This interview with Lam Ching Ying was made by Hong Kong Cinema expert Bey Logan in 1996. It has never been published, but he kindly permitted me to issue it on my homepage. I would like to say thank you for his trust and generosity for handing over this precious, rare material. I'm really honored!
To put Lam Ching Ying's words in writing was one of my life's greatest moments. I am deeply touched and feel very lucky to be able to share this treasure with you! Hearing his voice, his laughing, his attempts at using English language was melting. A unique and enduring experience.
Thank you so much Bey!
Bey Logan, a student of Hung Gar and an avid martial arts film buff has been editor of two UK publications, Combat magazine and Impact magazine. In 1996, he published Hong Kong Action Cinema, one of only two exclusive and notable books on martial arts film published in the West. Bey eventually relocated to Hong Kong where he found work in the film industry as a producer and screenwriter, first for Golden Harvest and then EMG. His credits include blockbuster films Gen-X Cops and The Medallion. During this time, he has also managed to record numerous, well-received audio commentaries for DVD releases including the superior HK Legends DVDs produced in the UK.
Since then, Bey has become an independent producer working with Shankara Productions. More recent projects through this company include filming introductions for Hong Kong films showing on UK's Turner Entertainment Channel, writing the English script for Sword Searchers starring Nicholas Tse and Jackie Chan, and providing content for various film websites.
This is the final version of the Lam Ching Ying interview. Thanks to the Chinese official translation agency for the help, so you can enjoy this unique material in its full content!
This interview made for Hong Kong Today on the 27th February 1996 at a restaurant in Kowloon Tong, near ATV studios.
Due to the enormous success of Vampire Expert I ATV series in 1995, the company decide to make a sequel called Vampire Expert II. It was broadcasted in 1996, at the time when the interview was made, so that is why it focuses on the vampire theme!
Bey Logan: My first question is why have the Hong Kong people been fascinated with "geung si", with vampires for so many years since the first film, now the TV series. Why are they interested in vampires and ghosts?
Lam Ching Ying: I think that Hong Kong people are quite superstitious and they are fascinated by vampires because they are curious, they want to know more. Especially Chinese people and the people from the South-East of Asia have blind faith on this aspect. They want to learn more. And it is mysterious, too. They want to explore it.
Bey Logan: Do you yourself believe in the supernatural having done all these films about magic? Do you believe in supenatural, in vampires, in ghosts?
Lam Ching Ying: No, I don't believe them.
Bey Logan: The first film which came out and really brought the vampires into the modern age was Geung Si Sin San, Mr Vampire and now we have The Vampire Expert TV series. What is the difference between shooting for films and shooting for television? I mean how the demands do differ?
Lam Ching Ying: Shooting for films is well organized, because they have more financial backup and they are more prepared beforehand, as they have many more resources. Shooting for TV series is not that organized due to the limited resources and the whole stuff works on a limited budget, as well.
Bey Logan: The Vampire Expert series I has already been on, now you are doing the second series, right?
Lam Ching Ying: (answers in English) Yes.
Bey Logan: Thirty episodes again?
Lam Ching Ying: (answers in English) Fifty.
Bey Logan: Hong Kong people tend to believe in lots of things that they see. Do people really believe that you are really is a vampire expert? Do they come up to you and ask you to get rid of ghosts and vampires?
Lam Ching Ying: Sure. (answers in English) (carries on in Chinese) Yes, they sometimes do, but people usually don't recognise me because of my costume, my moustache and hairstyle.
Bey Logan: Actually the biggest difference is that in the film you are always so serious and in person you are quite happy looking and friendly. You look like the younger brother of the guy in the TV.
Lam Ching Ying: (laughs)
Bey Logan: Maybe you should write a book on how to kill vampires. I think that book would probably do well.
Lam Ching Ying: I personally do not believe in vampires and ghosts, so I’m not intrested in bookwriting, but my experience in this role makes people believe that I was an expert. This episodes are written by writers, but I act very seriously, so the audience believe in it more.
Bey Logan: Some years ago Golden Harvest were going to make an American version of Geung Si Sin San, Mr Vampire, with the title Demon Hunters. It was never finished, but they shot a week of it. Can you tell me a bit about it? Do you remember the situation?
Lam Ching Ying: Vampire movies entered the Japanese market and had a huge success, but as it is an expensive production financially and in human resources as well, they stopped making those kind of films.
