Anyone who has ever watched a Kung Fu film will have seen at least a fleeting glance of Lam Ching-Ying. In a career spanning thirty years, he has been seen opposite Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, as well as starring in his own classic movies.
Formally trained in Peking Opera and renowned for playing female roles as well as being a true Wing Chun practitioner, this multi talented Jade screen star never quite got the recognition he deserved. Born in 1952, the year of the dragon, Lam began studying Chinese Opera at around 12 years old under Madame Fan Fok Fa, a “rival” school to that of Yu Jim Yuen where Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung were trained at around the same time. At only 19 years old, Ching-Ying was handpicked by Bruce Lee to assist with the action direction for ‘The Big Boss‘ where he also had a supporting role, as well as ‘Fist of Fury‘ and ‘Enter the Dragon‘ where he can be seen being killed by Bruce and as Han’s stunt double in the finale.
In the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s Lam became a good friend to Sammo Hung and was a member of his stunt association (known as Hung Ga Ban) gaining bigger parts in classic action movies as well as becoming a prominent stunt coordinator. In 1982 he picked up his first award for action direction along with Sammo for the superb ‘The Prodigal Son‘, followed in 1983 with ‘Winners and Sinners‘ featuring a certain Jackie Chan. In the same period, Lam’s screen appearances caught the attention of more and more people with excellent performances in one classic movie after another. He appeared in many of the best 80’s action flicks and traditional Kung Fu dramas such as ‘The Prodigal Son’, ‘Encounter Of The Spooky Kind‘, ‘Heart of Dragon‘ and ‘Eastern Condors‘ as well as the role that would make him most famous, creating numerous spin offs and gained worldwide attention: ‘Mr. Vampire‘.
Following the huge success of ‘Mr. Vampire’ and increasing popularity of Hong Kong films in America, Golden Harvest began production on an English language remake starring Lam along with U.S stars Tanya Roberts (of Charlie’s Angels) and Jack Scalia. Unfortunately, production quickly began to disintegrate as American egos and Lam’s bad English caused the project to be cancelled.
Lam continued to make great films back in the East, had two children with his wife Cheng Bing Bing before making his directorial debut with ‘One Eyebrow Priest’ as well as continuing to choreograph films and train future greats such as Michelle Yeoh (of ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘ and ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’).
Following his divorce in 1993, to which little is known, he was offered the chance to star in his own TV series ‘Vampire Expert’ which earned him rave reviews as well as HK$1,000,000. A far cry from his time as a HK$60-a-day stuntman!
Sadly, in 1997, Lam developed liver cancer, which was hereditary in his family but kept it to himself so as not to attract the pity of others, and subsequently disappeared from the public eye. The more he deteriorated, the less he saw his family and children, choosing to live with just his sister, before passing away aged 45 in St Theresa’s Hospital in Hong Kong.
At the end of November 1997, a 3-hour prayer ceremony was held. In attendance, along with family and press, were old friends Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Wu Ma, Chung Fat and many other greats from the Hong Kong film industry. A surprise and early end to one of the Jade screen’s finest performers. Fortunately for his fans, Ching-Ying’s greatest achievements have been committed to celluloid and are now forever available on DVD for everyone to enjoy. Hopefully, with the recent rise in interest over in the States, Lam’s films and Hong Kong movies in general will flourish under a new audience to gain the recognition they deserve.