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While stand-up has never caught on in Hong Kong as a mainstream form of entertainment, there are more than a handful of comedic talents floating around in the film and TV industry. Funny emcees have always been a necessity for reality shows, and many of the biggest hits from the heydays of Hong Kong cinema often featured witty scenes where talents work their magic to draw out laughter. Out of this vibrant fun factory, we’ve rounded up some of Hong Kong’s most iconic comedians that have brought joy to many in the city.
Lydia Shum is one of Hong Kong’s most iconic comedians. A native Shanghainese, Shum debuted in the local entertainment scene first as a child actor in the comedy flick, When the Peach Blossoms Bloom (1960). Since then, Shum starred in many films and TV series in Hong Kong and was host of the popular reality show Enjoy Yourself Tonight (歡樂今宵).
Many of us growing up in Hong Kong between the 1960s to 2000s would have been familiar with Shum’s iconic hairdo, black-rimmed glasses, and charming laughter. Nicknamed the “Happy Fruit” (開心果; hoi1 sam1 gwo2; the same word for pistachio in Cantonese, but understood as “happy fruit” in this instance) of Hongkongers, Shum is greatly missed by many in the city after her passing in 2008 due to multiple illnesses.
Ng Man-tat starred in various popular movies between 1980s to 1990s as the comedic side character, and while you may not know his name, you will certainly recognise his many supporting roles. Ng first came to audiences’ attention when he starred alongside Stephen Chow in The Final Combat and The Justice of Life in 1989, where the pair put on captivating performances that made a lasting impression on viewers. Since then, Ng was known to be the goofball in most titles he has made an appearance in, though he is also considered a versatile actor who could hold his own outside of the comedy genre. He passed in 2021.
As the eldest of four Hui brothers who were prominent in the entertainment industry in Hong Kong during the 1970s and 1980s, Michael Hui is one of the most iconic comedians to date. Early on in his career, Hui primarily produced, directed, and acted in comedy flicks starring himself and his brothers, often overlayed with original soundtracks. As the plots of these films focused on the working-class modern Hong Kong population, they quickly found a foothold with audiences and became hits during the 1970s and early 1980s.
Following this great success, Hui would continue to produce comedic hits through to the 2000s, including famous titles such as The Private Eyes (1976) and Aces Go Places (1982). With the decline of Hong Kong cinema, Hui took his comedic talents away from the big screen and focused on performing as a stand-up comedian, bringing many fans the same wit that won the hearts of cinephiles in the golden age of Hong Kong cinema.
Sandra Ng is a home-grown comedic actress who has starred in many renowned titles both in film and television. Ng made notable appearances in the popular reality show Enjoy Yourself Tonight, where her talents were recognised and allowed her to score the opportunity to act in other TV series, such as The Crazy Companies (1988) and movies like All for the Winner (1990) together with Stephen Chow, the black comedic masterpiece Golden Chicken (2002), and the experimental title 4 Faces of Eve (1996).
In the early 2000s, Ng played host to hit radio shows including Wa! Wa! Wa! and the regular morning talk show On a Clear Day. Ng continues to appear on TV and in film, but it’s her past performances that have made a lasting impression on many viewers.
Stephen Chow is undoubtedly one of the most famous actors hailing from Hong Kong’s 1990s golden age of cinema. Crowned the city’s King of Comedy, it is no surprise that Chow made it on our list of the most iconic comedians in the city. Out of the actor’s extensive portfolio of works, a few witty titles certainly propelled Chow from an actor starring in a funny role to the unparalleled master of wits he is known as today.
Notable titles are Look Out, Officer! (1990), a comedy film where a crafty police officer is assisted by the ghost of his slain colleague trying to solve his own murder; the film series Fight Back to School (1991–1993) where a SWAT team leader goes undercover at a local high school; and Hail the Judge (1994), a historical comedy set in the Qing dynasty where a ninth-degree judge works his way to first-class through a series of unpredictable events.