Lam Ching Ying

林正英 Master For All Seasons

Biography

His real name: 林根寶

In Cantonese: Lam4 Gun1 Bo2              In Mandarin: Lin2 Gen1 Bao3

His chosen name: 林正英

In Cantonese: Lam4 Ching3 Ying1          In Mandarin: Lin2 Zheng4 Ying1
 

This is not an ordinary memoir, as Lam Ching Ying was such a  withdrawn and low-key person, there's not much to know about his personal life. To set-up this page I used several sources, but always reliable ones, never rumours, gossips. I know how he loved to keep back and live quiet. Though I have to admit that sometimes I'll be carried away by my feelings, my intuitions thinking about him. Writing these lines I try to figure out his real personality, what really hid in his heart, behind his serious manner. Please forgive this personal touch, but I adore him so much that I can't be as distant as an official biography. I hope you'll find it interesting, useful. But my real aim is to make you know more about him, love him and treasure him, as he was a special creature.

 

His childhood years

Lam Ching Ying was born Lam Gun Bo on December 27 1952 in the Year Of The Dragon, in Hong Kong. His family is originated from Shanghai, in the Republic Of China. His parents secured their subsistence by catering others. Ching Ying was his parents' third-born child. He had two brothers and three sisters. His elder sister is Ling Chu, his younger sisters are Bo Chu and Wai Chun. He had a  younger brother Chun Hung and an elder, whose name I don't know, and unfortunately died half a year before Ah Ying's death, which must have been terrible to their Mum, who was eighty years old in 1997,  when Ying died. The family wasn't really well off, as the elders didn't have any chance of education at all. Even little Ying left school, the Hong Kong's Shun Yi Association Elementary School he attended, in the 2nd grade and was sent by his father to the Chun Chau Drama Society to learn the Peking Opera style. It was in 1962/63, when he was about 11 or 12 years old, full of energy and archness.

This was the school of Madame Fan Fok Fa, the "rival" school of Yu Jim Yuen, where Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao were trained at the same time. Actually they were not really rivals, but friends and the students had many opportunities on stage to perform together and off-stage to make acquaintance, like Sammo and Ching Ying did when they learnt moves together. But his real friends at that time were his schoolmate brothers, such as Stephen Tung Wai, Mang Hoi, Wu Ma, Peter Chan, Chung Fat, John Lone, Fung Hak On, Hsia Hou, Mars, Wai Tin Chi, Chin Siu-Ho, Chin Kar-Lok. These names and faces escorted him througout his carrier, till his funeral.

His training at the school gave him unique physical abilities in fighting and gymnastics, but  Madame also thought him the rare skill to be able to play female roles, as well as performing stunt-doubling for actresses. He was quite short, slender, but what really made him capable of this oddity is his fragile figure, delicate body-structure and his singing-voice which was falsetto. This "female side" of his can be seen in The Prodigal Son, which was his finest performance later on. But at the beginning Ah Ying was so mischievous, that Madame reported him so disobedient, that he was beyond her ability to handle. There was nothing else to do than send him onto the stage after half a year of training, to let himself express and engage his drive. It could be an entire essay to find out how this naughty, undisciplined elf became such a serious adult who even rearly smiled or joked. His devotion to act, his collected, disciplined manner makes him a role model even nowadays.

His first show was titled White Beach, but his Beijing Opera carrier only lasted for 5 years. Presumably he realized that there was not much demand for his style of acting anymore and it was time to change.Through a friend's introduction he entered the film world.

First steps

At the age of 17, a tender Ching Ying started a carrier as a martial art coach and stuntman for the Shaw Brothers Studios. Due to his slender build he was often called upon to substitute actresses, as it happened in his first film he really appeared on screen, in 1970. He was chosen to double for the ultra cool Cheng Pei Pei in the film called Gold Sabre Big Hero and he played a young monk as well. His salary was 60HK dollars a day, 1/3 of which went to his mentor, another 1/3 he took home to his parents. The remaining 1/3 he treated his brothers to snacks, but sometimes he got them out of the hole. He was always considered as a generous person. He once mentioned those were his happiest days in his life.

These years' experiences at The Shaw Brothers made him sufficient to undertake more significant piece of works. Gradually he had a good credit as a reliable action choreographer and stuntman.

After two years of apprenticeship he switched over to a new budding studio of Golden Harvest. His good old acquaintance Sammo Hung worked there, though their fate haven't totally entwined yet, as Ching Ying got a personal invitation from Bruce Lee himself to work for him as a stuntman and actor in his new film called The Big Boss.

Ching Ying didn't say an ultimate farewell to the Shaw Brothers company, as he was often called as a stuntman and got minor roles (generally baddies, henchmen) even in the late 70s.

