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Interview with Eric Tsang Chi Wai
Debuts in the film industry 1/1 - Page 1
Author(s) : Gina Marchetti
Amy Lee
Thomas Podvin
Date : 14/12/2004
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Jackie Chan
Sammo Hung Kam Bo
Lau Kar Leung
Lau Kar Wing
Bruce Lee
Lo Wei
Karl Maka
Movies :
The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin
The Challenger
Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog
The Fearless Hyena
The Loot
Companies :
Cinema City & Films Co.
Golden Harvest
Lexic :
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Page 2 : Cinema City

Eric Tsang, the funny fatty guy and sidekick of Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan, is without a doubt one of the key figures in the modern HK cinema history. For the last 3 decades, he took a part on all the important periods of the HK cinema, from the Shaw Brothers, for which he wrote the script for the cult 36th Chamber of Shaolin amongst others, to the cheesiness and carefree attitude of the 80's, with Aces Go Places and Lucky Stars, to the 90's dramas, with Comrades Almost a Love Story, to the recent HK film crisis and new film Noir genre with Infernal Affairs. Eric Tsang has done many things, stunt works, script writing, directing, acting, producing etc... He has obviously a lot to tell...

HKCM : You started in film in 1977 when you were 23 years old. It was a very unusual start: you were a professional football player. Director Lau Kar Leung asked you to become a stuntman. How did that happened?
Eric Tsang : I began as a football player, but I really didn't want to do that because of my father. My father was a coach, so I was always compared to my father. Even when I went abroad to represent Hong Kong on the Asian Youth Team, I heard someone say that I was on the team because of my father, so I hoped to find a job outside my father's field. As a football player, every year you would get two or three months holiday, so I had a chance to meet Sammo Hung Kam-Bo and Lau Kar-Leung. We became friends, and we began to work together. Even though I didn't know gung fu, they said “never mind,” you are a football player, so you can be a stuntman. Because of football, I had very good timing. Let's say you have a 100 stuntmen fighting in a scene jumping here and there. So, if you're the 87 th to come in, you need to be able to hit number 86, die, and not interfere with number 88 coming in that's timing. I knew timing and teamwork from football. Also, because I was so short and I only weighed 110 pounds, I was very suitable to double for the girls. The film business is very attractive, once you start you really don't want to pull out. So, that's how I got started.
HKCM : Could you talk a little bit about your involvement in screenwriting? You co wrote the script for the world acclaimed kung fu movie: 36 th Chamber of Shaolin.What was the method at this time for writing movie scripts?
ET : I went from being a stuntman to a screenwriter, because I met Karl Maka. He had just come back from America . I joked around with him about a story I had, and I asked him if it could be made into a movie. It was a story about a stuntman. Because I was a stuntman, I thought that a story about a stuntman would be good. It was about the life of a stuntman. After Bruce Lee dies, film production goes down and the stuntmen decide to become bank robbers. One stuntman has a pregnant wife, so the others tell him to get behind the camera to film. If they don't make it with the robbery, he can still try to sell the film. They go into rob the bank using false blood not real blood just like doing a stunt. However, they run into a policeman during the robbery, and the policeman does not realize they are using fake blood, so he takes out his gun and kills one of them. Karl Maka liked the story, and told me he thought I could be a scriptwriter. After Bruce Lee's death, there was less demand for stuntmen, but a scriptwriter is needed for every movie.

All The Wrong Clues with Karl Maka & Eric Tsang

So, I quit my job with Lau Kar-Leung, and I went to assist Karl Maka. My first script was a Suzie Wong story. That was the most difficult period in my life. I only got $50 every two weeks as an assistant, I earned almost nothing. So, I went back to work with Law Kar-Leung as well. To help script the 36 th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), I really studied harder than I ever did in my life even more than when I was in school. I studied all the kung fu books I could find, because I really wanted to put all the animal styles into the script (e.g., tiger, snake, etc.) I wrote about the theory of kung fu, so I could put in that material for Law Kar-Leung. Then, the next script I wrote was Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog (1978) with Sammo Hung.
HKCM : You began directing in 1980 with The Loot and The Challenger. How did you get the opportunity to direct?
ET : After I wrote scripts for Sammo Hung, I asked him if I could work to oversee continuity for him. On the second film for him, I moved up to assistant director. I began to see how the films were edited. I also worked on editing, so I began to see how he decided on which angle to use for a shot and how to cut it together into the finished film. After that, I went to help Jackie Chan who was doing The Fearless Hyena (1979). I worked as assistant director on that film. Then, I met Lo Wei. At first he was very angry with me, because he thought I told Jackie Chan to go to Golden Harvest. We became friends, and I stayed in his company. I was supposed to work with Lo Wei and Jackie Chan for my first movie as director, but they had parted ways by then. So, I couldn't wait.
HKCM : You are so versatile you act, direct, write, produce. How did you get to develop all those skills?
ET : My career really was the reverse of others. Usually, actors move into directing and producing, but I moved from being behind the camera to acting. I went from stuntman to scriptwriter to continuity supervisor to director. When I was directing, I would demonstrate the parts for the actors to show them how to improve their performances. When I did it, the people on the set would laugh and say to me that my acting was better than the actor cast for the role. Karl Maka and Lau Kar-Wing would ask me to do cameos in their films. They discovered that the audiences liked me, so I started to work at Cinema City.
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