«Wu Ma is one of the most familiar faces of H-K cinema. He was of course the fierce, misanthropic Taoist swordsman in CHINESE GHOST STORY I and II, but also had countless appearances in cameos, bit parts or supporting roles in a large number of H-K action movies, especially those of Sammo Hung. If you pick up an eighties to early nineties H-K actionner it feels as if there is a one chance out of two that you will have a Wu Ma sighting in it. A character actor of considerable range, as much at ease in goofy comedy as in pathos and even wire-fu action, Wu Ma was also a prolific director, filming 38 movies within a twenty-five year span. He directed martial art flicks, comedy capers and supernatural movies with some of these considered classics, thus making him as much a ubiquitous figure behind the camera as in front of it.
Wu Ma (his real name Fung Wu-ma) was born in Tianjin, a coastal city southeast of Beijing. He worked as a machinist before immigrating to H-K in 1960. In 1963 he enrolled in the Shaw Brothers acting course and became a contract player for them afterwards and had his first screen appearance in THE BUTTERFLY CHALISE. His stocky physique and round chubby face made him a prolific character actor appearing in around fifteen films throughout the sixties including many noteworthy classics of the time such as: LADY GENERAL HUA MULAN (64), SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE GOOD EARTH (65), THE RED LOTUS TEMPLE, THE TWIN SWORDS (both 65), GOLDEN SWALLOW (68) and RETURN OF THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (69).
Wu Ma however had greater ambitions than only acting. He became assistant director for Shaw Brother’s great martial art director Chang Cheh’s film GOLDEN SWALLOW (68). In 1970 he left Shaw and became a fully-fledged director of his own right with the swordplay WRATH OF THE SWORD that was followed in 1971 with one of his most notable works, THE DEAF AND MUTE HEROINE.
Wu Ma spent most of the seventies as a martial art director, while making frequent appearances in his own films - THE YOUNG TIGER (73) WIT TO WIT (74), THE MANCHU BOXER or those of others, NAUGHTY NAUGHTY (74), IRON MONKEY (77), HALF LOAD OF KUNG-FU (78). THE MANCHU BOXER saw his first recorded encounter with a young fight choreographer named Sammo Hung and this was the start of a close working relationship that would last over twenty years. Wu Ma made a distinguished cameo in Sammo’s directorial debut THE IRON-FISTED MONK as a brothel visiting boatman and would make token appearances in a large bulk of the big man’s films up until his last personal effort DON’T GIVE A DAMN in 1995.
As a director Wu Ma doesn’t appear to have been overly original, picking-up on whatever trend the martial art genre was into, although he often tried to generate greater dramatic relevance, sentimentality and even artfulness than the norm in such types of films. He had begun with female centred swordplay (WRATH, DEAF AND MUTE HEROINE), then came the early seventies Wang-Yu/Bruce Lee young punk boxer trend (YOUNG TIGER, THE MANCHU BOXER), followed by Shaolin K-F. His production WIT TO WIT, however made in 1974 was deemed a precursor of K-F knockabout comedy which would not truly emerge for a couple of years.
Wu Ma also worked frequently with his mentor Chang Cheh, co-directing with him for a time in Taiwan. THE WATER MARGIN (72), THE PIRATE (73), ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS (75), NEW SHAOLIN BOXERS (76), and NAVAL COMMANDO (77) are all collaborations between the two of them. Upon Chang’s return to H-K, Wu Ma made a couple of movies (SHAOLIN HEROES, 1980) for the Shaw Brothers, the studio he had left a decade earlier, as well as movies with such independent k-f players as Tang Tao Liang, Wong Tao Chi Kwan Chun and Michael Chan: SHAOLIN DEADLY KICKS (77), ALONG CAME A TIGER, SHOWDOWN AT THE COTTEN MILL. While he made a handful of appearances in k-f comedies directed by others he did not make one himself until 1980 with KUNG FU OF EIGHT DRUNKARD.
The late seventies saw him take on more and more on-screen parts. As the martial art trend wound down his output as a director slowed considerably while his character roles increased as he transitioned from k-f roles to the new “in” genre: caper comedies. His own first non-martial film effort was the Cinema City’s production BEWARE OF PICKPOCKET (81), a film where he could indulge in his noted fondness for Little Rascal like kids.