Working for Siu Lung

Ah Ying worked for Bruce until Lee's death. Their friendship was a well-known fact. They collaborated very well together, they both had studied Wing Chun as a fighting style and were serious in their work. Of course at the beginning they had their manly contests to size up each others' limits. Ching Ying anyway was a very proud man and not easily admitted someone else's knowledge and quality unless he had already proved. The story is that he didn't think that Bruce was as strong as it was rumored. So in a hotel room, he challenged Lee...They put a pillow over Ching's chest and stomach...And Bruce kicked and hit....The pillow and Ying were sent flying across the room, nearly through the window. Sure their friendship, as it is proper between men, went on smoothly. Ching Ying learnt Lee's border.

Ah Ying was still very young, and as I mentioned earlier, he was not as easy person to handle, still had his games to learn from. At one point, filming was suspended on The Big Boss, because Bruce had to bail Ching Ying from the jail as he had been arrested for fighting. This was not the last time he had trouble with the police. He was stubborn, driven, and when he got something into his head it was impossible to divert him.

This headstrong, self-willed young man was Bruce's favorite. Not many people know this, but Lee was a very shy guy and kept a lot of things to himself. But he loved making people think. Lee challenged the beliefs of many philosophers and intellectuals. He loved a good conversation and Ying was the proper person for him. He could use his brain, even he wasn't as educated as Bruce was, had a clear mind, he was bright and wise despite his young age.

So Bruce rehired him as his personal assistant and co-action director when filming for Fist Of Fury began. During Enter the Dragon Lee made a special request to Raymond Chow to get him back from Korea to be his action director. In this one Ching Ying played the stunt double for Shih Kuen who portrayed the villain, Han. Their working relationship and friendship continued through all of Lee's films until his sudden death.

Ah Ying was incredibly saddened by his loss, as he had a great deal of respect for Lee. This respect of Ying's was a topic of conversations throughout his life between friends and co-stars. If he didn't respect you, he had very little time for you. He would even turn his back on you, if he felt there's nothing in common to talk about. Maybe he felt beforehand that he will not have much time in this world for an unworthy chit-chat. 

Lee died during filming Game Of Death. There are rumors that he and Ching Ying completed some fighting scenes, made huge changes and there are much more footage that was actually used in the final version. Kim Tai Jung says he saw a 90 minutes long, continuous film back in 1975 with Ching Ying. Lam stated these were all filmed by Bruce. Ah Ying can be seen as a karate fighter in outside picture stills against Bruce Lee. They even talk about notes Lee gave Lam right before he died. This is a mysterious game. They are both dead, and the tape is lying somewhere in an attic at the Golden Harvest Studios. One day we might see the truth.

After Lee's death a new era started for Ching Ying.

A new start

After Lee's death Ying followed his work at The Golden Harvest Studios as a stuntman and an action choreographer. Slowly he had become good friends with Sammo. They had the same working method, always give the best, be reliable and first of all, aim to do the perfect. Ying decided to join Sammo's famous stunt-team, the Hung Gar Ban. For a while his real job was behind the camera, but soon he graduated to assistant fight director and eventually was Sammo's right-hand man of his stunt group. Lam, as always, remained faithful to his friend until the beginning of the 90's, when the great Sammo decided to take some time-off. In a sense they formed an artistic partnership, and Lam was an integral part of Sammo's films for a decade.

Nevertheless he was an excellent actor as well. He wasn't what we call handsome, good-looking. His face-structure was as unique as his whole appearance. Strange, but radiant with talent. That is what I call charisma. Though his charisma is hard to describe. In the center were those soulful, wise eyes, a shy smile combined with an innocent look, but always dignified. This face was a masterpiece to express quiet joy, repressed passion, gloominess, stern disagreement, anger, grief. Later on he proved that he had a very good sense of humour, dry but very enjoyable. As a result of these capabilities his on-screen roles slowly increased and so did his reputation. His first breakthrough came during the attention grabbing fight between him and Yuen Biao in the Magnificent Butcher. He really shined as the fan wielding assassin showing us his psychical abilities.

But the lightning struck when Sammo offered him the part of the Wing Chun Master Leung Yee Tai in The Prodigal Son. Fate was gracious to him, since Sammo intended this role to a famous opera character, but due to his opium habit, he was unable to manage, so he choose Lam instead. This was a tailor-made role for Ying. He could show us his Wing Chun talent, his capability to perform as a lady, and his dramatic side as well. Usually in movies martial arts masters were old, stern, but Sammo wanted something else. With his genuine expertise in Wing Chun and also his background in female roles,

Lam went to the limit and suggested a more feminine quality. Sammo took him seriously, and as a starting point, stated that Lam has to get rid of his eyebrows. Ching Ying lost his breath, but only for a second. He realised that his naked face will be much more effective to express feelings. They were right. The end result was a memorable movie, in which Lam stole the whole show from the main actor, Yuen Biao. He was a cool, but caring master, that would become his staple characterization from now on. He did not win the acting award for his performace, which is a pity, but probably just as rewarding for him was to win an award as a fight choreographer. His first prize to recognize his work.

