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[PROFILE] Samo Hung and "Martial Law"

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  • madchinaman
    Jackie s Pal Samo: America s Most Unlikely TV Star By JAMES COLLINS http://www.time.com/time/asia/asia/magazine/1998/981019/cover_invasio n1.html Now, let s
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 14, 2003
      Jackie's Pal Samo: America's Most Unlikely TV Star

      Now, let's see. How many short, overweight, non-English-speaking
      Chinese boyhood friends of Jackie Chan have ever become stars on
      U.S. television? While no definitive answer is possible, of course,
      an exhaustive study of the available data suggests that the number
      is zero. With the arrival of Samo Hung, however, the figure is about
      to change. Hung grew up in Hong Kong with Chan and worked with him
      in 23 movies. Now the actor-turned-director has turned actor again,
      starring in Martial Law, a new drama that lights up Saturday
      evenings on the CBS network. Despite the lack of precedent, the
      series has won good ratings, and Hung has shown himself to be as
      appealing as any of American TV's leading men.

      Martial Law concerns Samo Law, a detective from Shanghai played by
      Hung, who has been assigned to the Los Angeles police department. In
      many ways it's an old-fashioned cop show, with crude plots and
      characterizations--but this actually makes it a pleasure to watch,
      since it provides a B-movie charge and doesn't require the viewer to
      care about anyone's alcoholism or love life. What makes Martial Law
      distinct, though, are its intricate, speed-of-light action sequences
      and its humor. These both derive from the talents of Hung, who has
      been a star of comedy-action films in Hong Kong since the 1970s. The
      result is a series that will win no Emmy awards but is highly
      entertaining, and whose sheer craft, at least in its choreography
      and acrobatics, puts most American TV to shame.

      A year ago, Hung would never have imagined that he would be
      appearing in prime time. Last March Terry Botwick, a programming
      executive at CBS, learned that veteran Hong Kong action director
      Stanley Tong (Supercop) was interested in developing a martial-arts
      show for television. That's something Botwick had wanted to do for a
      long time, and he and Tong proposed such a series to Leslie Moonves,
      the head of CBS Television. Moonves liked the idea. He ordered up a
      pilot, collapsing the development process, which usually takes
      months, into seven weeks.

      The first choice for the lead was Jackie Chan himself, but he
      preferred to keep making films like Rush Hour. So Tong and his
      partners suggested Hung, who, as another huge Hong Kong star, was a
      logical substitute. Hung took the part because he liked the
      character, who is tough, street-smart and wise. "In movies and
      television shows, there has never been a really good Chinese lead,"
      Hung says. "So often, the Chinese look like they are very scared and
      shy. I said I would try a new kind of character."

      Hung, 46, who has starred in or directed more than 140 films, met
      Chan as a child when they attended the China Drama Academy in Hong
      Kong. There they learned acting, tumbling and martial arts. Hung was
      older and would bully Chan. Even now, according to Chan, Hung treats
      him overbearingly. "He is like a Hitler," Chan says. That sentiment
      notwithstanding, the two are good friends. "We are very close," says
      Hung jokingly. "I used to beat him up every day."
      Last year, Hung and his wife Mina, a former Miss Hong Kong, moved to
      Los Angeles, where Hung hoped to direct. He didn't intend to do any
      acting until Tong, with whom he had worked often, proposed Martial
      Law. Now Hung spends 12-hour days on the set, with the occasional
      game of golf as his only distraction. The show has two crews working
      at once, one shooting the dramatic sequences and the other shooting
      the action. The latter crew consists of Tong and several other
      veterans of the Hong Kong film industry. Hung helps stage the
      fights, performs all his stunts and appears in the dramatic scenes.
      Still, he says, "the biggest challenge for me is English." Before
      the show went into production, he took an eight-hour-a-day Berlitz
      course for about three months.

      Martial Law would never work if audiences didn't like and root for
      the main character. Of course, Hung's convex silhouette gives him
      personal appeal and makes his twirls and vaults all the more
      impressive. But he is also a fine actor, quietly funny and a little
      bit vulnerable. "We had to find somebody who is good in action and
      also has a heart," says Tong. They found him in Hung, America's
      least likely, most refreshing network star.

      Reported by Jeanne McDowell/Los Angeles
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