Dexing 关德兴)
Kwan Tak-hing, MBE (27 June 1905 - 28 June 1996) was a cantonese opera artist and a Hong Kong actor who played the role of martial artist folk hero Wong Fei-hung in at least 77 films, between the 1940s and the 1980s. No-one else in cinema history has portrayed the same person as many times. In total he made over 130 films. He was elected to be the chairman of Chinese Artist Association of Hong Kong in 1955. He was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1983.
Kwan Tak-hing (关德兴)
Kwan was born in Guangzhou, China in 1905. He was the second child in the family. His father died of a disease at a young age. To supplement his family's income, as a boy, Kwan worked as a cowherd. When he was 12, he began work in construction. At the age of 13, he worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Singapore before joining a Cantonese opera troupe under Cheng Hsin-pei.
His film debut was in The Singing Lovers (aka Romance of the Songsters), made in the US for the Grandview Studios and only the second Cantonese-language talkie ever made. His first starring roles came two years later in Song of the Yesterday (aka Yesterday's Song) and Song of Sadness (both 1935). Kwan's first martial arts film was Knight of the Whip (1936). During World War II he was in a troupe of patriotic entertainers and had a price put on his head by the Japanese.
The first film in which he starred as Wong Fei-hung was the Story of Huang Feihong part 1 (1949) directed by Wu Pang and produced by the Yong Yao Film Company. The film included Shih Kien as the villain and Li Lan, the very first winner of the Miss Hong Kong Pageant, and the first of many winners who would become famous actresses in Hong Kong). This partnership was a huge success and spawned many sequels, exploring many ideas and situations used in later action films. In 1956, a total of 25 Wong Fei-hung films were released.
Kwan worked on films with two of the students of Lam Sai-wing (himself a student of the real Wong Fei-hung. First, Leong Wing-hang, who worked as action director on Wong Fei-hung films as well as other Kwan vehicles including The Five Heroes' Deadly Spears (1951). Later he worked with Lau Cham, father of Lau Kar-leung and Lau Kar-wing.
The Wong Fei-hung sequence of films ended in 1970 and Kwan went into semi-retirement. During this period, Kwan opened a martial arts school and a number of herbal centres, whose branded soup and an ointment for bruises were well known in Hong Kong.
In 1974, Golden Harvest revived the role, pairing Kwan with Sammo Hung in The Skyhawk. Other films followed followed in which Kwan played his most familiar role - Magnificent Butcher (1979), Magnificent Kick (1980), and Dreadnaught (1981). TVB also aired a 13-part television series featuring Kwan as Wong Fei-hung in 1976. By this time, he was in his 70's and although he was doubled for the more athletic scenes, he still demonstrated remarkable fitness and suppleness.
Kwan received an honorary MBE for his charitable work and contribution to the entertainment industry, in 1984.
To the Chinese, Kwan embodied Confucian virtues and patriarchal authority, and he is thought to have modelled his speeches on those of Sun Yat-sen. Kwan appeared in cameo roles in The Family Strikes Back and Aces Go Places 4 (both 1986). His final film appearance was in the 1994 family comedy film It's a Wonderful Life!, at the age of 89, some 61 years after his acting career began.
In Bey Logan's audio commentary for the film The Magnificent Butcher, he states that though there is a grave marker to Kwan Tak-hing in Kowloon territory, his ashes were taken to San Francisco to rest with those of his second wife, whom he met whilst travelling in the US, whilst raising money for the Chinese war effort. He died at the age of 92 of pancreatic cancer.
Although modern martial arts films often feature a lot of violence, at the end of The Magnificent Butcher, Kwan's Wong Fei-hung saves the main villain (played by Lee Hoi-san) from being killed by Butcher Wing (Sammo Hung). This reflected Wong Fei-hung's portrayal in the original films, wherein he would defeat the villain but then heal him.
Kwan became so associated with the mature Wong Fei-hung that other filmmakers would only portray the character as a younger person, including Jackie Chan playing Wong as a young man in Drunken Master (1978), and Yuen Woo-ping depicting Wong as a child (played by actress Angie Tsang) in Iron Monkey (1993). When Jet Li portrayed Wong in the Once Upon a Time in China series, many Chinese audiences felt he was too young.