When discussing influential Cantonese comedies, there is no doubt that Stephen Chow’s name will be brought numerous times. Hong Kong’s King of Comedy began his film career as a television actor, but in 1988, he made a switch to the film industry and starred in his first production, Final Justice, an instant hit for which he was consequently awarded Best Supporting Actor at the 25th Taiwan Golden Horse Awards.
Chow was propelled into the limelight, starring in films such as The Final Combat in 1989. Throughout the 1990s, he appeared in more than 40 films, most notably Look Out, Officer! (1990) and Fight Back to School (1991) alongside his frequent comedic collaborator Ng Man-tat, which became Hong Kong’s top-grossing film the year of its release.
In the latter half of the 1990s, China began to warm to his films and he became the centre of what is known as the “Stephen Chow Phenomenon” (周星驰现象). Here are 10 remarkable Stephen Chow films that made him an icon and Hong Kong’s finest in the film industry.
Arguably the film that jumpstarted Stephen Chow’s influential film career, Final Justice is a 1988 crime film directed by Parkman Wong. The compelling drama centres around a rogue cop (played by action star Danny Lee) who is trying to bust four gangsters and overturn the false allegations against an innocent boy. Although not a main role for Chow, this film eventually led him to a Golden Horse Nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
This 1992 production is the perfect Chinese New Year film to watch with family and friends. Directed by Clifton Ko and starring homegrown superstars such as Leslie Cheung and Maggie Cheung, the dramatics of All’s Well, Ends Well leave you glued to your seat and have successfully inspired a whole of seven sequels!
This wholesome family comedy centres around the hapless Shang brothers and their romantic misadventures. Eldest brother Shang Moon is a philandering businessman who mistreats his wife, middle brother Shang Foon is a vinyl-spinning playboy, and youngest brother Shang So is an effeminate floral arranger and dance instructor. Descend into side-splitting hilarity as all three brothers deal with their family and personal issues.
Much of the comedy involves Chow and relies on his trademark brand of mo lei tau (冇厘頭 ;mou4 lei4 tau4) comedy to send up some laughable moments. While there is a good dose of slapstick humour, there is meaningful drama and romance as well, and All’s Well, Ends Well is still considered to be a cult classic by most Hongkongers.
Directed by prolific filmmaker Wong Jing, Hail the Judge is a historical comedy that is thoroughly entertaining and hilarious from start to finish. The film initially starts off with a “serious” trial hearing during the Qing dynasty. Bao Lung-sing (Stephen Chow), a descendant of the famous Judge Bao Ching-tien, is a ninth-degree corrupt judge who changes his tune when he tries to champion the innocence of Chi Siu-lin, a woman who was framed for killing her husband. As a result of his attempt to expose the cover-up, Bao is forced to flee with his nephew Pao Yau-wai (Ng Man-tat) in tow. Through a series of events, he becomes a first-degree judge and returns to wreak havoc and justice on the guilty.
Not only for football fanatics or athletes! One of Chow’s most iconic, hilarious, and successful productions, Shaolin Soccer is a sports-comedy film directed by the funnyman himself. After an unfortunate and fateful mistake that cost him his professional career, an ex-football player named Fung (Ng Man-tat) meets Sing (Stephen Chow), a master of Shaolin kung fu, whose goal in life is to promote the art of kung fu and its spiritual and practical benefits to modern society. Inspired, the retired athlete offers to coach Sing in football, while Sing sees it as the perfect opportunity to promote his agenda. He reconciles with his former Shaolin brothers to form an undefeatable team, adding kung fu to the sport as a twist.
This comedic masterpiece needs no introduction. Kung Fu Hustle is Stephen Chow’s award-winning action-comedy flick and one of his most popular films to date. Set in 1940s Shanghai, the plot centres around a wannabe gangster named Sing, whose greatest aspiration is to join the notorious Axe Gang. In order to prove himself worthy, he tries to extort the inhabitants of a rundown settlement, and a series of misadventures ensues as the residents and their fearsome landlady exhibit extraordinary powers and kung fu talent in defending their turf.
Highly praised as one of Stephen Chow’s best films, Kung Fu Hustle didn’t just smash box office records in Hong Kong and around Asia; it was also one of the highest-grossing foreign-language films in the United States. It also features a number of retired actors famous for their involvement in 1970s Hong Kong action cinema and built upon the success of contemporary and influential wuxia films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.
From Beijing with Love is a 1994 action-spy comedy, co-directed by Stephen Chow and Lee Lik-chee. This was not the duo’s first collaboration, as they also partnered on an earlier film called Flirting Scholar, which topped the Hong Kong box office in 1993. From Beijing with Love is a whimsical James Bond parody that revolves around an incompetent 007-like agent, who is sent to locate a stolen dinosaur skull aided by a subordinate of his enemy, who intends to double-cross him. The film involves humorous and touching elements that contribute to the customary Stephen Chow style and sees Chow teaming up with Anita Yuen.
When thinking of Chow’s greatest comedic accomplishments, Out of the Dark may not be the first film to come to mind, as it veers away from his signature nonsense jokes into something a lot gloomier. This 1995 film sees Stephen Chow playing Leo, a mental patient who is a parody of the character Léon from the 1994 French film Leon: The Professional. The film also co-stars Karen Mok as Kwan, a curious young girl who gets caught up with all the spooky situations befalling Leo. The pair are then joined by a brigade of quirky security guards in an attempt to banish the evil lurking in a supposedly haunted apartment building situated in Hong Kong. This is arguably Chow’s darkest film as it depicts brutal violence, gore, blood, and a wealth of black humour, but the audience still gets a glimpse of his trademark slapstick humour.
This 1990 film is another must-watch. Chow stars as a mainland nephew named Sing who visits his Uncle Tat (Ng Man-tat) in Hong Kong. In the film, Sing possesses supernatural abilities that enable him to see through objects, and upon discovering his talents, Uncle Tat encourages him to enter the gambling world, thinking that this would be a good strategy for Sing to score extravagant gambling wins to get them out of poverty. Soon after, Sing stumbles across the King of Gamblers and has to play his way through a global tournament to prove his skill. Action and comedy meet in an elaborate production that pays tribute to Chow Yun-fat’s acclaimed God of Gamblers, released only a year before All for the Winner.
Directed by Gordon Chan and starring Stephen Chow and his two favourite collaborators, Sharla Cheung and Ng Man-tat, this classic slapstick comedy was so successful that it spawned two subsequent sequels after it. Fight Back To School centres around the undercover assignment of a SWAT team leader, who has to return to a place of personal purgatory—high school—and retrieve a stolen revolver for his captain. He is aided by his undercover “uncle” who is, in fact, an incompetent police detective.
It goes without saying that the 1990s were truly phenomenal for Stephen Chow, who comes out with yet another classic, thigh-slapping film to add to his belt. Love on Delivery is a romantic comedy that features Stephen Chow and his frequent collaborator Ng Man-tat, as well as then-newcomer Christy Chung.
In the film, Ang Ho-kam is a disadvantaged but kind dim-sum delivery boy who falls for a beautiful judo student, Lily. Their first date is interrupted by Black Bear, a judo master and bully who also takes an interest in Lily, and it ends disastrously. In order to prove himself worthy to his love interest, the delivery boy learns questionable kung fu from an ageing master so he can challenge his archrival to a fight.