In 1981 Sammo had been mixing kung fu with supernatural elements in his film Encounter Of The Spooky Kind and a new genre was born. Lam's supporting part in this film started a new trend for him, playing a much older guy than he actually was. The above mentioned mimicry, firmed with funny and strange eyebrows (from bushy to his trademark uni-eyebrow), his fragile body made his portrayals authentic.

A similar role waited for him in 1982 in The Dead And The Deadly. He played a frail, elderly Taoist priest very convincingly. At that time he was 30. Until 1985 he continued playing both an in the front and a behind the scene role in Sammo's productions. He played in nearly every single Sammo Hung hit, from Winners And Sinners, through Pom Pom films to Heart Of The Dragon. The award for action direction was won again in 1983 by Lam and his team for their work on Winners and Sinners.

He even managed to find time in around 1984/85 to train Michelle Yeoh, who had previously been a ballet dancer and beauty queen, into an on-screen lethal lady. The movie called Yes, Madame established her name in the martial arts movies.

But the time had come for our Ching Ying to experience the biggest turn in his career. He was ready for another bolt from the blue.

Sifu Eternal was born

What if you have a ghost in your house or a spirit returning from the grave to give you creepy moments? Pale face, white figure, possibly spine-chilling laughters OK. Call Mr.Van Helsing, the Ghostbusters, Buffy, or the local Priest would do. But what if the vampire is wearing ornate Manchurian robe, and hopping around you with his arms stretched out? Forget the garlic, the Holy Cross, the Bible. And please don't panic, just call Lam Ching Ying, as he is the best Taoist expert to save you!

In 1985 Sammo brought into our lives The Eternal Sifu by casting Ching Ying as a Taoist Master in Mr. Vampire. This was the role that won him the most recognition, not only in Hong Kong but worldwide. The role of the Sifu plays well with his serious appearance, but he proved that his comedy timing and skills were just as sharp as his martial arts abilities. This is an outstanding horror comedy, with adorable characters, as the silly-billy, lovable Man Choi played by the talented comedian Ricky Hui Koon-Ying and the skillful Chin Shiu-Ho as Chou, Lam's clumsy disciples.

Ching Ying is just cool in this movie. No matter how big is the challenge, how strange the situation is, he is ready and willing and able to beat them all. He'll even use his elegant kung fu moves from time to time. But what really helps is his taoist science. He set up an altar, got his coin-sword, put his yellow priest robe and hat on, wrote those wonderful calligraphic charms with magic red ink, of course made of chicken blood. His steadfastness in this role, the stoic zeal, which he displayed in hurling witches into umbrellas or clay pots, was admirable. This performance as a super-competent battler of undead is so perfect, that his fans had major difficulties to accept Ying in other roles from now on.

So this is a point to argue. As some say this was his greatest success. Sure it was. But we all know that not in an artistic way. He had so much more heartbreaking, mind-stirring portrayals. Some even say it was the worst that could happen to his career. This overwhelming success typecasted him forever and at the end it was his burden. True fans say, that's the case. But as I know him, and hopefully being a true fan myself, I believe that he was proud to be our Sifu, he was grateful for the success, attention, and love he got through this role. He knew his duty, always serve the audience, entertain with his whole heart. And on the other hand he was stubborn, and clever and brave enough to change when he felt the need. He would have done it in this case as well. He accepted his the same role yet again for a television series called The Vampire Expert in 1995, done two entire series, and a few weeks before his death he signed for the the third one. He loved this Taoist guy.

He had reprized this role in countless sequels and spin offs, delighting us all the time. He was able to play with a hidden style, he had a sensible aura, he was honorable, respectful and capable Taoist priest. He hit a chord with the audiences and it is impossible now to think of a Taoist priest without the image of Lam coming to our mind. He was nominated, but did not win the award in 1985, at the Hong Kong Film Awards for the best supporting actor for this performance.

Until this very day (5th December 2006) every single biography on Lam Ching Ying at this point mentioned a failed Golden Harvest company attempt to make an English version of the movie with Tanya Roberts and Jack Scalia. They mentioned various difficulties on both sides. Western actors had attitude about Ching Ying's poor English, Lam couldn't handle the American egos and the situation, so Raymond Chow canceled the project. He looked at the footage that had been shot and said: "We've barely started, we need not to bother to finish!". According to these reports Ying was disappointed and never again made an effort to break into the foreign film-market.

I can assure you that these facts were not true at all. I have proof, Lam Sifu's own words and Bey Logan's (Bey Logan kindly handled me a unique Lam Ching Ying interview which was never published.) The movie, Golden Harvest abandoned was called Demon Hunters and would have starred Yuen Wah. This rumor was probably spread by someone who was hurt by Lam Ching Ying. Later on Bey Logan interviewed Cynthia Rothrock, who co-starred Lam in The Prince Of The Sun, confirmed that Ching Ying had no problem with westerners at all.

