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From street to silver screen: Beggar So/Su Hua-qi
Beggar So Page 1
Author(s) : Yves Gendron
Date : 20/6/2006
Type(s) : Information
 Intext Links  
People :
Jackie Chan
Chang Cheh
Stephen Chow Sing Chi
Chow Yun Fat
Kwan Tak Hing
Philip Kwok Chung Fung
Lau Kar Leung
Lee I Min
Liu Chi Wai
Gordon Liu Chia Hui
Donnie Yen Chi Tan
Sharon Yeung Pan Pan
Brandy Yuen Jan Yeung
Yuen Cheung Yan
Simon Yuen Siu Tien
Yuen Woo Ping
Movies :
A Beggar Named Su
Dance Of The Drunk Mantis
Drunken Master
Heroes Among Heroes
Heroes Of The East
King Of Beggars
Revenge Of Beggar Named Su
Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow
The Story Of Drunken Master
The Swordsman And The Beauty
Ten Tigers Of Kwangtung
World Of The Drunken Master
Young Vagabond
Lexic :
Yuen Clan
Drunken Master (technic)
Kung Fu Comedy
Wong Fei-hong
< Previous
Notes : It has to be noted that in the old English versions of Drunken Master and Dance of the Drunk Mantis Beggar So was nicknamed 'Sam the Seed' in the subtittles or the dubbed versions.

Sources :
"A Study of the martial Art Film: When The legend die- a Survey of the tradition of the Southern Shaolin Monsatery" by Ng Ho.

Thanks to Calros from HKMDB for his additions

A picturesque character of the Cantonese martial folklore, Beggar So appeared in many martial arts movies, the most famous of which is most definitely Yuen Woo-ping's Drunken Master.

According to the ancient lore surrounding him « Su Hua-qi » (which means, « Beggar So » in Cantonese ) was from Hunan, a Southern province which would also be later on the birth place to none other than Mao Tse Dong himself. Beggar So led a tumbling street performer life alongside his sister, and eventually his wandering led him to the neighbouring province of Guandong. An expert in Shaolin pole techniques he reportedly opened a martial school in Kwantung for some time, and was one of the celebrated southern martial heroes known as the Ten Tigers of Kwantung. Su Hua-qi owed his fame to the eccentricity of his lifestyle, wandering from a place to another, living on the outer fringe of society without any real home or family ties. In a certain way he represented the very antithesis of respected patriarch masters such as Wong Fei-hong.

In time So became a legendary figure; the folklore and martial literature transformed him into a wily mischievous tramp figure, an expert of the drunken boxing technique, and on occasions even into the king of beggars itself. Naturally he became a recurrent figure of Cantonese kung-fu cinema which developed at the end of the forties. He was notably the hero of a trilogy produces in one row in 1953 : A Beggar named Su, The Swordsman and the Lady et Revenge of Beggar named Su. Beggar So was also a recurrent character in the fame Wong Fei-hong serial starring Kwan Tak Hing, played at some occasions by actor Liu Chi Wai. Repotedly actor-cum-fight arranger Simon Yuen Siu Tien (Yuen Woo Ping's father) also played the Beggar on occasion.

When in the early seventies kung-fu cinema evolved away from its folkloric Cantonese roots, the character of the martial beggar disappear for a while. When Cantonese folklore did made a comeback later on though, So made a triumphant return in Drunken Master, the newly establish martial director Yuen Woo Ping's second movie (after Snake In The Eagle's Shadow) starring Simon Yuen and Jackie Chan in the respective roles of the wily tramp-like kung-fu master and his mischievous disciple. Acting with all the earthly verve he was capable of, Simon Yuen played Beggar So as a wily yet nimble boozer who loved as much to take a dip from his wine gourd as to torment his disciple, first by beating him up all the time and then by inflicting him a backbreaking martial-art training. Eventually though he did soften it up toward his disciple, taugh him the drunken boxing technique, before coaching him for edgy duel against a vicious assassin.

Jackie Chan and Simon Yuen in Drunken Master

The success of Drunken Master revived Simon Yuen's career, the figure of Beggar So, and in general the colourful and picturesque character of the wily shabby looking tramp-ish martial art master who became a recurring figure in the kung-fu comedy trend of the late 70s.

Simon Yuen came back to his Beggar So role for the third Yuen Woo Ping film, Dance Of The Drunk Mantiswhich saw So married to a shrew and paired with the adopted son he never knew he had and whom he naturally diligently torments (a role played by Yuen Clan's third son Yuen Shun-yi) . He also played So in Story Of Drunken Master where he trains a girl this time: played by Sharon Yeung Pan Pan. Finally Yuen was So the time of a brief cameo at the opening sequence of World Of The Drunken Master even though another actor plays the role of the old beggar later on in the movie. World also showcases a young So, played by the acrobatic actor Lee I Min. Another version of an young So played by Philip Kwokappeared in Chang Cheh's Ten Tigers of Kwantung. Throughout the Yuen Woo-ping movies the aging Simon Yuen was constantly doubled by Yuen Clan's fourth son Brandy Yuen for any strenuous or acrobatic martial art scene. In a little mischievous wink to this practice Brandy appeared himself at the beginning of Dance Of The Drunk Mantis as a fake Beggar So who coming across some lethal enemies of the real So ends-up paying the full price for his imposture.

Chui Chung Hei., Lee I Min, Philip Kwok and Brandy Yuen

Apart from Simon Yuen, Beggar So's most memorable movie appearance is the short but brilliant one by Lau Kar Leung in Heroes of the East. In that film, he teaches drunken fist to Gordon Liu by first beating the later martial classmates, seemingly completely inebriated and then by performing a set of drunken forms dully replicated by Gordon Liu standing right next to him; a superb martial showcase as entertaining as it is enlightening. Several years later, it was Gordon Liu turn's to play a younger version of the Beggar in the Shaw production Young Vagabond (1982 )

Lau Kar Leung in Heroes of the East

Gordon Liu plays the beggar in Young Vagabond

Given the popularity of the character, Beggar So probably appeared in other kung fu comedies, as well as in many martial TV-series. One of them, from the middle of the 1980s is Legend of the Master So, featuring in the starring role a young Chow Yun-fat. With the end of the classic martial cinema era, So disappears from the big screen for some time but made a big comeback in 1992 in King Of Beggars, in which So is once again presented as a young man, played this time by the newly established king of Cantonese comedy Stephen Chow Sing-chi. The action of the movie was choreographed by Yuen Clan's second son Yuen Cheung Yan who had directed the action of World Of A Drunken Master thirteen years earlier, and had specialized in the early 1980s in playing the wily drunken master. He succeeded his then deceased father even though it seems he never did actually played So Hua-qi himself. For King of Beggar though, Beggar So ends up mastering the sleeper boxing style rather than the drunken boxing. The following year Yuen Woo-ping himself recreates the Beggar So / Wong Fei Hong pairing which he had initiated with Drunken Master in Heroes among Heroes. This time they appeared not as master and disciple but two relatively young men from the same generation, led to antagonize each other because of different tempers as well as some trickery by the movie villains. It is Yuen Woo-ping's protégé Donnie Yen who plays So in this version.

Chow Yun-fat, Stephen Chow and Donnie Yen

An emblematic character of the kung-fu fiction under all its forms (folkloric, literary, or cinematic) for its colourfulness, its irreverence and even its subversive nature, no doubt that Beggar So has still a good future in TV and cinema ahead of him.

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