Hong Kong action cinema really took off in the years following World War II, when the success of THE STORY OF WONG FEI-HUNG (1949), directed by Cantonese filmmaker Wu Pang, proved there was an international market for martial arts films. The burgeoning industry recruited performers and stunt crews from opera troupes and local kung fu schools. Not all opera performers specialized in martial arts, but the ones who did were usually really good at it. Women who played the daomadan role were expected to learn real fighting arts in addition to singing and acting. Hong Kong cinema’s top daomadans of 50 years ago were Yu So-chow, Law Yim-hing and Yam Yin.
Law Yim-hing (Law Yim-heng, Luo Yanqing) wasn’t just a martial actress – she was a respected dramatic lead and in the first rank of Cantonese opera stars. Her opera films paired her with famous singers like Yam Kim-fei, Hung Sin-nui and Sun Ma Si Tsang. In BEATING THE MATCHMAKER (1949), an adaptation of the traditional “Dream of the West Chamber” story, she played the beautiful Tsui Ang-ang and Hung Sin-nui played her maid Hung Neong. She sang in most of her films, including the martial arts stories.
Top: Law Yim-hing (left) and Yam Yin (right). On left: Law Yim-hing in opera costume (courtesy of David Wells) and in MY KINGDOM FOR A HONEYMOON, a fantasy romance from 1958.
Although little of her early work has survived, she was a favorite of many of the early kung fu actors and directors of the time, people like Wu Pang, Kwan Tak-hing, and Shek Kin. She frequently co-starred with Walter Tso Tat-wah in his Leung Foon movies, a spin-off of the Wong Fei-hung films. She also co-starred with Sek Yin-tsi in another successful early series based on the life of kung fu hero Fong Sai-yuk. In 1951, Law starred in a high-profile film called BIG BLADE WONG FIFTH’S REVENGE that promised in newspaper ads to provide “over 70 martial arts action setpieces in the film.” The producer was rumored to be a student of Wong Fei-hung himself. One of the martial artists appearing in the film was Lau Cham, father of action director Lau Kar-leung. In 1953, she starred in CROSSING YUANYANG RIVER BY NIGHT, part of the Leung Foon series, with fight choreography credited to both Lau Cham and his son Kar-leung. Law sang two songs in the film, “Missing You” and “Love Sickness Intensifies Facing the Moon.”
Like most of the people who worked in the Hong Kong film industry during the post-war boom, Law Yim-hing was astonishingly prolific. She averaged 20-30 films a year from 1949 through the mid-1960s. Her output included a 3D film in 1953, called HAPPY LOVERS – it was about an acrobatic troupe – as well as comedy (1953’s MR. COUNTRY BUMPKIN, 1959’s A FOOL IN THE ARMY) and serious drama with directors like Lee Tit, Lo Dun, and Ng Wui. If there is any doubt that this woman was completely devoted to her work, consider this: In the 1953 comedy NOT ALL PEOPLE HAVE THE SAME FATE, Law co-starred with her new husband, Ho Fei-fan. The couple used film shot at their actual wedding for the scene in which their characters get married!
Law Yim-hing and Yam Yin co-starred in the 1950 swordplay film THE 24 BRAVE ONES, directed by Yam Yu-tin.
Yam Yin (Ren Yan) was the daughter of director Yam Yu-tin, a Shanghai veteran who was the first martial arts choreographer ever credited on screen. She was born in Tianjin and apparently relocated to Hong Kong with her family after the war. [Her youngest brother is Yam Sai-koon, the kung fu actor who played memorable villains in ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA (1991) and IRON MONKEY (1993).] According to press materials from her early movies, she was literate and well educated, in addition to being an excellent singer and martial arts performer. Her specialty was the high-kicking northern style of Chinese kung fu. Like her colleagues Yu So-chow and Law Yim-hing, Yam Yin turned out films at an astonishing pace – from 1948 to 1970, she appeared in at least 150 productions. She co-starred with both Yu and Law in numerous female-centric wuxia films like FONG KONG HEROINE (1950) and A SWORD AGAINST FIVE DRAGONS (1952). In 1955’s FIVE TIGER HEROES, a contemporary drama about a gangland feud, Yam Yin played a gangster’s sister who joins her brother and his lover, played by Law Yim-hing, to overthrow a rival. But Yam is best known for her longtime association with the Wong Fei-hung series starring Kwan Tak-hing. Starting around 1955, she appeared in dozens of the films as the female lead. Later in the decade, she appeared in several of the Wong Ang films about a female cat burglar, with Yu So-chow and Wu Lizhu. Among her last films were THE MIGHTY SNOW SWORD (1964) and SIX FINGERED LORD OF THE LUTE (1965), both directed by Chan Lit-bun.
Yam Yin shows off her footwork in THE HEROINE WITH INVINCIBLE LEGS (1952), courtesy of David Wells.
Watch a clip of Law Yim-hing singing a Cantonese version of “Tonight” in 1964 here.
Kwan Tak-hing • Law Yim-hing • Sek Yin-tsi • Shek Kin • Walter Tso • Wu Pang • Yam Yin • Yam Yu-tin • Yu So-chow