Lam Sifu, in the name of every westerner fan, I beg your pardon! It took nine years to clean your name from the stain we caused you with malice, rumor and ignorance! Even I was mislead

After the success of Mr Vampire Lam continued his constant and important presence in Sammo's films. He had very nice and difficult roles waiting for him, and he gave his all, never appearing bored or tired. These were his busiest and most successful years.

Years to hit the high lights

From the middle of the 80s' till the beginning of the 90s' Lam was very busy. He made five to ten films a year without stopping. Worked of course as an actor, as an action director, and even produced a few movies. His friendship with Sammo perfected, as they worked together day and night. Ching Ying was considered as a member of the Hung Family. Sammo remembers him as a very serious guy, who did not understand jokes easily, and it was hard to make him laugh. Despite of Ying's aloof manner, they had a very good time, and often enjoyed a few drinks together. Those were the moments when Ching Ying sometimes lost his coolness... Sammo remembers when they were both young, got into a fight. Ying was arrested by the police again, who treated him as a real criminal, without asking, started to beat him up. He did not make a sound. That's how tough he was. The other occasion Sammo will never ever forget, and will always tell when he'll be asked about Lam. They filmed in Canada, and they had had a few drinks already. Sammo went to the toilet, and by the time he returned the whole bar was in a total riot, Ching Ying in the middle returning blow for blow. Late he explained why he lost his temper: "The American guys looked at me wickedly..." He really had a style! But as he got older, he calmed down, became wiser and learned to control his temper.

Not to aim at completeness, but I feel the need to mention some of his works from this time. I would like to prove that he was a great actor, and he had a wide range of feelings to express through his roles. He could play a baddie very easily and convincingly, the next time a deaf-mute henchman, who was trapped between love and duty. There is really no one who can professionally top him.

Heroes Shed No Tears - He is a cruel Vietnamese general in this one. He pretty much rises above all aspects of the entire film. He makes up for any lack of character depth by just showing an extreme determination and relentlessness. All he needs to do is to switch to his meanest glaze and the whole screen is his. The end fight is just rough, bloody and cruel!

Eastern Condors - Yet an other rough movie about the Vietnamese war. Lam is a Chinese military commander who takes a bunch of criminals into battle. Their mission is canceled, but it's too late to turn back. They have to fight for their lives. Ching Ying plays a calm, very hard-headed leader, who keeps his tranquility through suffering and agony. Finally he sacrifices himself to the mission.

School On Fire - This film is considered as his best performance ever. He is playing a concerned police officer, who is trapped between the law and the people too fearful to inform the police. His supporting part is crucial, and his intensity during the final half-hour is terrific.

Lai Chi, China's Last Eunuch - Not a big role, but he can portray a helpless father who can't support his family properly, so regretfully agrees to castrate his own son. He is a loving father, and a grieving father.

Her Vengeance - A very brutal film from start to end. Lam is in a wheelchair with only memories around him and haunting him. At the beginning he refuses to help her ex-wife's sister to take revenge on her father's killers who raped her, but they kill Ching Ying's wife as well, so he is ready to kill relentlessly. He dies a horrible death.

Painted Faces - Maybe his best performance. So helpless, so heartbreaking...The story of the Seven Little Fortunes. He portrays the Sifu's friend, an aging Cantonese opera star, whose battered body can no longer stand the strain of performing for the cameras. He has drinking problems, but he is warm and gentle. His face, the feelings  I can see in his eyes during their conversation in the bar, each time I watch makes me cry. At the end he loses his marbles completely and is vaulting along the lighting framework on the top of the film set, performing opera moves for real. We are waiting with beating heart for his misstep to release him from this painful world. But Sammo climbs up to him and talks him down quietly and safely. Lam takes a bow in front of the frightened boys and filmcrew, as if it was a real, excellent performance and is then led away by the ambulance people... Marvelous.

Vampire Vs Vampire - His first movie he directed and also action directed. It was a production of Dai Lo Film Company created by him and Chua Lam. Due to the production cost going over budget, he didn't take his director's fee. Not a big success, but very enjoyable. Ching Ying is just cute in it with the naughty vampire kid.

Red And Black - Takes place during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. A political and social commentary mixed with supernatural elements. Quite weird for me. Lam is the man of traditional Chinese values who is forsaken by his country during the Revolution. Tony Leung Ka Fei is a Mao follower. They love the same woman. You might think Lam can't be the one who wins the girl heart having Tony Leung on screen. Though he dies at the end, due to his final performance, we do believe that the girl must have loved him more as he was the real hero.

Lover's Tear - Another great performance! Tell love, hate, anger, sadness without words. Pray for forgiveness, tell that you are sorry and ready to sacrifice yourself for your love, with your eyes only... Lam at his best. When he leads her secret love to her real lover's apartment, you can realize, that time was really not enough for Ying to show us his real talent. A must see film.