Wu Ma continued to make token appearances in Sammo Hung movies, ENCOUNTERS OF THE SPOOKY KIND (80), PRODIGAL SON (81), CARRY ON PICKPOCKET (82). In 1983 their association grew into a true partnership as he directed THE DEAD AND THE DEADLY a film written by Sammo and which starred both of them. This film is one of the most ingenious variations of the supernatural kung fu comedy theme (and is referred to in a HKIFF publication as “a masterpiece of the genre”) and earned him a nomination as best director. While continuing as Sammo’s token player (in WINNERS AND SINNERS (83), WHEELS ON MEALS (84), TWINKLE TWINKLE LUCKY STARS (85), MILLIONAIRE EXPRESS (86), EASTERN CONDOR (87), SPOOKY SPOOKY (88), Wu Ma also produced one of Sammo’s most personal projects, HEART OF DRAGON (85). Wu Ma also appeared in many other noteworthy films of the period either produced by Sammo or by some of his close associate such as PROJECT A (83), POM POM (84), YES MADAM (85) and most films of the MR VAMPIRE series (85-89). On his own he produced the Yuen Biao/Cynthia Rothrock vehicle RIGHTING WRONGS where he made one of his most touching small parts as a middle aged on the beat cop who discovers his murdered son. He also planned BLONDE FURY, another Rothrock vehicle.
Beyond his Sammo related work and his activity as director, Wu Ma continued as a very busy character actor. His now wrinkled face and thin moustache gave him an older look that he could push effortlessly into dignified outrage, goofy comedy or sad melancholia. Among the dozens of roles he performed in at the time his most noteworthy are as the Peking Opera manager and father of Sally Yeh in PEKING OPERA BLUES, and the aforementioned fierce Taoist swordsman of the CHINESE GHOST STORY series. In all he was nominated three times as best supporting actor over the years, including once for a dramatic part in LAST EUNUCH IN CHINA (88).
As a director Wu Ma went on to make movies in a variety of genres such as comedy caper: MR BOO MEETS POM POM (86) or even Heroic Bloodshed with JUST HEROES, a benefit movie where many of Chang Cheh’s old associates were involved to finance the old master’s retirement. For the most part though Wu specialised in ghost/exorcist/supernatural comedies, MY COUSIN THE GHOST (87), PICTURE OF A NYMPH (88), BURNING SENSATION (89), FOX LEGEND (91), EXORCIST MASTER (92), CHINESE GHOST BUSTER (94), becoming with his frequent co-star Lam Ching Ying the great ubiquitous figure of this genre.
Both PICTURE OF A NYMPH and his later KICKBOXER (92) were obvious knockoffs of a popular film (CHINESE GHOST STORY and OUATIC respectively) while his STAGE DOOR JOHNNY (90) was slightly reminiscent of PEKING OPERA BLUES. As H-K cinema entered into its decline in the early nineties, Wu Ma’s directorial career wound down too, his last film being the lacklustre caper CIRCUS KIDS starring Yuen Biao and Donnie Yen. His screen acting output also diminished both in quantity and quality with his last screen appearance being in LEGENDARY HEROES PART II back in 1999, but he seems to have remained an active player for TV.
In all Wu Ma performed in nearly 180 movies if not more. Besides those already mentioned, his most notable movie appearances are in BY HOOK OR BY CROOK (1979, as a legendary Robin hood like hero who turns-out to be a coward), MIRACLES (90), MAGIC COP (90), SWORDMAN I (1990, where he engaged in a memorable duet with Lam Ching Ying to sing : Hero Among Heroes), CHINESE LEGEND (91), MAGNIFICENT SCOUNDRELS (1990, where he’s part of an ensemble cast lead by nineties comic king Stephan Chow and plays a surgery altered Chow Yun Fat), KID FROM TIBET (92), LOVERS TEARS (92), PAINTED SKIN (92), MY AMERICAN GRANDSON (92), an Ann Hui directed melodrama, SWORD STAINED WITH ROYAL SWORD (93), DEADFUL MELODY, (93) and HIGH RISK (94) playing a stand-in of Jackie Chan own father.
(Written up by Yves Gendron) »
«Wu Ma is one of the most familiar faces of H-K cinema. He was of course the fierce, misanthropic Taoist swordsman in CHINESE GHOST STORY I and II, but also had countless appearances in cameos, bit parts or supporting roles in a large number of H-K action movies, especially those of Sammo Hung. If yo...»
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