Known for his outlandish style of humor and rubber-faced facial expressions, actor, director and producer Stephen Chow has become a martial arts powerhouse on the Hong Kong cinema circuit. Along with...
|All for the Winner||Actor||Shing||1|
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But unlike Chan, Chow's success on the mainland has yet to make the journey across the Pacific to the United States. Chow d s enjoy a cult following in the States, however, particularly among Asian cinemaphiles like Quentin Tarantino, who once said that Chow is the best actor working in Hong Kong. Born on June 22, 1962 (Year of the Tiger) into a working-class family in Kowloon, Hong Kong, Chow decided early on that he wanted to be either a martial arts expert or, as he put it, a "thespian." Chow tried to break into acting at age 19 by auditioning for a training program run by a local television station. Wary that his short stature might hinder his chances, Chow wore elevator sh s to the audition. But the judges refused to accept him. Denied his initial opportunity, Chow remained undaunted and continued to search for ways to break into the business.
An actress friend later introduced Chow to a "less serious" acting class, where he discovered other aspiring actors of similar height. The class eventually led to Chow's first big break as host of a kid's television show, "430 Space Shuttle" (1983). Chow spent the next six years on the program developing his now famous style of verbal puns called "mo lei tau", or "nonsense talk." Now a cult slang among Hong Kong's youth culture, "mo lei tau" involved the use of obscure jokes and ambiguous non-sequiturs. The success of "430 Space Shuttle" led to other television rolls, including a rare dramatic stint on "The Price of Growing Up" (1987). But it wasn't until 1988's "Final Justice" that Chow propelled himself onto the big screen. His role in "Final Justice" made Chow a star, as his performance earned him nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Best New Actor at the Eighth Annual Hong Kong Film Awards.
Chow's success grew exponentially as he headed into the 1990's. His first starring role was in "All for the Winner" (1990), a spoof of Chow Yun-Fat's successful "God of Gamblers" (1989). It was on this film that Chow met Ng Man-Tat, a supporting actor who would go on to play Chow's sidekick in many of his films. Chow had his banner year in 1991, where he made "Fight Back to School", a wild success that became the highest-grossing film in Hong Kong cinema history at the time. The film spawned two sequels and a nomination for Chow for Best Actor at the Eleventh Annual Hong Kong Film Awards. More success followed that year with "Fist of Fury", a parody of Bruce Lee's "Fists of Fury" (1971), which was made out of admiration for his long-time idol. Chow's films continued to attract both critical praise and box office success, including "Justice My Foot" (1992), which distinguished Chow with an award for Best Actor at the Pacific Film Festival. Chow solidified his popularity with spoofs on classic Hong Kong cinema, which include "King of Beggars" (1992), "The Royal Tramp" series (1992), two sequels to "Fight Back to School" (1992-3), and "The Fighting Scholar" (1993), a martial arts take on a Chinese musical, co-starring mainland actress Gong Li.
Though he maintained a winning trajectory, Chow ran into trouble with the "Mad Monk" (1993), a film in which he could not reconcile creative differences with director Johnny To ("Fulltime Killer", "A Hero Never Dies"). Chow continually made changes to the script, and the results showed: "Mad Monk" did poorly at the box office. But Chow bounced back with 1994's "Love On Delivery", another hit at the box office. Later that year, Chow would make his directorial debut with "From Beijing With Love", a spoof on the James Bond series. "From Beijing With Love" earned Chow another Best Actor nod at the Fourteenth Annual Hong Kong Film Awards, as well as another cinematic hit. The critical accolades continued to pile up in 1995 with "A Chinese Odyssey I & II", in which he was nominated for and won several awards, including Best Actor and Film of Merit at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards. Another Film of Merit award was presented to Chow for his second directorial effort, "Forbidden City Cop" (1996).
Chow would go on to form his own production company, Star Overseas, which released three films, starting with "God of Cookery" (1997), considered one of Chow's best, in which he combines martial arts with, well, cooking. But the latter half of the 90's saw Chow's box office Teflon start to fade. His second Stars Overseas production, "The King of Comedy" (1999), didn't stand up at the box office, the expectations of past successes probably looming large. Other mediocre efforts included "Lawyer Lawyer" (1997), "The Lucky Guy" (1998) and "The Tricky Master" (1999). To make matters worse, Chow was accused, as others in Asian film have been, of having underworld connections, a charge he has vehemently denied. Chow even participated in a march to prove his innocence, but the effort went for naught: in 2001, Chow was denied Canadian residency on the grounds of his alleged criminal connections.
The failure of "The King of Comedy" forced Chow to step back into a brief hiatus. But he later emerged with "Shaolin Soccer", Hong Kong's greatest box office success to date. And with this success finally brings an opportunity to be introduced to the Unites States: Miramax Films picked up the movie for distribution in 2003. Critics loved "Shaolin Soccer," but American audiences were left out of the loop-it opened in only fourteen theaters across the country. Chow's next project, "Kung Fu Hustle" (2005), once again blended comedy, action and kung-fu. Set in 1930's Shanghai, Chow d s battle with the Axes, a notorious and ruthless gang that rules the streets. The film earned the same praise as "Shaolin Soccer," but unfortunately was destined to get a similar theatrical release.
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