King of Comedy
Never afraid to try something new, Stephen Chow is set for big things worldwide
Stephen Chow Sing-chi's big-budget, Lunar New Year blockbuster CJ7 might be doing less well at the box office compared with his previous offerings. But Chow's place among comedy greats is certain.
Chow doesn't need to make much of an effort to provoke laughter.
His unique brand of mo lei tau humour - a mix of slapstick humour and nonsensical parodies - worked magic on Hong Kong people in the early and mid-1990s.
His early films, such as All for the Winner (1990), which launched his comedy film career, Fight Back to School (1991) and Justice, My Foot! (1992) are effective escapist entertainment filled to the brim with gags, one-liners and action set pieces.
Poking fun at almost everything from relationships and bodily functions to the government, Chow became a megastar whose films were guaranteed box-office successes.
With greater power comes greater responsibility. In 1994, Chow began to assert creative control over his films even when he was not directing, improvising scenes, dialogues and jokes on the set.
What followed was an outpouring of creativity. From Beijing With Love (1994), a James Bond spoof, is hailed by critics as a Hong Kong comedy classic, while the semi-autobiographical King of Comedy (1999), a tragicomedy about a down-and-out movie extra, established Chow as an auteur.
But it was not until 2001, with the economy at its lowest ebb, that Chow became the undisputed king of local cinema. Shaolin Soccer, released that year, earned HK$60.7 million, a record for a Chinese-language film in Hong Kong.
The movie's uplifting story about a Shaolin monk using martial arts to play football is hailed by many as an example of the city's never-say-die spirit.
Shaolin Soccer marked a change in style for Chow, who increasingly emphasised action and special effects to appeal to international audiences.
Kung Fu Hustle (2004), which is more effects-laden martial arts film than comedy, was well-received by US critics, who developed a taste for surreal action after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Chow, whose directing hero is Steven Spielberg, continued his experiment with drama and special effects in CJ7. Looking at the plight of migrant workers in China, the science-fiction drama is Chow's least funny but most human movie to date.
For many, Chow will always be the supernova of Hong Kong cinema. But the city may now be too small for a star who wants to create laughter all over the globe.