Magic Cop - Many fans' favorite Lam Ching Ying movie. Ching is a police officer with Taoist skills, who has to survive somehow in the modern Hong Kong. But he doesn't give up easily. He listens to Cantonese Opera, setting up an altar in a super-modern apartment, sleeping on a hammock, and doing Taoist magic on the busy street. He has a funny, severe haircut, huge eyebrows, but somehow he looks good. The moves he makes during his fight between him and the Japanese witch are totally choreographed by himself. They are superb, and prove that he had a great deal of fantasy.

Pom Pom And Hot Hot - They say this was Ching Ying's last great performance. Maybe yes, in a way. He is the master of the guns in this movie. Experts say his last fight is the best gun battle ever put on film. There is no boy who ever seen this film, and does not want to be as competent and cool as Lam.

I named only a few movies he performed in those years. He had a lot lot more in his magical bag. Naturally he did the sequels to Mr. Vampire, had his Mr Vampire spin offs, like Crazy Safary, Gambling Ghost, Money Maker, The Ultimate Vampire, Shyly Spirit, Wizard's Curse, The Musical Vampire... He action directed the famous Hong Kong 1941, Armageddon, Rosa. And there were many many other projects he was involved in.

By the beginning of the 90s' Hong Kong cinema started a decadence and this decline affected Ching Ying's career as well.

Temporary decadence

In the early 90s' his life took a turn for the worse in every respect. Due to the decay in the Hong Kong film-industry and his Sifu Sammo's decision to take a break, he had to weigh carefully his place and mission in the world of movies.

Probably he should have taken it for a bit, but he couldn't slow down. He worked all the time, accepted roles in low-budget films, had quieter success in average movies. And here comes his essence!

Even in a total senseless film he was professional. While his co-stars were just collecting their payment and seemed embarrassed to even be in the picture, Ying did the same fantastic job he did in any of his other films. Sure, he was a great actor, but beyond that, he really cared about his performance, and about his audience's enjoyment. It didn't matter to him that it was a horrible category III movie or a super-production. He treated it as it was his first big break. He devoted all his heart in producing great movies for his fans. Paying him 60HK dollars to perform or one million! (as it happened in the case of The Vampire Expert) made no difference to him. As long as he accepted the role, he put his mind and soul in it. His intensity of devotion is admirable.

His private life was not going smoothly either. In 1988 he divorced from his wife Cheng Bing Bing, he married in 1983. He was so uncommunicative, that there's not much to know about this marriage, just the fact, that he had two beautiful children, a daughter and a little son. Perhaps so, perhaps not, their love flew away as he fully absorbed himself in his calling, we don't know, anyhow he moved to his parents' place with his children and continued his work.

When exactly he noticed the first signs of his serious illness, we haven't a clue. All we know is a hint in Chin Kar Loks recollections, with whom his last collaboration was in 1994. He remembers him as a good-hearted man, who took care of him, had the spirit and used his brain a lot. He wasn't a smooth talker, but set a very good example to them. He taught them not to be lazy, to give 100% every time, no tricks. And he says at the end of the article, that he worked hard with them,  even when he was sick and was in pain.

I can easily imagine him ignoring the pain, the sickly feelig, clenching his teeth and follow on. Had he been a little more self-interested, he could still be with us. Maybe not. Perhaps he was destined for this short life to prove. And he did.

From this period of his life I would like to mention a few films he made, as they are not that well-known, but worth watching, just because he is in them.

Forced Nightmare - A very funny collaboration with Sandra Ng again. They were pared quite often, as they had a chemistry and a good working relationship. For me the best is that Ying looks as "his normal self", no weird eyebrows, no fake mustache, and he still has his Taoist talent. They seem to function, without these elements of his Sifu-look. I dare to declare, that he is very smart in this movie. He allowed himself to be a bit closer to a woman, he even let her grub his hair, not to mention she licked his ears... then turned into a vampire... Bad luck. For her, cause Ying is relentless in that case. And the climax is that scene, stolen from the classic movie Ghost, with Lam and the lady doing that clay pot massage... Amazingly funny. Ying could be very comic with a very serious look on his face.

China Dolls - A severe film, with raping girls, beating them up, selling them as prostitutes. Brutal even. He has a very small part in it, but a grateful role. The one and only person in this film with a good heart, warm look on his face. He is a young police officer, who saves a baby, finds a good family to raise him up and has to convince his real mum, who is charged for a prison sentence, not to bother his son, as this is the best for him. Five minutes on screen, but a very intense five minutes, with a very smart Ying.

Banana Spirit - He looks very young, very nice to me in this movie. A light comedy with a touch of sadness, as his girlfriend is killed by a ghost. Have a look at his face, when the naked Banana Spirit enters the kitchen, and the way he receives Auntie's adoration and love. He is just lovable.