Bey Logan: No, no, no. Before that there was going to be an English language version, with American actors, Jack Scalia, Tanya Roberts, with the producer David Chan. Why did you stop shooting? Why did you abandon the film after a week? Don’t you remember? It was about 10 years ago.
Lam Ching Ying: Maybe that was not a vampire type of film?
Bey Logan: So you don’t remember this film?
Lam Ching Ying: No.
Bey Logan: OK! Move on!
(At this point I have to interrupt the interview. The whole rumor about Lam Ching Ying’s antipathy against westerners started with this misunderstanding. It was not Chin Ying’s memory which failed to remember this event, but the fact is that he was never involved in this project, but Yuen Wah was.
There are many reasons why he had no problem with westerners, at all. In his early career he had many movies with Americans in co-production. Later on he worked with Cynthia Rothrock, in Prince Of The Sun, and she confirmed that Lam had no problem with Americans. He sent his children to America to study there and his original plan was to follow them a bit later. He wanted to spend his elder years there. Finally and sadly he is buried there, where his children still are. This rumour was probably spread by someone who might have been hurt by Lam.)
Bey Logan: You worked closely with Bruce Lee as an actor and choreographer. Can you recall the first time you met him?
Lam Ching Ying: It was on the shooting of Big Boss. Bruce Lee was a very rightous person and very tough. I remember one day a Thai boxer broke the arm of a stuntman. Bruce became very angry and furious. He went up to the boxer and asked him to fight with him. He ran up to him and asked: "Are you really strong to fight with me? You should control yourself and stop before making trouble. Can't you see we are in a process of shooting? How could you break his arm, have you no mercy?" Lee really persuaded to fight with this Thai Boxer.
Bey Logan: Did the fight happen eventually?
Lam Ching Ying: No, the boxer was afraid of Bruce’s fame and power and he stepped back. But Lee was really furious, he even cursed.
Bey Logan: What is the truth about Bruce Lee? Did he choreograph his own fights or as it is in the film credit, there was someone to help him in the actions?
Lam Ching Ying: Bruce was a very creative person. Lee can't be copied. Nobody could guide or coach him. He created all his moves, he did not need anyone to teach him. He got help in the plot and the storyline, but never in the actions. Hang Yingjie only gave him assistance in the rhythm and the atmosphere of the story's plot. Lee created moves after moves, the others had to wait until they could use these actions during tha storyline.
Bey Logan: Some people say that he was so very strong, but he never had any fight apart from in the film. Did he have any challenge match and if so, did you actually see one of those fights happen?
Lam Ching Ying: Bruce was always challenged mainly in foreign countries. He never started a fight, but when he was attacked he had to defend himself. There was a person back in Hong Kong, called Li Dachuan who always wanted to challenge him and critisized Lee in the newspapers. Once they met face to face, but Lee hid himself in a corner, in a quiet place. And that person started to stare at his feet, just his feet, and then Bruce understood that this man had no idea about Kung Fu at all. So there was only one punch. Just one! Bruce was a very kind hearted person. I remember once he saw an old man pushing a cart, which was too heavy for him and Bruce went up to him and helped him pushing it.
Bey Logan: The last film Bruce Lee completed was called Enter The Dragon. You were his fight assistant choreographer, helping him arranging those fights for the film. What was the problem about shooting an American film, with an American director and producer, but still in Hong Kong? Was it different from shooting a Hong Kong film?
Lam Ching Ying: I assisted Bruce to arrange the stuntmen and martial arts moves. There was not much problem, as we shot in Hong Kong style. As it was an action movie, there was not much dialog.
Bey Logan: You were the stunt for Shek Khin, the villain, right?
Lam Ching Ying: Yes! I was the one beaten by Bruce Lee! (laughs)
Bey Logan: I heard that some stuntmen challenged Bruce on the set of this film. Did you witness happening that all?
Lam Ching Ying: There were lots of stuntmen in that film, but just one of them wanted to fight with Bruce. The truth is that those stuntmen came from different places, different Kung Fu schools and they all admired Bruce Lee’s work. They came to be there, to see him working, to stunt without any payment.
Bey Logan: What style did Bruce Lee use to beat that stuntman?
Lam Ching Ying: No, no! It was only one punch again! (laughs)
Bey Logan: You worked with Bruce on Game Of Death, his last piece of work he could not finish. Do you remember how many scenes were finished?
Lam Ching Ying: He finished 2/3 of it, and the remaining 1/3 was done by stuntmen. And they changed the plot as well.
Bey Logan: As I know there were much more scenes finished, but not used in the final version, which was released. Do you remember how many levels of the Tower was finished by Bruce?