Exorcist Master - A must see movie as well. Probably the best at that time of his career. The familiar Taoist Sifu character, having problems with the Catholic Church entering his quiet, little town. He is very elegant, solemn, except when he tries to cure himself with magic portion. The lethal scene for me is when he dresses as an old lady, because he is dying of curiosity, goes to a mass and even receives the Holy Communion in his weird way. Lot of fun, play on words as well.

Rape In Public Sea - The above mentioned senseless, cathegory III movie. Just for the sake of his looks!

The Green Hornet - He directed this film, starring Chin Kar Lok. It's worth watching, just to see through his eyes, to see his working method.     

That's of course not all, as I mentioned, he had plenty of films in these years, but a huge hit was in the books for him to experience and he really deserved it.

On the very tip top

Irony of fate, that Lam Ching Ying had more than a 100 movies, real popularity was brought along for him by the TV at the autumn of his life. And who presented him with this reward? His good old pal, the Taoist Priest, the lifelong friend. Ying was faithful to him all the way, and out of gratitude this role brightened up his closing years, giving him the fame, appreciation he deserved and longed for. Ying was the Taoist Priest himself. Nothing proves that better then the fact, that he was buried with his favorite Priest shoes, robe and hat. Ying did believe that he would strongly need those after that troublesome intermezzo. So much for his indifference in this role...

Although the film market was in a depression in 1995, ATV still asked him to star in The Vampire Expert, which earned him rave reviews. The director felt, no one is better playing the Vampire Slayer than Lam. He was hired with a million dollars salary to work in the series. A far cry from his time as a 60HK dollars a day stuntman! In 1996 he made the sequel, Vampire Expert II.

By the time I'm writing these lines, I have only seen the second series, as I have it on DVD from a Japanese seller, who released it in 2005. (Note:Since then I have seen the first series and my opinion is the same!)   It's a special edition, and all I can say is, that if you have the opportunity, try to get hold if it, because it's fantastic! Unfortunately there's no English subtitles, but you can easily read from face expressions, and the plotline. The episodes are thrilling, the costumes are beautiful, the sets are rich and the actors and actresses are very convincing and nice. Our Ying has never been more elegant and solemn, with his touched with grey hair. His eyes are sparkling with wisdom, he is serious, but attentive and very often has witty scenes as well. I can't imagine that he had health problems and I just can't accept the fact that he only had a year or less remained. He was full of life, and energy. I try to console myself in the belief, that he had a very good time, enjoyed himself and his role.

At the end of every part, there is an ending collection with out-takes and bloopers. You can see him between takes, and on the set, making funny mistakes, forgetting lines, covering his whole face with the magic ink. He is adorable! He has a shy smile every time he has done something improperly, he's laughing nervously, trying to pull himself together, not burst out into laughter, but always looking very happy. And above all in these cherished moments you can hear his real voice. I don't know why he was always dubbed. His speaking voice was a bit harshly veiled, very quiet, although remarkable.For me the most heartbreaking and touching event was when in the very last scene he returned to his roots, performing in a Cantonese Opera play. The same persona, make-up, dress, gestures he wore and made 15 years ago in his first real success, The Prodigal Son. That was his farewell to the Vampire Expert series.

Shortly after that he accepted a TV role again. He signed for a series called Coincidentally. A ghost story with a love-line, almost the same cast as the Expert's. He is in a very serious role. He has his usual power against ghosts and evil creatures. This production deserves attention as well. I can see a remarkable change he went through in under a few months. He looks visibly aged.

I can't understand his friends who met him shortly before his death and reported him a little bit thinner than usually was, otherwise nothing attracted their notice. I'm really anxious to know if they had seen him in his very last role at all? It was called Monk At Thirty. A bitter-sweet TV drama-series. He has a horrible costume, playing a kind of imperative, with a fake long hair, what makes his appearance even worse. But nothing could hide his skinny, hollowed cheeks, the pale eyes, the thin mouth and his sorrowful look. He is not doing any actions at all, stunted quite strikingly. This look is perfect to his very last scene, a long, painful agony, he plays dreadfully drawn to life. I was devastated to watch him in pain knowing his future.

He was as stylish as he was in his entire life. Saying goodbye to his profession, his partners, his audience, his fans in this way. He knew that this was his swan-song and he would never ever appear on screen again. Nobody knew that this goodbye was forevever and he started his death-struggle for real.

Sifu Lam's departing

No Priest robe, no shoes, no hat, no coin-sword or magical calligraphic, no clumsy understudies, not even the Hell Police could help him. Nothing and nobody remained for the Sifu to make his suffering bearable in his last battle. He chose to fight alone against the evil, which attacked his young body in a shape of a fatal disease.

We really can't imagine what turned over in his mind, but we have to accept everything he did in his final weeks. What I know for sure is that he was deliberated. He had a mature plan, keeping his head, no self-pity, revolting, never loose sight of his loved one's interest. He made unexplainable steps, but I try to understand him, and the deeper I think about him and his actions, the more sure I am about his truth. That's the only way he could keep his dignity and fidelity until the very end.

During the Summer he has been repeatedly going to the hospital for tests. They discovered that his illness is serious, actually he was diagnosed to have liver cancer. He was stubbornly insisted on leaving the hospital immediately, finishing his job and unwilling to be hospitalized at all. Having faith in Buddhism, it was natural for him to turn down the modern medical science. He decided to rest at home and quietly has started having a herbal medical treatment. He did not treat himself as a patient and hated others reputing him weak, so no one dared to ask him about his state of health. Rumours had already been spreading out anyway. He kept receiving worried phonecalls from friends inquiring after his condition, who were told off, or even yelled at by him for listening to gossips.

The truth was that he didn't want to trouble and hinder others, or earn their sympathy, as he hated pity and compassion all his life. As much as he dreaded to see his family's and friends' despair, and the possibility to be seen in a degradated state. He forbid his close family to reveal his illness. Owing to his unsociable life he had not many friends. Those few schoolmate "brothers" all learned about his disease from the papers. They wanted to see him, but he did not allow them to pay a visit. He was really strong, and I can imagine that in his heart of hearts he would wanted to see them, to get comforting words or just say goodbye, but he hold on, steeled himself. Later on it turned out, that after all a few friends knew his struggle. One of them was Tony Leung Ka Fei, who knew it early on, but knowing Lam's intention to keep it secret, he didn't tell the news to others. Thank you for your loyalty, Tony!

The day soon came when he realized, that he is not able to cope alone anymore. He left his residence in Tai Po, without a word, knowing that he will never ever be coming back. Moved to his sister's house to spend his final weeks there, under her care. His time had come. He did not want to see anyone, he even refused to allow a visit from his children, who wanted to see him. He knew that his looks would scare them.

His strength came to an end. He lost his consciousness over an over again and at the beginning of November his family moved him to the St.Teresa Hospital in Kowloon. He was already in half-coma, and his situation gradually declined.

Born on a Saturday in 1952, Lam Sifu finally passed away on a Saturday evening of the 8th of November 1997 a month before his 45th birthday.

The first days without the master

Sifu Lam quietly departed from this world, but left a loud confusion behind. His death notice made a splash. His request was to have a low-profile funeral, so his family was not allowed to publicize his death immediately. They had to wait for three days before announcing the sad news, and they had to arrange his funeral two days later. So it was held on the 13th, on a Thursday evening. He didn't leave time for comprehending his death, for crying and mourning, not even for arranging a rich ceremony. His portrait on the altar was enlarged from a press-conference photo...

Grieving family, broken, confused friends, shocked fans, disappointed TV company... and timeless emptiness without him.

I hope that time helped them all to come to terms with the unchangeable. The inner wounds healed and everybody forgave him for what he had caused. I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt anybody!

The dear friend, Sammo was very upset, hurt and even angry at him for facing his illness alone and for not letting his friends to share in his pain. He expressed if he knew earlier, he would have tried his best to help him on his treatment, to introduce doctors to him. Although he couldn't guarantee he would be cured, but anything was worth to try. So he felt Ching Ying was too stubborn, carrying everything by himself.                        

Dear Sammo, he wasn't the type of man who could bear endless, needless treatments, lying all the time, being sick over and over again in need of others' help, chaining somebody to his bed for days and nights.

Eric Tsang was upset because he hid his illness from him, feeling he wasn't enough of a friend.                 

That's the point, Eric, you were. More. He didn't want you to worry, or to be sad. I would like to say a grateful thanks to you and Chin Kar-Lok as well, for fighting against the disgusting rumors about Ying's cause of death. The press immediately made up that he was drinking his way to liver cancer. They suddenly forgot that his elder brother died the same way, half a year before him, so this illness is hereditary in his family. Though he liked to drink and that is a fact, he wasn't serious. Nobody never saw him drunk and on the other hand he couldn't have been able to work that hard and punctual as he did being a heavy drinker. Naturally drinking was not his good habit and of course shortened his life.

Wu Ma, his old friend, whom he worked a lot with, met him in November and didn't notice anything wrong, though he found him a lot thinner than he usually was. Ying's Mum was in their company, but because of tradition, she didn't come out of the back. He remembers Ching Ying looking peaceful and spirited.                         

Dearest Wu Ma, that's what he wanted! You had so many fantastic memories together, so many experiences. Keep those forever, and not the memory of a declining friend!

Little Mang Hoi couldn't stop crying at the whole ceremony, he wasn't able to accept the fact that he would not be his disciple anymore. He cryied for his childhood friend. Ah Hoi, he was very happy to be and work with you on The Vampire Expert series. It's a treasure for us to see you two, together.