Lam Ching Ying: Just three.
Bey Logan: Did Bruce tell you what the story of the film was going to be?
Lam Ching Ying: Bruce didn’t plan the Tower in details beforehand, just stage by stage. When he got to a level, he planned that level. He finished the third level. He wanted to get the best Kung Fu fighters to play in that film. But you know what, he was already more interested in shooting a biography movie! It was supposed to be called "Little Phoenix" as it was his nickname.
Bey Logan: Oh, really!??
Lam Ching Ying: Yes, he started to collect the resources.
Bey Logan: Was it his next plan after Game Of Death?
Lam Ching Ying: Probably.
Bey Logan: The film that really brought you out as a star was Bai Ga Jai, The Prodigal Son, the Wing Chun movie. Before that film you always played the support and then become a co-lead with Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung Kam Bo, Frankie Chan Fan Kei. Did you have any worries about suddenly being a big part of a film?
Lam Ching Ying: I don’t think I got many pressure on me after shooting Bai Ga Jai, as Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung Kam Bo were my friends and I felt comfortable with them.
Bey Logan: Tell me about the Wing Chun style you used in that film!
Lam Ching Ying: We had a teacher, Sifu Guy Lai. But as we all had very good Kung Fu basics, we were able to learn new moves easily.
Bey Logan: Your Sifu was…
Lam Ching Ying: Madame Fan Fok Fa.
Bey Logan: That film, Bai Ga Jai is my all time favourite Kung Fu film and my favourite scene is when you fight with Frankie Chan Fan Kei in the restaurant.
Lam Ching Ying: (laughs) Oh! I think that Lau Kar Leung Sifu’s Kung Fu is much better since he really created new Kung Fu moves and weapons.
Bey Logan: You are humble. You have another movie with Sammo Hung Kam Bo, called Eastern Condors, which was shot in the Phillippines. This film was starred Dr. Haing S. Ngor who won the Oscar for The Killing Fields. He lived in America and got shot yesterday in Los Angeles. Do you think it is related to any political reasons?
Lam Ching Ying: I personally think that there is no political reason for killing him, as it happened so many years ago.
Bey Logan: Do you have any memory of working with him in this film? Was he nice to work with?
Lam Ching Ying: He was a very stable person, very ordinary, not actor-like at all.
Bey Logan: You also directed films, such as Green Hornet, Vampire Vs Vampire. Are you more happy directing or acting?
Lam Ching Ying: (laughs) Of course being a director is more satisfying for me!
Bey Logan: As an actor what is your favourite film?
Lam Ching Ying: Painted Faces. The producer was a very demanding person. I played Sammo Hung Kam Bo’s martial brother.
Bey Logan: Was that film really realistic?
Lam Ching Ying: It is basically a real story, but some details are made up and added to tha film.
Bey Logan: I would like to ask you some background details. Would you like to tell us how old you are or is it a secret?
Lam Ching Ying: No problem. It is not a secret. I’m 45.
Bey Logan: Are you married with children?
Lam Ching Ying: I’m divorced, I raise my two children.
Bey Logan: Do you live full time in Hong Kong or in Canada?
Lam Ching Ying: In Hong Kong. I want and like to be with Hong Kong people.
Bey Logan: Where is your family originally from? Which part of China?
Lam Ching Ying: I was born in Hong Kong. My family is originally from Shanghai.
Bey Logan: Just a couple more questions before you can get away! Whose idea was it to make a TV series of Mr Vampire?
Lam Ching Ying: (he says in English and laughs) My boss. The production controller.
Bey Logan: Are there things you can’t show in TV, like in Mr Vampire they were drinking blood and things like that. Did you have to tone down the horror little bit for TV?
Lam Ching Ying: (he says in English) Sure.
Bey Logan: And the actions are not that tough as in movies, right?
Lam Ching Ying: The storyline has to be suitable for children, similarly to comedies in TV. It must be relaxing for people who watch TV at home.
Bey Logan: Why do you think this show is so popular?
Lam Ching Ying: It is because of the mystery, the supernatural. Ghosts, vampires … People would like to know more about them, as Chinese people are very superstitious. But I have to tell you that many things you see are just made up.
Bey Logan: Do you think that people really believe that you were a real expert? Do they really come up to you and ask for help to chase ghosts away? Did it really happen?
Lam Ching Ying: Yes! They do! It happened.
Bey Logan: You know that is quite a compliment on your work. Thank you very much for answering my questions.