The TV company, ATV was very surprised at his death, as they met him in September to discuss the details of the third installment of the series. Master Lam agreed and signed, but soon gossips came about his serious illness, and they couldn't get in touch with him. All they could believe in is, that if he had problems, there was no reason for him to agree. After his death the producer declared, that Vampire Expert III will be made anyway, but they have to change the plot somehow and have to decide about the new protagonist. They had taken the advertisers' money, they couldn't just not make it. I know it for certain that he didn't intend to make any trouble. He never caused problem to others in his life, his work was his life, and he loved this role very much. I'm sure he would be very sorry for the financial difficulty he made. But in September he was definitely positive about his victory over his illness. He strongly wanted to stay alive, and work, that's why he signed. It made him fight even harder, he needed this drift.

And what about us, his devoted admirers? We have his movies, great performances from a great actor. We watch them over and over again, always finding something new, surprising in them. We never get tired of him and as long as we watch him, talk about him, think about his performance, he'll be with us.

"One smile returns to the West"

Sifu Lam's plan worked perfectly as always.

His life-long friend, Sammo couldn't nearly come to his funeral at all, 'cause he had a very busy schedule. He wanted to pay his respects on the night before, except the shoot went on until late night and he could only come in the morning. Chow Yun-Fat found out his death by chance, going to the hospital for his annual check-up.

His funeral was humble indeed, attended by his parents, close family and school-mate friends. The Buddhist ceremony was held in the evening of the 13th at around 7 o'clock. Fifty monks and a Priest arrived not long before seven and started a 3 hours long prayer for Ching Ying.

The Altar was situated in the middle of the Hall with Ying's portrait, covered with beautiful flowers and his sacrificial gifts, fruits, oranges, apples, mushrooms, other vegetarian dishes, moon cakes and his favorite cigarettes. On the left side of the Altar was kneeling his former wife with his son, Kai-Yu and his daughter, greeting guests, and burning money for her dead. On the right side were the Buddhist monks. The Hall was full of flower-arrangements and baskets. Outside the Hall there were a large quantity of paper goods, like servants and a two-storey mansion with a nice garden, looked much like his loved house he left in Tai Po. There were also his Priest robe, shoes and top-hat, which were to buried with him, along with his favorite clothes and sunglasses.

Stephen Tung Wai helped his parents in the task of organization as they did not ask for monetary assistance. His pallbearers were Yuen Shiu Hung, Chin Yuet Sun, Ng Ming Hoi, Lam King Chu, Chan Wui Ngai, Chung Fat, Sammo Hung Kam Bo, Chan Wing Hong, Chin Kar Lok and Ng Ma. They were all friends of Ying from his youth and friends from the martial arts business.

After the funeral his remains were cremated and buried in the U.S. with a calligraphy from Chua Lam:

"One Smile Returns To The West"

Farewell Sifu

When someone dies so unexpectedly at such a young age, time stops dead at a breath, everyone examines themselves, their lives, then everything gets back to normal. So everything returned to the old order after Ying's death.

ATV held a farewell ceremony to memorialize Lam Ching Ying. They invited many of his friends to talk about his life and career. Mang Hoi, Ching Tung and Wan Tin Chiu as the representatives of ATV taped the commemoration, and gave it to his son. At the end freed fifty birds into the sky.

ATV couldn't execute their plan to produce Vampire Expert III after all. "My Date With The Vampire" is the name of the Cantonese television series dedicated to Lam. This one features the last blood-related descendant of Mao Xiao Fang, whom Lam Ching played in Vampire Expert I.

Hong Kong Legends time to time releases classic movies, featuring Ying. The next two, this autumn 2006 are: Hapkido and Heroes Shed No Tears. Keep an eye on them.

You have a Chinese vampire in your house, driving you mad with his constant hopping? Don't call Lam Sifu any more, because he is not available.

He has been promoted, obtained a new appointment.

As always, he is wiser, more experienced and peaceful already, because he knows the Ultimate Truth, the knowledge about Being. I hope, he is glad wherever he is and he found his peace of mind. I wish he learned to smile more often, as it suited him so much. I hope, he met everybody who he missed, that he learned everything he wanted to know, that he has new friends, friends he can trust, whom he can open up to. I wish he would never miss anything, never feel sorrow and pain anymore. He had his share. All in all, I want him to be as happy as he never was in his life!

And above all, I would like him to know, that he changed my life, he taught me a lot and I'm grateful to him. I hope, he knows that I miss him, I admire him, and most importantly, I love him and I'll remember him as long as I live. I hope, one day I can tell him personally, that I regard him as one of the best men I have ever known. Those few, who always tell the truth, no evasion, who speaks his mind, who is always genuine.

He was definitely a great actor and his best performance was his own death. Played with dignity and giving his best to take our breath away.

As always!!!

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